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Five years ago, I sat in a semi-circle of hard plastic chairs in a small, air-conditioned room staring at a bunch of blank faces. This was group therapy or “group” as we called it. I asked a bold question: “How long does it take to recover from an eating disorder?”
Our group facilitator confidently said “eight years,” nodding decidedly. My jaw dropped in shock. Eight years? That’s two college degrees, a career, a husband, a baby, a trip to Europe, and a house.
When every day seems like a struggle to get through, eight years sounds like an eternity.
I knew based on my reaction to the therapist’s answer I was hungry for recovery.
When life became about what I was missing out on by continuing with my eating disorder instead of feeding the life of the eating disorder, I knew I was ready.
I was fed up with the person I ended up as, the person who wouldn’t let herself go to an ice cream parlour with friends. The person who missed out on hundreds of what I fantasized as (and likely were) extremely fun, enjoyable experiences.
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In addition, I was almost insulted a professional was going to tell me how long my recovery would take. I ignored her years of training and experience in treating young people with eating disorders. What does she know about me?
In recovery, you will learn to take motivation in any form.
If part of me wanted to take on my recovery fully to prove some woman wrong, I’ll take it! I took it as a challenge. Eight years? Yeah, right. I will show you how fast I can recover. And I did.
I began noticing how the women in my group described themselves. They said things like “I’m Alyssa and I struggle with bulimia.” I thought about how this kept the eating disorder alive and powerful, breathing down our necks at all times.
Saying “I struggle,” while it may be an accurate description of a person’s experience, implies the eating disorder has power over me.
It hit me that my eating disorder is mine, mine to own, mine to nurture or mine to overtake in the time frame of my determination.
Screw eight years. I have a lot of ice cream to catch up on! If I can say “I struggle,” I can begin saying something different, something that will forward my recovery.
“I’m Laura and I’m recovering from anorexia,” I declared. There it was, I said it. Out of my mouth and into the ears of those who would hold me accountable from this day forward. I felt strange saying it.
It was a commitment I had never before spoken. It was a promise to myself and others that I and I alone am responsible for my disorder. If I created the struggle, I could also create the victory, the recovery. Those words were me speaking up and choosing to take on my recovery head-on.
The other women began copying me. Pretty soon we were all recovering, not struggling.
We became an empowered circle of women, calling each other out on our lies. In case you didn’t know, “I’m not hungry” is a lie. The truth was told, scales were thrown out, stupid, insensitive words were burned in a bonfire, and a sisterhood of recovering women was born.
It’s been five years now. Some may argue there is never a point of 100% recovery. They say the eating disorder doesn’t go away; it is only at bay, just waiting to be reawakened.
Am I recovered? I say yes.
This does not mean I never have to deal with it again. It means I have power over my eating disorder. It means I spoke up at a time when I could have resigned myself to eight years in the prison of my own mind. But I did speak up and now I am free, free to enjoy life’s pleasures, to taste the sweet, sticky drip of ice cream, to relish a simple gathering of dinner with friends.
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