Proud2Bme | A Recovery Post That Talks About Real Recovery

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A Recovery Post That Talks About Real Recovery

By Claire Trainor--I want to preface this by saying a few things: I don’t mean to sound insensitive. I don’t mean to belittle the experience of suffering, because I know how real it is to hurt in the way that millions are hurt. I understand eating disorders and depression and anxiety in a way I hope no one should ever have to.

BUT... I'm tired of seeing all of the 'recovery' posts on various websites and blogs and Facebook pages that devote 95% of the article to the dirty details of mental illness and save the last 5% for a 'hopeful' recovery message. I’m tired of hearing about how much weight there was to gain, and how much weight was lost, how many trips to the hospital took place. I am tired of people wearing their diagnosis like a badge of armor, of seeing feeding tube selfies pop up in my news feed (although I empathize with the desire to take them, and just deleted my own). I’m tired of hearing stories about binging and purging, suicide urges, hours at the gym, or self harm. If a recovery essay is more about the illness than than the journey to health, it isn’t the time to be writing about recovery. On some level, everyone has to know that it is triggering and if someone is consciously putting triggering material into the world, he/she is still being driven by another force.

I know that backstory is necessary in all stories. But, in my opinion, it should be limited to just that: backstory. If one is writing about recovery--real, honest, painful recovery--the severity of the illness isn’t necessary to include; if someone is taking the steps towards health, it should be obvious that they were struggling before.

In light of such criticisms, I would like to offer my own recovery post. In regards to trying to steer away from everything I have complained about, it starts on January 1, 2013 when I, in an attempt to earn a pass from treatment, decided to fake recovery for one week. I fully intended to go back to behaviors after the short burst of freedom from residential treatment, but I never did. In seven days, I committed myself 100% to gaining back a life I was losing. Something clicked, and I felt a desire to recover that I never believed existed. And, despite how much it hurt to do so, I opened up in therapy and worked to talk to my therapist about all of the little parts that go into making an eating disorder spin. I opened up to my parents about everything they had ever done that made me really truly angry, and I learned to let go of all of the feelings I had carried like cement blocks stacked behind my ribcage. I fought as hard as I possibly could, through meals and sessions and partial treatment, until I broke away from residential and realized that I could get back to a life that I was unprepared for.

In February, I left Oklahoma and returned to a clean room in Denver and a family who, despite everything I had put them through, forgave me and did everything to help me become who I am today. I followed my meal plan like it was scripture until I realized it was doing more harm than good, after which I started to talk to my dietician and switched to intuitive eating (which, for me, was surprisingly easy). I missed my friends and my high school and my life (and my eating disorder occasionally) with a fierceness that often kept me up at night, anxious, tears spilling over onto the pillow case. I spent my time, mostly alone, doing online school work and I realized that I would miss out on so many of the things that high school should have been about: prom and soccer games and late night study sessions with friends. I saw pictures posted on Facebook of the life that I could have been living, and every time I saw them, I was angry at myself for sabotaging that for an eating disorder that, in retrospect, left me completely void of substance. I saw my friends struggling with school work that I wanted to be struggling with, too, and I doubted my intelligence and commitment to education every day because I was felt I wasn’t pushing myself as hard as everyone else was. Eventually I deleted all social media because I knew it was doing more harm than good. It took me months to create an entirely new Facebook, one that was untainted by pictures from times in my life I didn’t want to be defined by (I also deleted all of my awkward middle school photos in the process, which was just an added bonus). In regards to education/intelligence, I struggled through the season of standardized tests, college essays, and big envelopes to eventually accept that I am as smart as the people I envied. Though I still struggle to accept that, despite an untraditional high school path, and despite my college not being listed at the top of US News College Ranking lists, I am a bright human being in more ways than one; I have realized that I am defined in terms of my success (and failures), and no one else’s because my experience is exclusively mine. I still have a hard time saying that without feeling cocky, but I’m working on it.

In the months after treatment, I lost hours sitting on the sofa because I didn’t know how to manage my time. In the hours I spent staring at the wall, I felt myself slipping again- not necessarily into my eating disorder or depression, but into the sadness that started it all. And so I planned each moment of each day so that I would not waste time plunging back down whatever warped rabbit’s hole I had fallen down before. I filled each day with things that made me truly happy- I set aside specific time to write, and to cuddle with my dog, and to go to a writing class, and to watch Gossip Girl or Criminal Minds. I went to therapy every week and I talked to my doctors about my fears and hopes and concerns. I told them when I lapsed, or when I wanted to. I spent entire sessions sitting on the floor planning out my whole week, and I spent other sessions crying on the sofa because I didn’t know what else to do with the plethora of feelings that come when your body is finally weight restored. I learned that I have a hard time with uncertainty; I need plans to fend off feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. I am still working on finding the balance between planning/preparation and letting go, but I realize that I am still finding that equilibrium and I hope to be patient with myself more than anything.

The thing is, the qualities that existed during my depression and my eating disorder never really went away. I am still the stubborn, driven, compassionate, manipulative, and loyal human being I was before. There are certain qualities that never disappear, and those are some of mine. I have learned to channel them into a healthy outlet. I have learned to be stubborn and driven in ways that help serve me (I am, most certainly, stubborn about recovery). I learned to control my manipulative tendencies, even though I sometimes struggle when I am having a hard time. I learned to be a compassionate, selfless, loyal friend to those who stood by me during everything, and, perhaps more importantly, I learned that some people are not built to be strong emotional supports, and that’s okay. Everyone is good for something, and no one is good for everything.

On a trip to the beach this summer, I spent five days in nothing but a bikini. Beforehand, I was terrified. I worried about whether or not to pack a one-piece to avoid the problem all together. In the end, I didn’t. And, while there, I learned to appreciate my body not only for what it could do for me (swim, walk on the beach, etc), but for how it looked. I realized that the body I had been striving for existed only in prepubescent girls- I, at 18, am supposed to look the way I look and I am 98% okay with being a grown woman. My body is my body. And, as terrifying as it is to say this, I have a pretty great body (in my humble opinion). I feel guilty saying that, even though I think it sometimes.

In the last year, I have learned to rely on people. I have learned that my parents are excellent supporters when I tell them what I need, and my sister is an incredible person when I just need to sit in someone else’s bed and cry and watch tv and forget about everything for awhile. My boyfriend is more understanding and patient and kind than I could have ever hoped, and I am  learning how to accept his help when he gives it, without feeling guilty. I have learned that my friends are there, and they are stronger than I ever imagined they could be. Although I know my disorder wasn’t easy on them either, they have fought to make our friendships work and to be there when I need them. I have the most dedicated, wonderful therapist in the entire world and I couldn’t be happier that she’s here for me. Most importantly, I’ve learned that, as cliche as this sounds, I am not alone. I have so many people in my life who I can lean on when I need them to. But it is never anyone else’s responsibility to fix me- that I have done it with help from others, but with my own motivation since I first decided to get better.

Two weeks ago, I spoke at an old treatment center about recovery and I had a harder time than I imagined. I have been in a solid, stable place for just over a year and a half. I have grown to be a complete person. And still, because of the transition of college and relationships that continue to become more complicated, it was harder than I thought it would be. And, for the first time in a long time, I found myself missing my disorder. And then I stopped and thought about why, and I realized that in times of transition, I want to go back to what is safe. I spent the weeks after, up until now, fighting to maintain my stability. I used skills I learned before I wanted to learn them, and I have realized that Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and all of the random things I was taught in treatment are not useless. I have realized that I know how to help myself, if I just sit down and try to think through it. But, in speaking about recovery to others who were struggling (many of whom actually changed direction in treatment after), I realized that I am not entirely ready to help others yet. I’m still busy helping myself, and I come first. I am still learning to be okay with that.

Recovery, by nature, is messy. It has jagged edges and rough surfaces that turn smooth like sea glass over time. It is filled with tears and saying “I’m sorry” a thousand times (some warranted and some not) and ups, downs, sideways, backwards. It is filled with learning to be a person I wasn’t aware was inside of me. Recovery cannot be defined in a linear direction, nor can you ever be in the same place twice, no matter how similar circumstances seem. In my recovery, I have learned to be okay with what my life is, even if it’s not what I had originally planned for. I have learned that I can be happy, and that I can be sad and angry and confused and all of that is okay. I am a person, like everyone else, and I cannot hold myself to a higher standard. Recovery is the hardest thing I have ever done, because it wasn’t just about letting go of my eating disorder, it was about learning to hold onto myself and all of my intricacies, all of the little turns and divots in my brain, learning to understand my thoughts and who I am as a person on a level I never realized I could. My doctor once told me that, after six months of real, honest recovery no patient he ever had turned around, and I believe him: once you get there, going back seems far too hard.

So here is my recovery rant. I tried as hard as I could to stay away from numbers and behaviors and treatments, and to focus on only what happened after. But, like I said, backstory is necessary and I, too, have one. I am one girl, and I am still teetering on the line between being a kid and being a grownup, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt. This is my story, and my opinion, and, in some ways, my life. 

Image courtesy The Love Yourself Challenge.

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

Proud2Bme was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental health organization that has licensed the concept to the National Eating Disorders Association. Unless otherwise noted, all original content on this site is copyright The National Eating Disorders Association. The Proud2Bme brand, logos, and trademarks are property of Rivierduinen.