Eating disorders can at times feel totally consuming. They impact our every waking moment, and also seem to infiltrate our dreams. Those ruminating thoughts before bed, or fear as we approach a mealtime, to the dreams (or nightmares) of eating the entire fridge to waking up in cold sweats, not sure if it really happened.
I developed anorexia when I was thirteen years old and it was a coping mechanism to life. It gave me what I needed, guided me, kept me safe and reassured me. I would be lying in bed and listening to my family arguing, or remembering the abuse that had happened to me a few years before and as soon as I felt any emotion about anything I would immediately start to think about food, calories and exercise. Fast forward four years and I was admitted to a mental health hospital with a failing heart, yellowing skin and with absolutely no love of life left in me. I spent a year in hospital and whilst the treatment I got was fantastic, there was still a part of me that was clinging on to my past – a part of me that still felt so stuck. I had no idea how to take that next step forward. The step to full recovery.
The reality was I sort of accepted it. I had read countless stats around eating disorder mortality rates, about the percentages of people who do make a full recovery. And I just accepted that I would sit in that percent of people who didn’t really ever fully get to a space in their heads where they were able to recover.
I carried on for the next ten years like this, pretty happy, pretty chilled and the eating disorder – whilst it had some grips over me – was getting less and less. I still had awful body image and was quite militant at times but I thought that was normal. In 2018 I wasn’t doing that well, I had spent a year or so undergoing the justice system, being scrutinised around the abuse that had happened. I hated it. I felt so vulnerable, judged, disempowered, and not heard. I had sunk back into the role of trying to hold everything together for everyone else. I was beginning to destruct again, not necessarily with food this time, but finding other ways to numb those emotions and get that control.
In May 2019, I waltzed into the Recover Clinic office for a meeting with Emmy Brunner. We were doing some filming that day for her IGTV series, The Sunshine Sessions. I spoke with her openly about my body image, the trauma and began to open up – something that I do still struggle to do from time to time. That conversation with Emmy gave me insight into the trauma that I was still carrying around, the shame that still had so much of a grip on me and my behaviours. It was a hot summer’s day and I decided to walk back across town that day to get to the overground, and I was just going over the conversation. Perhaps there was a way to move forward? To stop blaming people? To find a way to fully recover?
I don’t know what your story is, where things are at, whether you are feeling stuck, trapped, afraid, alone and maybe just not sure if this is worth fighting for. I am not going to try and change your mind but I want to share three things with you that have really helped me in this final stage of recovery:
This was me for so so long! I realised back in 2017 that I was settling, and so my way to counter-act this was to challenge myself with good every single day. From choosing what I wanted off a menu to picking up a random snack in the supermarket if I fancied it. But I realised that this was not just those actions, it was also a change in mindset. The realisation that I can push through this. Yes, it might feel uncomfortable but we need to find a way to allow ourselves to not settle in recovery; in just getting through each day but to actually take those steps forward. Set yourself some goals to begin this process and each day remind yourself that 1) you deserve to recover and 2) full recovery is totally achievable – let’s make it our goal to change those stats around recovery!
Don’t lose hope
The reality of recovery is that we have good days, bad days and those months or years when we might just feel we are plodding through things. And trust me, I totally get that! I hated it and hated those feelings that were often so wrapped up. Recovery is not a straight line but on those harder days don’t lose hope (sounds cheesy doesn’t it!). Instead focus on those joys of recovery, the energy, the freedom to do things. There is so much more to life than the eating disorder and when those difficult feelings set in, hold on to the hope that you can get through this and you will.
Invest in you
So, what excuses have you got for not doing this? Maybe you can’t afford therapy (time or money). Maybe you don’t think you are worth it. Or maybe you are afraid of opening up a can of worms. I hear you! Investing in yourself might feel uncomfortable but it is something that will help you take these steps forward. I went back to therapy after that conversation with Emmy, booked out my Wednesday nights to explore faith at an Alpha Course, reigned in on the things I was doing at the weekend and started taking this time to just be with my feelings and processing them. All of these things totally transformed my life. I felt guilty doing it at first, but I talked that through with my therapist and realised that sometimes we need to start to grow. Break that mould you are in, break that cycle of self-hatred and invest in you! It doesn’t matter how old or young, or the length of time you have had an eating disorder, but investing in you to heal from the past will help you move forward.
I spent so much of my life in this blame cycle, angry at my abuser, angry at those people who had impacted my recovery but we don’t need to let them rule our lives and dictate our future.
Written by Hope Virgo
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO READ
DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE
We believe in inspiring and empowering all women to move beyond destructive coping strategies and to learn how to love who they really are. There is a more meaningful future out there waiting for you, free from trauma, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, anxiety and depression, and we are here to show you the way. Reach out to our friendly advice team confidentially today to learn more about how our outpatient clinic and/or online program can be tailored to you.
WRITE FOR US
Have you got a story or learnings to share about your mental health? Then we’d love to hear from you. Whether you want to talk about your own recovery journey or how you have supported a loved one with their healing, you could give others hope who are experiencing something similar. We’re open to all ideas and you can absolutely remain anonymous if you prefer.