Do Not Forget This: Eating Disorders And The Long Road To RecoveryLast week, Dodai wrote about an upsetting article in the new issue of Teen Vogue, in which one reader quipped, "I can't help but look down on my friends when they give in to temptations like pizza or ice cream." And as someone who struggled with an eating disorder for over five years, I can tell you this: I can't help but feel sorry for people who make statements like that. Last week happened to be my 5-year recovery day. On September 9, 2003, I checked in to an intensive inpatient ED unit, in a wheelchair, with barely anything left of my body or my brain and a heart rate of 43 beats per minute. Four months later, I walked out happier, healthier, and scared to death.Getting well in the safety of the hospital is one thing; staying in recovery once you leave is another. I had seen women leave and come back to the hospital during the course of my stay; the world was too hard for them to deal with and their ED came raging back. I threw away everything in my life that reminded me of being sick: my old clothes, sick pictures, and the scale that I stood on every morning. The one thing I kept was my journal from the time, which had scrawls from the hospital all over it. On one page I had written something that still scares and stays with me:
Do Not Forget This: you saw your friends plugged into walls, you heard about their melting intestines, you saw her without her teeth on a Tuesday morning, you began to remember your own life as soon as you picked up a spoon.
It is easy, I think, for those of us with eating disorders to fall back into old patterns. The ED voice is a total bitch, hellbent on destroying everything that you are, were, or want to be. In any given moment of weakness — a sudden change, an illness, a breakup, etc — the ED voice swoops right in, as if to say, "Don't worry about the world, Fatty. You still have me." However, the further along I have come in recovery, the weaker that ED voice gets. It also helps that I picture the ED voice looking like Joan and Melissa Rivers on the red carpet, so whenever I get a case of the "you're fats" I just think, "Help! My daughter's not talented!" and that seems to work things out. Also, I have a kickass treatment team in place that I still see once a month, to keep me on track. It took a very long time, but once I went into recovery, I never looked back. When you lose that part of yourself, you begin to remember who you were before you were just bones and numbers and calories. You start to see things differently, to appreciate small, quiet things that your ED never let you notice before. You eat a fucking Snickers bar for breakfast and you feel like Michael Phelps should mail you a gold medal, because you are such a champion. I know that people like to portray anorexia as an illness of vanity, but that's about as far from the truth as you can get. Anorexia is never about the weight. The weight is a symptom, a distraction. The need to starve one's self, to concentrate on numbers and sizes and measurements, is merely a means of coping, of drawing the brain away from whatever is hurting it so badly that the only way of dealing is to numb it out completely. It's a very quiet form of suicide. It is a way of telling the world that all you want to do is disappear. For me, it was also a way to say, "I need somebody to help me," as I come from a family that has both a history of mental illness and a history of ignoring mental illness in the hopes that it will just go away. I realize how lucky I am to have received treatment; the insurance companies make it impossible for most women to complete their programs, leaving them in a state of flux as far as their recovery is concerned. I think that's why I work so hard to stay in recovery; I was given a chance to recover, a chance that many women with eating disorders won't get, and I don't intend to waste it. I remember the women who would come in and talk during my time in the hospital, the ones who would say, "I got better, and you can, too." At the time I thought they were full of shit. But now I know better, and I now I AM one of those women: I know there are many of you who read this site who are dealing with your own ED issues, and that at times recovery seems not only impossible, but unfathomable. Doves, this is not the case. Yes, recovery is hard, and it hurts, and it's a lot of work, but it is beautiful and worth it, and if I can do it, then trust me, so can you. Earlier: Shun Your Friends & Learn A Cool New Eating Disorder In Teen Vogue!