Recovery. It means something a little different to everyone. I’ve been on this long and winding journey to conquer my trifecta of mental illnesses for the past eight years, yet only recently have I begun to experience certain feelings and freedoms that I’d associate with being “in recovery.” Feelings like excitement about life and the future, joy from my hobbies and pastimes, and desire to live independently, meet new people, and put anorexia, depression, and anxiety behind me once and for all. Freedom from the disordered thoughts that consumed my mind for too long. Freedom from urges to restrict, count calories, and hurt myself. Freedom from the assumption that my worth is dependent upon a number on a scale. Freedom from self-loathing and body dysmorphia. Freedom to eat whenever and whatever I please and genuinely enjoy food too. Freedom to be my authentic self and feel proud of who that person is.
It’s been incredible but also surreal. After all, there was a long stretch of time when I thought a full recovery was impossible. While I’m still not quite there yet, I now know that it is, and that it’s very much in reach.
I used to think recovery was something that happened to other people, but not me. I used to think the recovery speakers who visited my programs were lying when they said they didn’t have those aforementioned thoughts and urges, or that on the occasions they did, they were strong enough to combat them. I used to think I’d always eat the bare minimum to be considered “normal,” weigh the bare minimum to be considered “healthy,” and basically exist in a constant state of “good enough.” Surviving but not thriving.
Fortunately, that all changed. It was a gradual transformation in the beginning, filled with small victories such as choosing to eat, not restrict, when I was alone, trying a new or feared food, not weighing myself in the presence of a scale, and resisting an urge to body-check, no matter how awful my body image was that day. I still followed a rigid eating schedule and ate mostly with adult supervision. I still heavily monitored my exercise so it wouldn’t become compulsive. I still suffered from bouts of depression, panic attacks, and lapses with my eating disorder. I still lived a substandard quality of life and frequently wondered whether it would improve or if this was as good as it was going to get.
In fact, it wasn’t until a year and a half ago, a couple of months after I had to medically withdraw from college, that my recovery picked up speed and momentum, which enabled me to get to the better place I’m in today. My college flop truly was the last straw. I realized I could never accomplish my long-term goals if I continued to cling to my disorder and straddle that fine line between relapse and recovery. “Good enough” wouldn’t cut it—not when so much was at stake.
While I was having this realization, several positive changes were simultaneously occurring in my life. I had three part-time jobs, I was attending book events and craft fairs every weekend, I was enrolled in an accredited online college, and I even had a gym membership. I was feeling more active and fulfilled than I had in a very long time. I was also beginning to see a future for myself, a future where I didn’t struggle as much—if at all—with my mental health.
And then the pandemic hit. The pandemic provided an entirely new set of challenges I had to overcome. Most notably, I was forced to find alternate ways to feel fulfillment, motivation, and hope now that I no longer had my jobs, book events, and gym membership to rely on. There was a month or two when I wondered if I could do that; if I could stay actively in recovery with so much chaos and turmoil transpiring in the world around me. And yet, despite a lot of initial doubt, I did. I wrote and published a new book, co-created Nourish with my mom, accelerated my college education, participated in virtual speaking events, volunteered to help my community, and took to exercising outdoors, all the while keeping on top of my mental health. It wasn’t easy but it was possible, and because of that, because I was able to do what I thought I couldn’t, it was also empowering.
As the world gradually reopens, I feel more confident and secure in my recovery than ever. I’m eager to branch out and explore new and exciting opportunities in the not-too-distant future. And I’m overjoyed that I won’t have to worry about my mental health holding me back from doing all that I can do and being all that I can be. Ultimately, this is what recovery means to me; that I can live my life on my own terms, not the terms of my disorder. That I can have hobbies and interests unrelated to food, diet, weight, and all that stuff. That I can take care of myself and my mental health. That I can be free.