Against all odds
She's not someone you'd expect to recovery. Decades living with an eating disorder, endless barriers to jump over. But seeing the progress that my patient (I'll refer to as) Amy has made should provide hope to anyone who has long given up. Yes, recovery is possible. Not easy. Not quick. But possible. Please read through the end and share your thoughts with "Amy".
In the last 50+ years, I cannot remember a time in which I was satisfied (even slightly) with my body. As a matter of fact, I view it as disgusting and embarrassing. Even at my sickest state, I was convinced I was the fattest one in the room. In this point of my recovery, I deem it important to reflect on how far I’ve come. Below is my life’s journey thus far.
It is uncertain to me why I have suffered from Eating Disorders for most of my life. However, in my past, could lay the meaning for all of this. My mom had EDs always. My ED could be attributed to nature vs. nurture. In other words, it was perhaps either a learned behavior or maybe it was genetically passed down to me. It seemed important to my Mom that I should watch what I eat. She was always suggesting that I should not have seconds at meals. I remember my Dad taking us for ice cream when we were kids. My mom would always get a diet soda so it seemed appropriate to me to follow her lead. When I was 8 years old I experienced a terrible trauma. Even all these years later, I cannot reveal the details of this trauma. All of these childhood memories are what, I believe, set the course for this ever-lasting emotional rollercoaster that is my life.
As I was preparing to graduate from high school, my ED became quite severe. I was passing out on a daily basis. My pediatrician told me that I was being “ridiculous”; I did not need to lose any weight and to just “eat more”. It was at this time that I realized that if I ate just enough, it would not raise suspicions. It was also in my teen years that I started to self-harm. I did this to the point of being certain it would kill me. I didn’t care. These behaviors even led into my adult life.
At the age of 23, I was married and eventually had 3 kids. During this time, my behaviors somewhat subsided until my husband began drinking heavily. This not only effected him, but it also effected me and our children. What at first seemed like a “silver lining” was actually the calm before the storm. I became engrossed in my ED once again. All my behaviors emerged all at once. I was unable to sit with my family at the kitchen table during dinners. I would make my own “safe” foods and eat at the counter while doing chores while I ate. Even as an adult, I was still following my Mom’s lead.
After 20+ years of marriage I finally somehow found the strength to separate from my husband. As I began trying to pay our bills, it quickly became apparent that there was no money left in our joint accounts. I had to begin again. This stress increased the frequency of my ED behaviors. I became quite sick again. I refused to admit it. My foggy brain kept me from the reality of my life. Even when close friends and family claimed I needed help, I thought they were just trying to make me fat. Kathy, my therapist, challenged me to attend an intake interview at an ED treatment center. She even called them for me. I went in order to prove my point – I do not need help!
Getting help--no quick fix
What I thought would be one hour out of my day, turned out to be four years of my life. Since that day, I have been in residential 3 times, and PHP and IOP too many times to count. After each stay, I felt like a failure. I’m not sure if I felt this way because I couldn’t be cured from my ED or because I was letting my treatment team talk me into eating. Insurance was not a great help. They would only approve 2 weeks max in resi for my first 2 stays. I would be discharged from residential and immediately make excuses for using just 1 or 2 behaviors. “That’s better than all of them”, I would assure myself. My outpatient treatment team were instrumental in convincing my insurance company to extend my treatment in my last resi stay to 6 weeks. Upon discharge, I thought I was cured. I felt great for a few weeks before the ED got into my head again. I relapsed.
I overcame that relapse thanks to the support of my RD, Lori and the rest of my treatment team. She could see through the ED lies. She knew I was relapsing even before I did. Yet I've turned it and I’ve had many accomplishments in the last few months:
I eat my meal plan consistently
I’ve attempted to move away from “safe” foods.
I haven’t used ED behaviors in 3 weeks.
I’ve enrolled myself into a 16-week DBT group.
These are all accomplishments that I would not have believed possible even 3 months ago. I will strive to add to this list within the next 3 months. I feel more peace and contentment in my life now than I have ever before.
The journey isn't over. But recovery is in site
Even though I reached so many incredible accomplishments, that is only the beginning of the end of my recovery. Today, there a different challenges to face. Being closer to recovery than ever before, I am now terrified of losing my ED. It’s been my stress control, my safety net, my numbing against my life. How do I let go of it when I may need it again? What if I can’t get it back? Even though I know that it is in my best interest to continue to move forward with my recovery, part of me does not want to let go of my ED forever. My goal going forward will be to use my “wise” mind to conquer these thoughts. I want to be able to look in the mirror and think, “I am who I am; I’ve done the best I could, given my circumstances, and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished”. I WILL continue to fight and learn to love myself, whoever that may be, “Against All Odds”
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