**NOTE: This lil’ honesty hour is about my eating disorder and could potentially be triggering to somebody in recovery. Please be cautious if you are sensitive to triggers and look at some puppies instead if you feel this isn’t the post for you**
Last week, I wrote this post about the differences I have seen between now and when I was just beginning to recognize and recover from anorexia two years ago. I was feeling really good about my recovery that day and wanted to share it with everyone! I received some really nice emails afterwards about how healthy and happy I look now and how proud I should be for recovering.
Of course I am proud of how far I have come, but I was also reminded about how much recovery comments can make me cringe. I know I am not alone in this–eating disorders create constant lies and twist the words people say to you if you are still deep enough in the struggle.
“You look healthy” easily becomes “you look fat.”
I want to clarify that I am pretty distant from that ultra-sensitive point of my recovery, and I did not take your comments in that way. But I think it is something that people should know about.
Recovering from an eating disorder is by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life (and am still doing). For the longest time I believed that there was nothing wrong with me–I constantly thought “I’m not thin enough to have an eating disorder!” Like most people, I associated an eating disorder with the image of an emaciated girl who either starved or purged every single day–a terrible generalization that leaves thousands in silence because they feel they don’t fit the eating disorder label, but you can’t blame people when they grow up in a society that offers very little or skewed education on eating disorders.
If only it was talked about more, the world would understand how extremely complicated eating disorders are, that they aren’t just about beauty, and that you can have an eating disorder at ANY size
I may have been in denial for a long time, but for me personally it reached a point where my struggle became clear and loved ones stepped in to help. As I began talking more, my words started to fit labels and symptoms–yep, sounds like ED!
The sad truth is I was struggling in silence long before it reached the point where I was quite thin and obviously obsessive.
When I joined in on recovery communities and met girls that were improving themselves like I was, I started to realize that nearly EVERYONE believed that they “weren’t thin enough to have an eating disorder”
The assumption that weight defines one’s placement on the “eating disorder spectrum” really, really needs to be stopped.
And this is where the point I’m trying to make for this post comes in.
Accepting my weight-restored body was extremely difficult for me. I packed on pounds rapidly at first–”it’s because your body needs it! You’re doing the right thing!” my therapist said, which is true, but I also put on a good amount of weight so quickly for unhealthy reasons that I wasn’t telling her about. I went from anorexic behavior right into bulimia. As the weight came on, the recovery struggle became more difficult–I felt more alone, out of control, and depressed than ever.
But externally, I looked “healthy again.” I was not thin. I was eating more
Hazzah! She is cured!
In reality, I believe I was never so close to rock bottom.
But when people are praising you over something you are doing, it is so easy to feel pressured that you have to keep doing it. Isn’t that how I got myself into the obsessive behaviors in the first place? People were complimenting my body for the first time, and I felt I needed to keep going even harder.
Of course, when it comes to recovery I think it is really important to acknowledge what a great thing recovery is and encourage someone to continue it, but one also has to recognize how vulnerable and sensitive a person in recovery can feel. It is often not easy to ask for help or reach out about a struggle, and when you are being praised for doing so well the pressure can come right back on again and cause relapses to stay hidden so as not to disappoint a loved one.
I try to protect the people in my life from the thoughts in my mind so strongly that I believe my therapist is the only one who knows an entire half of my struggle I have not really voiced. In the end, I think it is for the best that I did that while I was in the midst of recovery and tried to “fake it ’till I make it” on the surface. But I think it made it difficult for my loved ones and me to make the distinction between what I was okay with and what I was failing to fake.
If I had to just say one thing about the issue it would be this: don’t make assumptions
Don’t assume someone is “cured” just because they are eating again.
Don’t assume the person’s sadness is always about the eating disorder (hello, we are humans. I am sad because I stubbed my toe. No, that is not a metaphor).
Don’t assume the person is so strong that they are incapable of relapse.
Don’t assume that the person is so weak they need you hovering beside them.
Don’t assume the girl who has super-thin genes in her family is anorexic
Don’t assume the overweight girl could never be anorexic
and don’t assume you know exactly where she stands in her recovery
I appreciate the intention of concerns as much as I do compliments–people care and want to show that they care. They cannot read your mind. That’s why both of you need the opportunity for it to be spoken:
ASK, don’t assume
Often, I still find myself getting angry and questioning whether I ever really had a problem, why it feels like sometimes I have to remind people that I did
But I think my frustration stems more from the fact that I wish I was as perfectly recovered as everyone else thinks that I am. I wish that I was doing everything right and that I was totally accepting of my body and that society’s standards no longer phased me.
I’m proud of how far I have come, but I wish it didn’t feel like I still had so far to go.
But if I am trying to help reduce the stigmas about eating disorders, then I can’t act like I am fully recovered if I am not. I don’t believe that is a negative thing, either, and I don’t want to discourage anyone. I am so proud of my progress
We only have to remember that it takes a lot of time and patience
I try to blog with responsible honesty, and especially in posts concerning such a delicate subject I know it’s important I be clear
I am in recovery
And I believe I am nearly there
Some days are tough
Some days are great
and I think the good are starting to outweigh the bad more and more
I am a stigma fighter
and I hope to start opening up more publicly about my experiences, because I believe simply talking about them is key to awareness and reducing stigma,
but I also have to remember that this is my recovery, and I take it one step at a time
I hope you know that too
I salute you all to the weekend with my favorite coffee mug as I write this