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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.

Jenni ice climbing in Alaska
Me ice climbing in Alaska!

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.

Goodbye Ed, Hello Me

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.

Love,

Jenni (fully recovered)

 

 

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  • Haley Smith

    I wish I could have told myself that being strong didn’t mean hiding my emotions and handling everything that came my way.

  • Mirijam Buschmann

    Somethoughts I would like to share with my younger self (a sort of random list – these are just the things that came to my mind spontaneously):

    – You don’thave to believe your feelings. They will lie to you a lot (like, all the time). Evaluate them, and if you realize that one is a lie, remember that no matter how terrible it feels, with God’s help you can tolerate it without listening to what it is telling you to do.

    – Ask yourself: Does an eating disorder really make you special? Is that what you want to be
    known for?

    – You think you will lose your identity and everything you have if you let go of the eating disorder – it is true that you will lose a lot, but not everything, and whereas you will have to say good-bye to the pseudo-identity you have worked so hard to create, this is the only way for your true identity, the one God has given you, to reach its full potential.

    – Remember that, although God will forgive you for the priorities you are setting and for what you are doing to your body, what you really desire is to go His way in the first place.

    – What has been learned should also be able to be un-learned…

    – The most difficult thing will be to want the right thing. It will feel like having two wills inside of you, and you will have to listen to the subtle, quiet one. So before you get into this any deeper, know that it will also be even more difficult to get out.

    – You don’t need an eating disorder in order to get a hug. You don’t have to make sure you’re doing “bad enough” in order to merit comfort. It’s okay to actually begin to do better at some point, it doesn’t mean that from now on you won’t ever be allowed to be comforted again. You can learn other ways to communicate such needs. (Okay, I still haven’t learned that very well… but I still believe it’s possible, and it would be so nice to actually learn it one day.)

    – Don’t listen to the voice that tells you you’re not sick enough to get better because
    you’re not in a clinic, because you actually still manage your life somehow; because your family and friends have not tried to talk to you about it. This does not mean that you are too fat to begin to recover.

    (I guess these are the things I eventually did and do tell myself, but not all of them from the beginning on.)

    • Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful thoughts. I love this, “You don’t need an eating disorder in order to get a hug.”

  • Sarah Van De Weert

    It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to accept help. You can do this. You are going to be okay.

  • Amber Snider

    Amber, You really do not need to do this alone. In fact, surround yourself with people who love you and support you. Once you confide in someone, you will find that the idea of admitting that you have an ED is worse than actually admitting.

    • So true! Getting support is such a key. Thanks for sharing, Amber!

  • Sara Jo

    Sara, Have your closest friends ever Steared you wrong listen to them, follow what they say. It will get better don’t ever give in and allow yourself to feel it’s ok to feel those emotions and be uncomfortable. If this was easy everyone could do it look at the person you have and will become, strong, beautiful, and filled with such a love for life. Lastly, always remember to look up as GOD is always there and remember your support team as they are always there and no matter how hard, dark, and impossible life looks reach out and your support team will be there for you.

    Always remember to love yourself and say one positive thing about yourself each day.

    Sincerely,
    Your recovered body
    Phil 4:13

    • Carol

      Yes!

  • Carol

    Such VALUABLE teaching! Thank you, thank you, one hundred thousand thank yous for sharing what you learned and going through the very hard work of recovery! I am praying I will do this too… I’m on my way to doing this in taking little steps. I’m getting there and I’ve got this! With love,
    Carol

    • Thanks for your lovely message, Carol. And I love the photo! Yes, you can do it. You got this!

  • Susie Fernandez

    Dear Susie, you don’t have to go through this alone, you never had to go through it alone. Your family and friends were always there to support you, all you had to do was ask for help and open up to them. You will relapse and feel like it’s pointless at times, but a long happy life is worth the fight. Do it for your family and your loved ones who believe in you and who want to see you succeed. Remember… “What is bad for your body is good for art”.. channel those negative thoughts and throw them into the canvas, keep creating artwork, it’s one of the best therapy tools you will have 🙂
    You are passionate, loving and creative!
    much love,
    susie <3

    • Hi Susie – Beautiful picture! You are so talented. I love your point about channeling your struggles into your art. I do that, too, as a writer!

  • Jen Pfalz

    Dear Jen, don’t wait until you are 42 years old to finally seek help. You will not have wasted half of your life trying to not eat, then binging, then starving to make up for it. You will never be “perfect.” Truthfully, nobody is. Not your supermodels and actresses and singers. You will never be the daughter your mother wanted, but you can be a wonderful you without the pain you’re carrying. Waiting for over 30 years to seek help will make your recovery harder and more painful. Ask for help.

    • Dear Jen – I am so sorry to hear that you are struggling. Yes, asking for help is key. I would never have recovered without reaching out for help. You can do it. Email me at jenni@jennischaefer.com, and I can direct you specifically to resources.

  • Lea Fouquet

    Dear Lea. Don’t wait for recovery. You are enough. You deserve to recover and to be happy. You are stronger than you realise and you can do this. Keep fighting.

    • Lea – That is such a key: don’t wait for recovery. Yes, we must learn to choose recovery in each and every moment. Thanks for sharing!

  • Erin Morreall

    THANK YOU for writing this!! I’m in recovery now and I feel the things your describe every day. It’s so comforting to know I’m not alone in those feelings. Although I can’t offer myself any advice from a recovered standpoint yet, I do try to stay focused on WHY I am recovering. I want to be healthy enough to have children with my husband and I can’t do that with ED in control.

    • Erin – You are so brave and strong for fighting for your recovery! You are wise: stay focused on the WHY. We recover from our eating disorders in order to recover ourselves.

  • Katie

    Dear Katie, You have to take ownership for your own recovery. You are the only one who can make the right choices. You are the only one who can choose yourself into the life you so desperately want to live. So do it!

    • Hi Katie – Taking ownership of your own recovery is such a key message. You are so right. I really appreciate your sharing!

  • Jessica Cowan

    Dear Jessica, At times it feels like everything that could go wrong has and that nothing can go right. Just know that the strongest weapons to use in the fight against ED are optimism and perseverance. During those down times you have to believe that there will be a time when things start to go better. And the only way to get to those better times is to stay recovery focused

    • Jessica, I am so happy that you brought up the importance of optimism and perseverance. You are right: those are powerful weapons. Thanks for sharing!

    • You are the winner of the signed book, Jessica! Can you please send your snail mail address to jenni@jennischaefer.com? I will send a book your way soon!

  • Freyja Elizabeth

    Dear Freyja

    You are about to challenge yourself in the hardest way possible. You are about to take everything you think, feel and believe and try to change that. You are going to do this because you want to be you, a person you are proud of, and ultimately you want to be the best you can be. To do that, you will need to start letting go of this disorder, because although you can’t see it, it is holding you back.

    One day, a very wise woman is going to challenge something you firmly believe and tell you that you are wrong. It wont make sense, but then as you drive back from group you will hear this line of a song … “theres a hole in your logic, you who knows all the answers, you can sigh and say magic, and expect me to buy it”. This is going to be a pivotal point in your recovery. After this you will start to find the battle a little bit easier. It won’t ever be easy, but thinking about that song, and that woman, will always make you smile. Even when you want to cry.

    You are going to learn to accept compliments. One day, in group, someone is going to stand and refuse to let up until you accept the compliment she is giving you. You still won’t like compliments but you will be able to accept others have an opinion and that just because you dont believe it, does not mean its not valid.

    You are going to be okay. One day you will reach the point where you have bad momemts or thoughts, and not that often, instead of bad days. You will go weeks sometimes without worrying or stressing about your eating disorder.

    It will be hard, but worth it. I promise.

    • This is an incredible letter! Your words are sure to help a lot of people.

  • Jennifer

    I can’t give myself any good advice right now. What I relate to and where I’m at is “If you listen to your treatment team and follow their advice, you will feel exceedingly uncomfortable.”
    EXCEEDINGLY isn’t a strong enough word. I’m at that point where every time I leave the therapists office and the dieticians office and even the physicians office I want to QUIT and give up on this whole treatment thing and I’m seething angry for the whole week…especially when I have to see them all 3 in the same week…which has happened twice recently!
    This is hard. What they ask of me seems impossible. I don’t know HOW any of you get to “recovery”. I don’t see that light anywhere in my tunnel.