Proud2Bme | Happy Birthday, ED: Why I Celebrate Recovery Milestones

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Happy Birthday, ED: Why I Celebrate Recovery Milestones

By Annie Stewart--Recently, a Bustle blogger wrote a piece about celebrating her eating disorder’s tenth birthday. Should one celebrate his/her eating disorder? Is that helpful or harmful to recovery? The short answer: everyone’s recovery looks different and everyone has different personalities.

For instance, I am a very reflective person, so it has been healthy for me to to look back and celebrate milestones in my recovery. I do know others, however, who see their eating disorder as something that happened to them and is a part of them, but they don’t spend time reflecting on it very much. Both responses are valid, and I cannot say one is a good response and one is bad. All I can do is speak of my own experience.

As I read Ms. Bennett’s article, I thought of all the similarities I share with her—the perfectionism, the sense of order and control, the complete obsession with exercise and healthy eating and the concern from family members and doctors. When you are sick, you think you are in control; you feel on top of the world. However, as we know, it is the complete opposite.

The eating disorder is like a swarm of locusts, coming in and destroying everything in its path. It attacks the mind first, feeding you lies about yourself and your sense of self-worth. The eating disordered voice is constantly screaming in your ear and you can’t shake it no matter how hard you try.

Then it attacks your everyday functioning—school, work, hobbies, family and relationships. In my experience, the body is the last thing to be affected. By the time the body is affected, someone has most likely been struggling with an eating disorder for years. The outward signs of the eating disorder are merely a manifestation of what someone is battling internally (and you definitely cannot tell whether someone has an eating disorder simply by looking at them).

Therefore, an essential part of recovery is gaining ownership over your own recovery—exerting power over your own life, rather than your eating disorder having the power. You have to want recovery for yourself; not for anyone else. You have to fight for recovery because you know you are worthy of love and happiness. Reflecting on my story, and yes, celebrating my recovery, is a way I have exerted power over my life.

I do believe that it is possible to reflect on your eating disorder too much, to the point where it is as if you are reliving the past. There is an important distinction between healthy and unhealthy reflection—and only you can decide where those lines should be drawn.

There are certain milestones in my recovery I celebrate every year. Coincidently, one of them just passed—on February 20th, 2007 I was hospitalized. Every year, I do something special to commemorate what happened on that day. My hospitalization was where my walls slowly started to come down; it was where I began the long journey back to healing. It was in that dreary hospital room where I decided I wanted to get better, even if at that the time there was only a small part of me that wanted a life outside my eating disorder.

So, I celebrate what that day symbolizes and how far I have come. If you do choose to celebrate important mile markers in your recovery, do not spend too much time dwelling on what it took from you. Trust me, in the past nine years of recovery, I have spent many days, weeks and months wallowing in self-blame and self-hatred over the past. This is a dead end and has the potential to reignite eating disordered thoughts. Instead, spend your energy reflecting on all the incredible lessons you learned because of ED and how you gained important skills that will serve you well in all the days ahead. Additionally, everything I thought my eating disorder stole from me has been restored and redeemed in more ways than I ever thought possible.

As Ms. Bennet noted, I have found it important to recognize that my eating disorder wasn’t something that simply happened to me—like it was some kind of phase—rather than the disease that it is. ED has contributed to the person that I am, for better or for worse. I am in remission—I have been for a long time. However, there are occasions when the eating disorder whispers lies into my ear in moments of stress, anxiety or change. I have learned that there is some genuine beauty in recognizing that the ED voice still persists, but not letting that voice consume. Instead, you overcome it, because that is who you are—you are an overcomer.

I often think about what present-day me would  tell my 16-year-old self as I lay in that hospital bed. I would tell her to take a risk and see what happens—go to rehab and just give it one shot. I would tell her that change isn’t as scary as she thinks it is and that, in fact, without change she can’t truly embrace all life has to offer. I would tell her that she has a long life ahead of her and that her eating disorder would give her the compassion, empathy and passion to walk alongside others in their own pain and struggles.

I would tell her that she would travel the world and experience ways of life different from her own. I would tell her that yes, she would experience loss and heartbreak, joy and sorrow, and that she cannot really feel the full extent of joy without knowing deep sorrow. I would want to tell her about the incredible life she would have ahead of her; I would want to tell her every detail, but I don’t think she would be able to handle so much information at one time. I don’t think she would have believed me; I don’t think she could have known then what her life would one day be like, how she could live free of her illness.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that fragile, broken 16-year-old in the hospital was me. I do not recognize that person; yet I can still pinpoint every detail of those first few days and weeks in recovery. I can still remember shaking in fear on the whole airplane ride to Arizona, where I would undergo treatment. I still remember crying just about every day—my emotions were left dormant for the past several years, so when I began recovery, it was as if my emotions were coming to life again. I can still remember how victorious I felt the first time I finished a meal; furthermore, I can recall how glorious it was when I finished a meal without feeling guilty.

Even so many years later, I can still recall everything in vivid detail and I do not think that is unhealthy. I am connected to that person I once was, and I want to be connected to her because she has contributed to who I am. I do not dwell on who she used to be and the disease that took so much from her. Instead, I celebrate everything she has overcome and the timeless gifts her eating disorder has given her.

About the blogger: Annie Stewart graduated from university with a degree in sociology and gender studies. She is especially passionate about seeing individuals develop a healthy relationship with food, exercise and the body. Beyond that, she is also passionate about social justice, good strong coffee (usually accompanied by a book), traveling and telling her own story of recovery in the hopes that it can be a beacon of light on someone else's road to healing, health and wholeness. She hopes to eventually go on to graduate school and pursue a degree in clinical social work.

Also by Annie:

Twirlgate: Women Athletes Deserve Better

Colleges Need More Eating Disorder Resources

Recovering from an Eating Disorder in College: A Survival Guide

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