If you could go back and talk to yourself at the beginning of your recovery journey, what would your wiser self say to your younger self?
This is the important question that I answered in the letter below. My post is only one in our Eating Recovery Roundup series leading up to Eating Recovery Day on May 3rd. To read answers to the above question from other recovery advocates, check out Eating Recovery Center’s blog. With all of our messages, you will see the common thread that hope is real and recovery is possible.
Dear Me: Talking With My Younger Self About Eating Disorder Recovery
by Jenni Schaefer
Dear Me (at the beginning of the recovery journey),
You are going to want to give up. At times, you are going to want to die. You will have moments when you believe that you are the only person in the world who will never recover from your eating disorder. You will sometimes think that life might be better with the illness.
Importantly, and I need for you to really get this: these are all the dangerous lies of your eating disorder.
This might sound strange, but, in therapy, you will learn to personify your “eating disorder” as an abusive partner named “Ed.” Similar to people trapped in abusive marriages, you will desperately want to leave Ed, but you will be afraid of what life might be like without him.
Ed will hijack your mind. When you look in the mirror, you won’t see correctly. You will see what Ed sees. When you think about food, you aren’t thinking logically. Ed is fueling your beliefs. I can’t possibly explain to you how this works, but believe me, to get better, you will have to begin trusting other people over your very own eyesight. You will need to trust your therapist, dietitian, and doctors over your own brain. The sooner that you can let go and have faith in this process, the sooner you will recover.
You won’t want to let go. In fact, Ed will get very angry when you first attempt recovery. If you listen to your treatment team and follow their advice, you will feel exceedingly uncomfortable. What they are saying will be counterintuitive to what Ed leads you to believe. Following their wise guidance will be painful. It will feel wrong.
A key part of your recovery will be realizing that sometimes feeling bad means you are actually doing well.
Ed will get upset. In the beginning, your struggle with food might even seem worse. You are making Ed angry, so he is getting louder. Outwardly, your behaviors may look worse. But, inside, you will actually be getting stronger.
One of your biggest hurdles and turning points with food will be not “making up” for a binge. To get out of the binge/purge cycle, you will ultimately have to do the next right thing after a binge. You will need to not purge and eat the very next meal. I know that this seems utterly impossible right now, but it’s not. After you do this a few times, which will be excruciatingly difficult, you will begin making bigger strides than ever in recovery. You will be that much closer to freedom.
When you stop compensating after binges, you will gain weight. Don’t let weight gain and negative body image throw you off course, Your body will change far more quickly than your mind will. Time and time again, Ed will promise that he can relieve the pain of negative body image. “If you listen to me,” he will say, “you will feel better.”
Temporarily, his advice may calm your fears. But things will only get worse in the long run if you listen to Ed. Something key to know is this: when Ed opens his mouth, he is lying.
Remain engaged in recovery behaviors as your body shifts and ultimately reaches a normal weight for you. Again, this will feel impossible. Throughout recovery, you will do the impossible a lot. At your ideal weight, you won’t get the urge to binge. Yes, that horrible urge to binge will go away—but only if you maintain a healthy weight. I know this also sounds unbelievable to you right now, but you will ultimately love your body at a normal weight.
You will appreciate your body for what it does, not focusing all of your attention on what it looks like. Your body will become a vehicle for life. You will love mountain biking and even ice climbing. Scaling up a frozen waterfall in Alaska, you will not be thinking about what your body looks like hanging in the harness. You will be grateful for your strong arms, legs, and hips.
The truth is that you will make it through, Jenni. And you will be stronger and healthier than ever. In fact, because of all of your hard work in recovery, you will be more normal with food than the “normal” people. While your friends—who never had the opportunity to go to body image therapy group—discuss fat grams and calories over dinner, you will be completely free. Yes, you will fully recover. You won’t even hear Ed anymore. It gets that good.
Your eating disorder will be one of the best gifts in your life in the absolute ugliest package.
I know that you can’t see this now. But, truly, your pain is going to become your power. (You will even write some books about it!)
Stay connected with support. Believe in yourself. You got this.
Jenni (fully recovered)