[author title=”Alia” author_id=”Alia”]
[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]February 18th, 2013. 7pm[/custom_headline]
I was scared. Terrified, for the first time in ten years. Ten years of floundering, at the mercy of my eating disorder. Ten years of waging war against myself, physically and mentally. Ten years of living in an ever-deepening emotional deep freeze, and yet, this was the first time I had felt scared for my life. My twenty-first birthday had recently passed. The realisation that I was unlikely to see my twenty-second came down like a portcullis; its clang resounding through the fog of my anorexia.
It should be noted that I didn’t recognise my eating disorder as such. A childhood in the Middle East had left my awareness of mental health somewhat lacking, and besides, I didn’t qualify as a ‘proper’ anorexic, having just eaten dinner (a child’s yoghurt and fistful of laxatives, neither of which quite hit the spot).
Like all eating disorder sufferers, much of my past read like a catalogue of trauma (although to even acknowledge it as such proved a hurdle in my recovery). However, I saw no connection between my past, and my behaviours with food. All I knew was that I was desperately unhappy, and cripplingly alone.
My fear that night was supplanted by the realisation that there was not a single name in my phone book that I could call for help. With regards to my relationships, my eating disorder favoured a ‘scorched earth’ policy, systematically stripping out my relationships one by one – starting at the periphery, and finally closing in on those most precious to me. A decade at the whim of its sustained campaign of isolation had left me entirely alone, with only my anorexia for company.
[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Reaching out for help[/custom_headline]
I needed external help, although I was unsure where to look. My problem, as I saw it, was that the debilitating, yet inexplicable, unhappiness that shrouded my life had reached a terrifying new virulence. My food behaviours seemed a mere footnote, but their relentless presence rendered them a fairly tangible starting point, if nothing else.
A Google search yielded the name and number of a specialist clinic. It was outpatient, and ten minutes away from my flat. I reached for the phone, and prayed.
The voice on the line that night was the first drop of humanity to quench a decade-long drought of compassion, and (though unbeknownst to me then) the beginning of the deluge of love, warmth, kindness, and humour that saved my life.
I was not seeking understanding on the phone that night (especially given that my food behaviours seemed solely mine – weird and special). I needed empathy, and the first person to give it to me (to a depth which astounds me, even today) was Emmy, my primary therapist.
Emmy, a riot of vibrant vitality, crashed through the monochrome marble run of my anorexia with a presence that seemed, in equal parts, grounded, formidable, and achingly cool.
She offered me kindness, the one thing I could not give myself, in abundance. Having glimpsed the keys to the kingdom, I began the work of recovery – to date, the most terrifying thing I have ever done.
First came the exhausting, clunky grind of learning new emotional language – taxing my already compromised cognitive abilities. At twenty-one years old, it took months to piece together stumbling answers to even the most benign, “how do you feel?” having been asked that question, for the first time in my life, by Emmy.
This undertaking was surpassed by the tumult of voluntarily allowing virtual strangers to try and wrestle my eating disorder, my barbed wire-lined safety blanket, away from me.
I trusted my therapists on the twin bases of blind faith (having reached rock bottom with my illness), and the realisation that my own ‘coping’ strategies had failed me. My therapists bolstered my inexhaustible hope for a normal, happy life in recovery. To me, these incredible women seemed to manifest the possibility of this ideal.
Two fundamental elements underpinned my recovery, both of which I would argue are applicable to anyone else on their own journey.
[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Spiritual Family[/custom_headline]
[image src=”https://www.therecoverclinic.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/alia1-e1425037739697.png” alt=”Alt Text” type=”rounded” float=”left” ]The first was my ‘spiritual family’, an eclectic, beautiful collection of individuals, who related to, and nurtured, my healthy, functioning parts. Their utter lack of judgment proved a tonic to my punitive internal dialogue. They were the first people to whom I dared whisper my inner self, and my hopes. Merely sharing my fledgling vision of recovery proved all the momentum I needed to pursue it; today, I am proud and grateful that the life I live is a blueprint of the one I dared envision, on the floor of a meditation group, two years ago.
As well as their genuine, unconditional investment, my spiritual family provided fun, and laughter – the unexpected gateway by which I could access the pure, childlike part of myself, uncorrupted by my illness. Regular contact with this buried part allowed corrosive strands of self-destruction to dissolve, and slowly be replaced by a growing well of self-acceptance and love, until, finally, I was whole.
[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Spirituality[/custom_headline]
Spirituality was the second lifeline of my recovery. Meditation, and focus on my goals, provided both consistent forward momentum towards a life in recovery, and crucial direction during recovery’s inevitable stumbles.
Practicing mindfulness, which I still maintain saved my life, channelled the destructive energy of my eating disorder towards inhabiting, for the first time, my unfamiliar emotional terrain. It kindled a reconnection with my healing body and its vulnerabilities, and, vitally, the exercise of tolerance and compassion towards myself, and therefore, others.
My spiritual family, and spirituality, served as tandem crash mats – compelling me to take recovery’s necessary leaps, whilst healing my splintered sense of self.
I tested both to their most elastic limits, particularly when my closest relationships experienced turbulence – a result of the myriad internal changes I was undergoing. My spiritual family’s unflinching readiness to walk a sometimes-dark path with me proved itself to be unconditional, and a sustaining force during the scariest leap of all – finally letting go of my eating disorder.
Ten years of having my illness colonise my life ensured that without it, my life would resemble a vacuum. Daring to remove my anorexia would leave an almighty void, into which it could all-too easily flood back in. During this time, I trusted in Emmy. Her love, kindness, and assurances that I would not regress, provided the humanity I needed to hold out, until my life slowly took shape, pushing the twilight of my anorexia to its periphery, and ultimately, its horizon.
I am grateful every day that I took this leap. The most beautiful part of my recovery has been watching life, when just given the chance, rush into the gap left behind by my illness. Two years later, the dam brims over, flooding into a future that is blazing bright.
The scared girl with no names in her phone book is now blessed with a solid, core network of family and friends – brilliant, beautiful people, whose acceptance of me is exceeded only by their support and love.
[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Where I am now[/custom_headline]
Recovery has seen me, initially unable to envision my next birthday, dare to lay down roots in London, make a dream career move, and, as a particularly happy surprise, start a burgeoning relationship (a real, actual one – not with my eating disorder) – a little glowing ember of light and laughter.
Freeing myself from my eating disorder freed space for both the above, and the greatest reward of all – a relationship with myself. Like meeting any new person, it has been an exciting run so far, from discovering the trivial (turns out, I’ve never liked celery), to the constitutional (what my aspirations, and ideals of happiness, are). Most exhilarating has been the realisation that recovery has equipped me with all the tools I need to pursue my own happiness. Life has never been sweeter.
[pullquote cite=”Albert Camus” type=”right”]In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.[/pullquote]To anyone struggling to seek help, I would say this: no one deserves to deal with an eating disorder alone. You deserve, and can achieve, the same happiness and freedoms of anyone else. You deserve the life-long doors that recovery opens for you. You deserve a fulfilling, fun life. Listen to the voice, however quiet, that expresses tiredness of being ill (you do have one). Trust it. Don’t let it go quiet again. Be brave. You are not alone. Make that call.