To honor National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, recovered clinicians from Chrysalis decided to share experiences and stories from our recovery journey. It is our hope that these insights will help clients realize that they are not alone and recovery is possible.
How much did having and recovering from an ED impact your decision to do what you do now?
- Honestly, almost everything. I definitely would not have become a dietitian, chosen to work with eating disorders, or specialized in sports nutrition if I hadn’t experienced and healed from my own ED.
- Not at all but I do think it helps me understand my clients struggles.
- Dealing with anxiety throughout childhood, and then later anorexia significantly impacted my decision to follow this career path. I never would have pursued this career if I hadn’t walked through it myself.
When was the moment you knew something had to change?
- There was a solid week during my senior year of college where I didn’t leave my dorm at all…I isolated in my bedroom the whole time except to go into my kitchen and use behaviors. The isolation hit REAL hard and I decided that wasn’t how I wanted to spend the rest of my college experience, and definitely not the rest of my life.
- When I wasn’t hungry and had a moment of reflection. I realized how mean I had been and how much better I felt. I didn’t want to go back to being hungry and mean.
- When I looked back at my college years as they were coming to an end and realized this life experience I had looked so forward to had passed right before my eyes. Knowing that my ED had taken the opportunity for me to make deep, authentic meaningful relationships saddened me. I had to come to terms with the fact that this life stage was coming to an end, and I would have no sorority sisters or friends I felt close enough to stand beside me at my wedding one day….it made me realize that my ED had taken so much but given me so little.
What were the top 3 most impactful factors in your recovery and why?
- Real, authentic connection with others on a human level was definitely the biggest factor because this helped me challenge so many negative thoughts I had about myself, my body, food, and the world in general…it helped cultivate the little bit of hope I had left, and that was really what I needed. Distancing myself from toxic people and my sport was the second biggest factor, because I realized part of the issue wasn’t necessarily me, but the people I surrounded myself with. Unfortunately at the time, this meant many of my own teammates who were also struggling with food and body image – we just had no idea how to talk about any of it in a helpful way or how to get support. Surrounding myself with people who saw me as a human being first, instead of an athlete, was immensely helpful in challenging my identity and growing from it. I also had hip surgery the summer before my senior year which threw me into the pits of my ED, but this was actually a blessing in disguise because it forced me to take a break from exercise and my sport, and explore other aspects of life I had forgotten about that I actually found immensely joyful. Lastly, being surrounded by and immersed in nature had a HUGE impact on my healing!! It allowed me to truly connect to myself, others, and understand what I truly value.
- Again, recognizing how much better I felt when I wasn’t hungry. Also, realizing that I had been fooled into thinking my body was broken and unacceptable – I began to appreciate my body and see its beauty. Did I mention I didn’t want to go back to being hungry and impatient.
- Wanting true connections with people 2. Wanting to one day be a healthy mother 3. Being tired of all the work involved in my ED
What is one thing you wish you could tell ALL your clients who are struggling?
- You do have to be brave to choose recovery because you’re taking a risk. The risk is in giving up patterns and habits that have helped you survive, to try and build different thoughts and behaviors that will take you past barely surviving and allow you to thrive. The first step to being brave is being scared…so be scared and do it anyway.
- If you can just get to the other side, you will feel so much better and you will never want to go back. Also, you have been fooled into thinking you are broken. You are not.
- An ED doesn’t have to be forever. It is scary to let go of something that has been a primary coping skill or part of your identity for so long, but life is so much better without it. You can learn to be comfortable in your body. You can learn to appreciate what your body can do and focus less on how it appears. You can learn to love yourself and accept love. You can be happy. Not only is it possible, but you deserve it!
What is one thing you wish your clients knew about your recovery journey?
- Some days I felt like my head and my heart were being torn apart. It was so uncomfortable, feeling like I constantly had to fight a part of me that refused to relinquish control. But every time I did, the part of me that wanted to grow, and to truly live, and to become the person I would respect and admire, got stronger. And little by little, things got better – not because they got easier, but because I got stronger. And you will too.
- It was slow. I had relapses. At the end of the day, I would always choose recovery.
- It was hard, but it was worth it. Life without an ED is so much brighter…so much fuller…than life with it.
How do you hold hope now for clients?
- This may sound corny but it’s true, so I don’t care: I see the parts of them that are resilient, creative, kind, funny, and compassionate that they have either been blind to or have kept hidden for so long. When they’re unable to hold hope or fight for that part of themselves, I think it is our job to do that for them. I remember who did that for me when I was in that space and how much I needed it, even though I didn’t see it at the time; so now I’m paying it forward.
- I love my job because I get to cut through all the shit and see my clients for the strong, creative, amazing souls they are.
- I tell my clients that I believe in them and will continue to do so until they are able to believe in themselves. I want to be evidence to them that recovery is possible.
How do you talk about EDs all day and not get triggered?
- All the anxiety I used to feel about everything that comes along with an eating disorder, is now replaced with compassion – for my clients, and for my past self.
- I don’t ever want to feel that way again.
- I don’t know, to be honest. It just doesn’t bother me. I think because I know the emotional pain that comes along with an ED, and I don’t want to invite that back into my life. You cant pick and choose which aspects of an ED you want to keep. For me, I don’t want any of it!
How do you think the White thin ideal and/or social media impacted your ED?
- I’ve always had a love-hate relationship (mostly hate) with social media because I’ve seen how people can be influenced by it and get caught up in unfair comparisons and arbitrary standards that really don’t mean anything. It didn’t impact my body image that much, but it definitely contributed to feelings of being left out, not enough, different, and disconnected…it exacerbated my depressive tendencies for sure.
- I was tricked into believing if my body did not look a certain way, I was less valuable. That my success depended on my appearance and that I needed acceptance from others to be ok with myself.
- My ED occurred long before the days of social media! Yikes!! However, I recall being lured in by celebrity images in magazines of woman perfectly airbrushed. These images were not reality, yet the pressure to attain them was ever present.
When or how did you start to make peace with your body, and how do you currently handle body image?
- I got fed up of hating what I saw in the mirror and realized that hating my body was only going to make me continue hating it, plus people had different reactions to my changing body, so I also realized that not everyone had the same body preferences. I started questioning what I had been taught, largely by my sport and the “powers that be” – aka the patriarchy and capitalism – about what an “ideal” body even was and started focusing instead on what my body did for me and who I wanted to be outside of what I looked like.
- It was a long process. Body image work took a long time. At some point I realized that we have the ability to create our own reality. I honestly started looking at myself in the mirror and telling myself I was beautiful. I knew my body was the only one I got so I could love it or hate it but it really wasn’t going to change. I chose to love it and suddenly, I saw myself as beautiful.
- I think I fully began to find peace with my body when I was pregnant for the first time. This changed my view on the purpose of my body. I wanted to be a healthy model for my daughter. As one ages, and wrinkles, sagging, etc… all become a reality, the pressure related to body image remains a reality as well. However, almost losing my life to a medical emergency and having the scars as a reminder of how close I got to losing everything, serves as a constant reminder to me of what truly matters.
What are your thoughts on “full” recovery?
- I absolutely believe “full” recovery is possible because I and so many others have lived and are currently living it. Everyone’s definition of “recovery” may be specific to them, but there are some general themes they all share. For me, living a fully recovered life means that yes, *technically* I always have the option to return to my eating disorder and disordered behaviors, but they are no longer an option in my mind because I know what they lead to, and I know they do nothing for me anymore. It all comes back to intention and values, and I believe that once you have fully committed to living the life you want to live and becoming the person you want to be, which largely happens by practicing your values, you choose your freedom, yourself, and your life over whatever the heck you did before that almost ruined you. Every time.
- I think eating disorders are always available coping mechanisms. So are a lot of other less ideal behaviors. I believe full recovery comes when you can look objectively at eating disorder behaviors and recognize them for what they are – self-injurious activities built on a tower of lies.
- I believe “full” recovery is possible, but that doesn’t mean life becomes easy. Life is filled with hard times…physical and emotional challenges. Some seasons in life seem to feel like one hurdle after another. There is always the potential to choose to slip into old patterns, but we can’t allow our lives to be dictated by this. I love Victor Frankl, and his quotes have served to inspire and guide me during hard times. A favorite is “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Recovery is a choice…a hard one. And when we choose recovery every single day, we are choosing to be free.