Proud2Bme | The Road to Recovery Starts Abroad

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The Road to Recovery Starts Abroad

By Annie Stewart--Traveling is in my blood. My parents met when they were living abroad, and they passed on that passion to me and my siblings. Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to travel to Thailand, Argentina and the UK. Even though I had been in recovery for many years when I started traveling, the act of traveling itself has been crucial to my recovery from ED.

Trigger warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior.

One of the most devastating aspects of an eating disorder is that he cuts you off from the outside world. He isolates you, holds you captive and wants you to be loyal to him alone. He becomes a voice in your head that you can’t shake. Let’s be clear—it’s not your voice, it is the voice of your abuser telling you you are a worthless, ugly bitch who doesn’t deserve to live a full, meaningful life. He is constantly present, whispering lies in your ear at every moment. He hates that you have other people in your life; he is jealous and manipulative. ED would definitely never let you travel anywhere—too much risk and uncertainty. This is exactly why the act of going to new places, meeting new, interesting people, and making new memories (that don’t involve ED) helps to kick ED to the curb.

Let’s be honest, traveling has the potential to be triggering for someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, so it is important to know this before you go on a trip. It doesn’t mean it is impossible to travel if you are still struggling to break up with ED—you just need to make sure you have the necessary resources and support in place during your trip. Anything can happen while abroad. You can encounter situations that are out of your control; you have to rely on people other than yourself. You can get lost and have no clue where you are going. If you are moving to another country long-term, you could encounter confusion, loneliness and isolation.

I have experienced all of these aforementioned situations; however, I wouldn’t trade ANY of these experiences for anything else in this world. Traveling communicates a very important message to ED. It tells him that he no longer has control over my life. It tells him that I gladly embrace risk, change and even hardship because I know that without it, I am not truly living. It also communicates to him that I have a healthy relationship with food and my body. I admit, I have a certain schedule with food and exercise. I love structure and order so I I enjoy having my meals and snacks at certain times of the day. I love knowing I have my favorite exercise classes on certain days at specific times. I don’t think this adherence to structure is a bad thing—but when you travel all that structure and schedules can go out the window. This is the key: to not be militaristic about food and exercise. I embrace flexibility and change, because I want to be open to life in all its glorious fullness.

Traveling: being immersed in a variety of cultures, backgrounds and life experiences makes me come alive like nothing else. I want to continuously engage in activities and ways of being that make me come alive. Traveling makes me feel more connected to the world around me and the people in it. I have met people I have never forgotten and I will carry their names, faces and stories with me for the rest of my life. Traveling has strengthened my passion for social justice and has cultivated my desire to walk alongside those who are marginalized and oppressed. Traveling has enhanced my capacities and widened my heart for more goodness, love and lifelong memories.

What I find especially significant about this heart-widening experience is that this is the exact thing ED tried to take away from me. Nine years ago, I was hospitalized because my heart rate was fatally low due to the toll anorexia had taken on that powerful, incredible muscle. Did you know the most common cause of death for those suffering from anorexia is heart failure? This is fascinating to me because ED did not just try to take my physical heart. He tried to take my passions, my joys, my strengths, the particular social issues that put a fire in my belly, the HEART I have to stand with those who are marginalized. That is why the act of traveling has such redeeming value—it takes back everything ED stole from me.  

I will continue to travel, to go to new places, to explore and to dream. I will face my fears and adventure into the unknown. The act of travel alone means taking a stand; it’s as if traveling shouts the word LIFE when ED is shouting the word DEATH. I hope that wherever you are, dear readers and brothers and sisters of mine in recovery, you too will choose life in all its fullness, however that looks for you. Go, discover, dream—whether that means traveling to a city, state or country. Or sometimes travel doesn’t have to mean leaving your town. It could simply mean traveling into the unknown, facing a fear, taking a risk or meeting someone new and venturing into a new relationship. Whatever it is, embrace life, embrace risk, welcome change. You deserve life in all its glorious fullness—we all do.

For recovery resources and treatment options, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 800-931-2237.

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 is currently interning with a human rights organization in England and hopes to eventually go on to graduate school and pursue a degree in clinical social work.

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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.

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