How do you know when you’re recovered?
As with all things recovery, there is no checklist. What’s a big deal for one person’s recovery might not be all that important for someone else’s. But, here are the some of the reasons I consider myself recovered:
My eating disorder isn’t the first thing I think about anymore.
When I had an eating disorder, I used to wake up tensely to a slew of anxious thoughts. Will I eat today? If so, what? What if I eat too much? What if I have an episode? Will I ever get better?
If I got invited to a party, the first thing I would think about was my eating disorder. Passing a reflective surface, eating disorder. Smiling for a photo, eating disorder. This mental illness extends far beyond food. It touched every aspect of my life, and for so long it was on the forefront of my mind.
None of this happens to me now. If I get invited to a party, I check my schedule. I pass a reflective surface, I don’t even glance at myself. I’ll smile for a photo with authentic feeling, and not care what I look like.
It is a much, much more positive everyday experience being ED-free.
When I have ED-related thoughts, it’s easy for me to let them go.
I still have occasional moments when I catch myself thinking old thoughts. “I don’t like _____ about the way I look.”
But instead of triggering an out-of-control downwards spiral, I can now process these thoughts with skills I learned throughout my recovery. I’ve practiced these skills so often that now it feels second nature to acknowledge the thought, forgive myself, replace it with a more neutral thought and check in with my feelings. Chances are, I’m feeling some tough emotions or am stressed about something unrelated to my body.
An example of replacing an ED-thought for a more neutral one:
Instead of: “I shouldn’t eat that.”
Try: “It’s okay to eat this food. I can eat it if I want to.”
Eating, or not eating, comes naturally.
I can listen to my body to interpret when I need to eat, what I need to eat, and how much. I can sense when I’m full, but I can eat more if I love the taste. I can feel uncomfortably full and be okay with it, knowing it’ll pass. I can regret eating something because of how I feel after, and simply chalk it up as a lesson learned. And, I can not eat when I’m not hungry, because I know it’s okay and I can eat later.
When I had an eating disorder, I didn’t trust my body. I ignored it’s signals, and often forced myself to eat too much, or too little, or food I didn’t want. Pretty soon my body stopped communicating with me, or maybe I stopped being able to understand its needs. Either way, when I started my recovery journey, I didn’t feel signals like hunger, cravings, or fullness. As a result, I still often ate too much, didn’t eat when I needed to, or ate food I didn’t really want. This was a frustrating, painful part of recovery, and I wondered if I would ever be able to eat intuitively.
I still remember the first time I put my fork down, leaving some food on my plate, feeling satisfied. When I realized I had eaten an entire meal without thinking about it, and naturally stopped when I was full, I was stunned.
Now, I get to experience that every day. I can listen to my body and enjoy food. It’s something I will never take for granted.
I can talk about my eating disorder openly and honestly.
Today I’m an advocate for mental health awareness. I tell my story often, actively addressing societal stigmas. It’s empowering to know I’m proud of who I am, and that I’m making a difference by educating others.
I wasn’t always this way. I used to go to extreme lengths to hide what was happening. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was going through, because it was too painful, too shameful, and I was afraid. It was hard enough to have an eating disorder, much less talk about it.
Five years into recovery, I wrote my story and shared it with my community. They responded with an overwhelming amount of love and support. It was an incredible sensation– I’d shared what I considered the absolute worst part of myself, and people were saying they admired me. Telling my story made me realize how strong I am, how loved I am, and how freeing it is to be honest.
Sharing our stories is important. It’s just as powerful to be able to talk about it in therapy, at a support group, or with a friend or loved one. If you do want to share your story publicly, the NEDA has some good how-to tips!
It’s often shame that silences us, and we have nothing to be ashamed of.
I’m a worthwhile human being.
I can say that and I can believe it.
Photo by Hadean Roth.