Sunday, April 3, 2016

Recovery from an eating disorder is still possible. Even after all these years.

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 dug myself out of financial debt.
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”

Here's another recovery story you might like:


  1. Powerful story...
    Recovery is REAL.

  2. Congratulations! Recovery is, it seems to me, always a journey of self-discovery. Very encouraging story! Thank you!

  3. Amazing strength...and grace! She has become a keen observer of her own I am sure you have witnessed and guided...and this wisdom-of-self will give her the capacity/fortitude to keep 'fighting the good fight'... Relating strongly to her last paragraph revealing the fear of 'losing' her ED...fore it had become her ID!! This...truly scary and I feel myself empathising all over the place and understanding completely (esp the ideas of 'stress control'/numbing/safety net aspects). Thank you from the heart Amy for openly sharing your bravery and struggles with Lori and with us. Your words help more than you could possibly know.

  4. That's great for her and she did overcome a ton of things. Sometimes I feel like you're almost better off if your ED get so bad that you need residential treatment or something more than just therapy. I've had an ED for 23 years and it's much better than it used to be, but I don't feel like I'll ever get rid of it. It's tolerable and don't really think that it impacts my life much, so I can get away with it. I feel like if it was noticeable and I needed more intense treatment, I'd have a better chance of recovery. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think I would have been better off being "really bad" at some point. I think that would have gotten me better faster. I don't know if that makes sense.

    1. No, it's not better to let things get "really bad". That said, it's certainly easier to be in denial about what needs to be changed when you are doing a bit better than in the past.

    2. PTC, I understand what you mean, but I think that is part of the disorder. We often don’t feel deserving of treatment or ‘sick enough’ for a higher level of care. I know for me, the fact that I look completely fine is a major way for me to deny that anything is wrong. Sometimes I don’t even believe it myself. I feel like a fraud. However, when things were worse, I wasn’t anymore convinced that I warranted or deserved help. So, I guess my point is that we cant rely on that feeling – because ed will never let us trust or believe that. Also, you deserve more than "tolerable" deserve freedom.

    3. I guess you're right, Anon. It's so hard to figure it all out.

  5. Thanks for sharing. Please keep us posted how you are doing in the coming months. I'm sure we all want to support you through this.

    I think what stuck out to me is the "couple of behaviors." I have been realizing lately that what I call being "quirky" about some things is really just me hanging on to old ED behaviors out of safety, or control, or even habit. I have said they are things I can live with, but they are much more psychologically damaging than I was able to admit before just this week. Even though they have no physical repercussions (like not eating other people's food or going to restaurants), they cause harm to me in other ways. And I don't want to model this behavior for my baby girl. I think I'm finally ready to fully recover. Thanks, Amy. I wish you well. Please write again.

  6. It was good to read Amy’s story. I go through phases when I feel very hopeless in regards to recovery. Sometimes it just seems/feels impossible. I cannot imagine a day without ed thoughts or ed pulling at me to do things I have grown so accustomed to doing. I often wonder why my treatment team has not given up on me. How frustrating it must be. I understand, Amy, what you mean about the fear of losing the eating disorder. It is scary to think of living a different way then we are used to. It’s uncomfortable – both physically and emotionally. I find the fear of that to definitely make pushing through difficult.

    I feel like the shame of having an eating disorder is something that is talked about often…however, no one talks about the shame of recovery. I struggle with that. When I break eds rules or see that I have gained weight I feel the shame of my eating disorder telling me what a failure I am.
    Your post gives me hope that recovery is possible. I will keep it in my mind, especially when I feel like hope is lost. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. Profound...what you describe with the term 'shame of recovery'...This truly is a facet ...a real 'feeling' that comes into play whilst attempting to stay the course. There is still a visceral need to be 'accompanied' by those around us rather than dismissed as 'cured' when only weight restoration, an 'obvious to the eye' indicator of increased health, is being considered. Thank you for your insight Anonymous!

  7. Heart pumping story, it gives me positive possibilities and courage to do more.

  8. Thinking of Amy and hoping these past few months have been ok for her.