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4 Things No One Tells You About Recovery

By Claire Trainor--The night before we left for a six-week winter break, my friends Carson, Ellie, and I sat in the study room talking. Somehow, the topic of therapy came up. In my recovery, I have had a lot of it. And while we were sitting around, the topic of my eating disorder and my depression came up. Carson asked me if the money my parents spent on treatment and therapy was worth it and without thinking I said, “Yes. Because without it, I’m nearly positive I would have died.”

And as is common in late night chats between friends he continued to ask deep questions: What is it like to be in the hospital? Why couldn’t you get over it? Do you regret missing out on high school? Were eating disorders genetic in your family?  He asked what caused my eating disorder and what happened on mornings I woke up and felt like going back. These were questions no one had ever directly asked me before. And more importantly, they were questions I didn’t know I wanted to be asked.

At the end of it, Carson calmly said, “You know Claire, when you first told me about all this stuff, I didn’t really feel bad for you. I kind of just thought it was something that girls go through in high school sometimes. I actually understand it a lot better now.” He didn’t mean it rudely, he didn’t mean to minimize it, and he didn’t mean to offend me. He just didn’t understand and that’s okay. It often isn’t apathy that leads people to decisions—it’s just being naïve. It’s hard to empathize with something that one doesn’t fully understand. In order to break the stigma, it’s up to the people who do get it to share what they know.

I’ve read a lot of articles that list things you should know about eating disorders. And while I agree with most of what they say, I’m not sure if they say it all. So, here’s my stab at it.

  1. Treatment is always worth it. Maybe it doesn’t work the first time. Maybe it doesn’t work the fourth. Maybe insurance cuts you off half way through and you have to do the work in outpatient treatment. Maybe it takes away incredible life experiences. Maybe it changes college tuitions. All of those things happened to me. And still, without blinking I can say that treatment was worth it. Because without it, I wouldn’t be here and I don’t want to try and put a price on my life. Making the choice to go to treatment is never easy. There are tears involved, usually. Goodbyes, too. But treatment saves lives that may otherwise be plagued with illness forever. Committing to recovery is one of the bravest things someone has to do.
     
  2. Patients have to forgive themselves. Until this conversation, I didn’t realize the full extent of my anger towards myself for missing out on high school. I didn’t realize how truly furious I was that I had deprived myself of all those experiences that my peers talk about. But I also realize that the genetic gun was loaded, that I’m a perfectionist, and that my history with my body hatred would have evolved into an eating disorder at some point in time. And yes, I lost a lot. But, and this may sound awful, I’m glad I only missed high school. I’m 19. I have my life in front of me and I’m thriving. It’s important for anyone who has missed out on life due to mental illness not to blame his/herself. There’s no way to redo what you missed. All we can do is realize that the experiences we have helped us in our understanding, both of others and ourselves. They helped us to learn to deal with pain of mental illness and the pain of recovery.
     
  3. Recovery is never a black and white achievement—it’s a process. I have been in recovery for one year, eleven months, and 28 days. Some days, I still miss the hospital. Some days, I still miss the attention being sick got me. Some days, I don’t want to eat. But every day I am happy. For one moment at the very least, I feel pure joy at my life. I am at a school I love doing very well. I get to wake up to the most incredible boyfriend every day. I spend time with wonderful friends. I’m lucky enough to have a family who adores me. And a relapse would cost me all of that. Yes, there are days when I wake up and want to go back. But they always end. So many people I know are afraid of trying to recover because they’re scared they may not be able to do it fully, and I understand that. But recovery is, in my humble opinion, a never-ending process. You learn to integrate struggle into your life and take it for what it is: a bump. No more, no less. Recovery is messy by nature, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
     
  4. It will never be how it was the first time around. No matter whether or not I eventually relapse (and I fight it every day), my eating disorder will never be able to serve the same purpose it did before. It will never be able to provide what I previously needed and couldn’t find. I will never be able to hide it from the people I love and the people who care about me because they know what to look for. In my recovery, I’ve come to terms with many of the reasons behind my illness. I understand what purpose it served and which metaphoric voids it filled in my life. But if the same caverns open again, an eating disorder won’t be able to fill them the same way it did the first time. People who have eating disorders have them because they help with something (although they always come at a price). Figuring out the purpose it serves helps to fill the hole in another way.

Eating disorders, like all mental illnesses, come with a bundle of judgments attached to them. It’s easy for people in the midst of the pain to feel angry, uncomfortable, or disrespected because of others' stigma. But most of the time, judgment isn’t malicious, it’s just naïve. Breaking down stigma requires two willing parties: one to explain and one to learn.  

What would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!

About the blogger: Claire Trainor is a student at DePaul University majoring in Creative Writing and Psychology. In steady recovery from an eating disorder, she wants to educate, support, and inspire those struggling in anyway. She likes her dogs, hot chocolate, and books.Claire currently runs a (new) blog that can be found here.

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