Three Years in Eating Disorder Recovery

Sat in the car with Ben driving me to my first ED therapy session was the scariest day of my life, but it was also the beginning of my life. Sounds dramatic, well it was.

I sobbed the entire way, I yelled at him when we got stuck in traffic and the prospect of missing this appointment. The extreme reaction came from utter terror that if I missed this appointment I might never be able to re-find the courage that was leading me there and fear of starting the hardest battle of my life.

I had been to therapy before, when I was 7 and struggling with OCD and again a couple of times as an adult but I’d never talked about the eating disorder.

I remember the room and the welcoming demeanour of my then therapist who went about my intake assessment, I recall the paper questionnaire she had me fill, (EDE-Q) exploring my relationship with food body and mood. Distinctly I remember the battle in my head about how honest to be.

The room was cold and it was pitch black outside and I’d rushed from work, because I didn’t feel I could attend this appointment in work hours. At the end of the session I remember telling the therapist “please don’t label me”

She replied with a sentence that changed my life. “You have anorexia, restrictive type”

I felt a rush of complex feelings, Shame, disgust, denial and most prominent RELIEF. Relief I might not have to do this anymore.

Relief that now it was out in the open I couldn’t completely deny it anymore. Although at that very moment in time there was no part of me that felt “ready to give this part of me up” I also knew I couldn’t keep it up either.

The weigh in, which would become a regular feature of our sessions following, made the ED scream. I wanted to leave and not return for my second session but the present but quiet healthy voice would make me show up.

And three years on, that quiet healthy voice is now the predominant voice and I’m grateful to her.

I went back 3 weeks later and started CBT-E. It was the toughest and still remains the hardest thing I’ve ever done, hands down. I affirm it saved my life, in every sense. But 3 years on from that first meeting I wanted to share some hard truths.

1. Recovery isn’t a quick process. When I wrote a blog last “year- two years in recovery”, a large part of me hoped and thought by now I’d be saying I was fully recovered. In some ways this black and white all or nothing thinking kept me stuck. It was putting an unnecessary pressure on myself. There’s not magic crossing line.

2. You don’t always have to want to recover in order to do it. I mean when I reflect on that first appointment I certainly didn’t, but I started it anyway. There are days now, where the constant of my eating disorder feels like an easier option than recovering. But when it comes down to it, I hated my life with an ED far more than in recovery. Recovery will also not be forever, whereas an ED would be or a race for death. I don’t want to die and so even on the days where the ED comes knocking it no longer has as much power.

3. My definition/expectations of recovery have changed with time. Like I said, I no longer have a self determined end date for recovery. Instead it’s a commitment I make to myself over and over, with the hope and expectation that one day I will confidently exclaim I am free.

4. Slips, lapses happen. I’d be completely disingenuous if I pretended recovery has been linear. I’ve probably had more slips in the last 12 months than the 12 months prior to that, but each slip/ lapse has given me much needed information and education. I’ve gotten to learn so much about myself and it’s been generally easier to pull myself out of each one. It’s shown me areas of recovery that require my attention and focus to move forward and prevent the same slips later.

5. Self compassion. As a typical ‘all or nothing’ thinker and perfectionist tendencies it’s been one of my biggest challenges to learn to be self forgiving, to show myself kindness and compassion particularly in moments of struggle. But eating disorders feed on this inability to be kind to ourselves and practicing these have been by far one of the most powerful tools I’ve found in my recovery. This includes learning to talk back to the negative critic with kinder & gentler affirmations. Often, accepting what the eating disorder tells me and countering those thoughts with a healthy alternative. This continues to be something I work on. My journal is full of dialogues between my healthy self and the eating disorder voice and I gain insights to recurring themes or things that are keeping me stuck.

6. There are many beautiful things in recovery. My husband recently sent me a text “do you know what I really love? That the real Nikki is almost fully back, despite the shit that goes on in your head, the goofy girl that’s always been there is coming back more and more”

I screen shot that text and in moments where the ED is screaming at me, I read it and use it to motivate me to make the right decision. Finding something that can help motivate you in tough moments can really help, whether it’s a post card or somewhere you want to visit, an affirmation or a text from a relative can often empower you to fight back.

Now here’s where I highlight once more, I don’t always like recovery but if I want to stay that “goofball” my husband, family and friends love, I have to fight that voice, sometimes many times in a day. And this lends me on to another recovery tid bit.

Connection. Connecting with others in recovery, connecting with those that have trodden the path before you and connecting to your why’s is like an eating disorder recovery essential survival kit.

Connecting with people who ‘get it’ has helped me more than I can express in a simple blog. But if it’s something you’ve been reluctant or afraid to do, please consider it. Talking to people who ‘get it’ often without having to say what “it” is, really helps in several fronts; feeling seen, not alone or crazy. Not to mention the unwritten support and etiquette that most people in recovery show each other (I.e automatically knowing what Info is harmful, like numbers etc) without having to ask someone not to share things likes diets etc that is normalised outside of the ED recovery community. This can also lead to a level of accountability the “wanting to set an good example or help others” can inadvertently push you forward.

7. Connecting to my why. If I was to share what my why was three years ago, it would be very different today. The only thing I knew then was I couldn’t live that way any longer. Now, my why remains dynamic but is also much broader. I’m no longer a one dimensional figure where my life revolves around food and exercise.

What has recovery taught you?

That’s it my reflections on the last three years in recovery, who knows what I’ll find in the next 12 months, but I know one thing I’m letting go of the pressure of setting myself a recovery deadline and I’m just going with it.

Recovering from an Eating Disorder doesn’t Automatically Guarantee Life Will be Perfect..

But when life is challenging , you won’t have an eating disorder to contend with as well.

Rather naively, I think many of us hold this notion of “if I could just fix my ED, my life will be perfect”. So let me get in there early and save you the “aha” in months/years to come, set your expectations now, be realistic .

This is something I have come to realise throughout my recovery. The many times I’ve contemplated what recovery means, how I define it, what life will look like beyond my ED.

As I’ve gotten further into recovery and shifting away from my eating disorder, it’s become increasingly apparent that recovering from an eating disorder does not mean life will ultimately be all rainbows and flowers once the ED is conquered. No. That’s just not possible. But, life’s so much better, just putting this out there early.

But, the big thing here, the “aha” moment for me, was recognizing recovering from an eating disorder means we have tools to help us when life throws us a curve ball and returning to the eating disorder does NOT have to be an option.

Additionally when something in life happens out of our control, not having to contend with an eating disorder simultaneously, means we are better equipped to handle the stress.

An eating disorder is a big problem, not a solution. It may feel like it gives you control and comfort around times of difficulty but I promise you, that is the mask of the ED. It is definitely an added problem that you do not need.

Recovery will not mean that when you have a stressful time in your life, a loss or lots of change you won’t experience human reactions such as anxiety, low mood or whatever else we all feel according to life events. Recovery doesn’t make you some kind of super hero that doesn’t feel or get rocked by anything- but it does mean you don’t resort to dangerous/ maladaptive coping mechanisms that you have relied upon until this point. Learning to feel has been a skill I’ve developed in recovery and how to respond to these feelings.

It would be unrealistic to believe you will never have a day of insecurities, or god forbid a bad body image day. Because even people who have never experienced an eating disorder experience these human emotions. But if you’re recovered you won’t obsess over them, you will be able to deal with them and it won’t “ruin your day your week or even your year”! Yes I did just do that.

Recovery is a beautiful thing and it means something different to everyone. The recovery process is not the same for any of us, but I do believe it is important to consider your expectations of what it will mean for your life.

Personally, it has led me to an understanding that beyond ED Recovery work, in order to remain in recovery, l will need to put work into ongoing stress management, imposter syndrome and work anxiety. For me they are interlinked.

It is highly likely this will mean continuing with therapy of some kind to help me work with these issues, because I want to protect my health legacy.

One thing I know, life stressors are not something that are going away because it’s part of life, everyone has problems. BUT don’t let having an ED be one of them or believe that once you have recovered you will be a unicorn and NEVER have another issue.

SHOULD, is not a nice word..

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Should has no place in most daily language, but especially not in eating disorder recovery

Should implies rules, an obligation. That word is the reason I’m sat on my ass writing this. I was looking forward to going for a run, or joining my husband at boxfit tonight. However throughout the day at work I started to feel tired and that what I probably needed was to chill out with the cat.

Then that sneaky SHOULD word crept into the foreground. I heard my thoughts say “you should go tonight, you’ve not done anything all week”

That was the point I decided I will not exercise today. Exercise should be a priveledge/ pleasure, not a punishment.

This “SHOULD” demand was from my eating disorder, “HH” thinks I should exercise today, but that’s the very reason why not. A few months ago, I would have acted on this demand, the next day I would find it harder to eat or I’d feel more anxious about what I was eating.

Now I move my body because I want to, because it feels good, not because I feel I have to. The discomfort I used to feel if I missed a day of exercise was insurmountable before. I have to really listen to where the intent is from, whether it’s my voice, or ’HH’s.

I’m feeling proud, I can sit here and write this, instead of dragging my butt out to torture myself without enjoyment. Because I know when I truly want to move/ exercise it’s for me and not for the service of ‘HH’.

I have been a runner all my life. One of my favourite things even a a tiny child, before the days of my eating disorder was to go outside in the rain. As I got a bit older, if my athletics session was a wet session it was like Christmas for me! I loved the feel of the rain and being hot and the smell of it on the track or grass. Then ’HH’ showed up some years later. And my running, exercise was no longer for me, for the fun. It was all about targets, shifting goal posts that I would never be satisfied with.

It would be like the world ended if I had to miss a day, or I’d exercise when I was injured, sick and obviously that’s not fun. I’ve had to work really hard in my recovery to re-kindle my healthy relationship with movement, channeling that child who loved running in the rain and not the crazy person running in gale force winds/ all weathers all hours.

I took a period of abstinence, but not an extended period. I had a good support to help me workout where the intent was from. Some days I had meltdowns when I knew it wasn’t my healthy self and had to abstain. But doing that has got me here. If it feels wrong it is wrong. Exercise/movement is never meant to feel shameful, guilt driven (pre or post), like a chore. It’s a pleasure/ priveledge. Today was a day I know it was not for me, rather for ‘HH’. One day by continuing to listen to my healthy voice over and over, ‘HH’ won’t suggest I move when I don’t want to. The voice will be gone.

Challenge, Practice, Repeat…..Recover I hope.

Today was definitely helped by ‘Recovery Warriors” resources. Check out The Recovery Warriors app, website. They are currently holding a ‘holiday special” with lots of useful resources and videos etc. https://www.truewarrior.me/holiday-support

https://www.instagram.com/recovrywarriors/

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When will I be done?! Anorexia recovery

If you’ve read my “About page” you know how my eating disorder started.

Let’s get real about some things I wish I’d known when I started recovery. I hope being for-warned is forearmed.

When I finally sought help, I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge or repeat the diagnosis I was given Anorexia nervosa, restrictive type.
My therapist was patient, despite my denial. She normalised the name, she used the term anorexia as if it was as routine to her as me diagnosing my patients with asthma, diabetes- no judgement. And really why should it be any different. But still, It felt dirty and shameful, I know now this was the ED talking. The ED does that, makes you think it’s your fault that your eating disorder does not deserve the same care or compassion any other diagnosis would. It’s a choice right? You can stop anytime. If you could- it’s not an eating disorder, eating disorders lull you into a false state of security and control. You think you are in control. But when asked to stop, why can’t you? Because you are unwell, you are not in control, it’s not your fault and it’s not a choice. Recovery is a choice. It is the best choice you will ever make.

After I was officially diagnosed with anorexia, orthorexia, perfectionism and over exercising my first question was; if what you say is true, when will I be done?

SO WHEN WILL I BE DONE?

This is a common question I’ve come to learn many of us ask. You will be done when you are done. Some people’s recovery takes months, some much longer, years. BUT I think the most important take home from this is, this is your journey, no one can tell you “when you’ll be done”

“your worst day in recovery is never as bad as your worst day in the ED” .

If I think I’m having a bad day, be it loud “HH” thoughts, criticism or self image, I remind myself of how far I’ve come and repeat this phrase. Thankfully the “HH” thoughts are now just a mere fleeting whisper in the wind.

Who knows how much healing you have to do, physically & mentally. The years, months of damage you’ve done by going into war with your body. But one thing is true…each step towards recovery gets easier, each step outside of the grips of your ED. Each positive step is a little bit further than the day before. I heard this phrase early in my recovery and I think there is nothing more true:

The next thing that I wish I knew when I first started recovery…

RECOVERY IS NOT LINEAR, it is NOT PERFECT

Since then I’ve had some pretty big lapses and one full relapse. But I learnt from them. I feel stronger for them.

Slips happen. It’s how you get over them that counts.

3. Recovery is hard.

There are many things we are told about when starting recovery, looking out for signs of refeeding syndrome ( metabolic disruption when nutrition is reinstated, can be life-threatening), but no one tells you: Healing is painful. It will always get worse before it gets better. But it does get better. Stick with it.

The oedema, the irratic bowels, bloating, nausea, fluid retention, acne, night sweats, second puberty, growing pains, awakening of your numbed emotions ( often leading to a clusterfuck of emotions all at once without warning), the changing body shape, uneven weight distribution. I will write a seperate post on this. I think this is a blog in itself. It takes strength to recover, it is easy to continue in what comes easily and takes a lot of unlearning of many beliefs and behaviours. It’s exhausting. BUT IT GETS better. It’s also not complicated. Food is medicine. Resting is healing. These are just a few things I wish I’d known early on in the recovery process. There’s many more thing’s iv’e learnt along the way that have been helpful, some not so much. I intend to share these on this blog, hopefully by sharing my experience you may find something to help you in your recovery.

Sharing is promoting awareness and I hope changing the stigma.