Quick announcement – I have some blog posts coming up that I finally have time to write since I’m on break! For sure will be one on recovery like a where I am now and what I have learned, my time in treatment, my time in Disney (and how bad Ed was). Basically all the things I’ve wanted to say but haven’t yet!
Anyways, onto this post. I seriously wish that the second you choose recovery you are magically overnighted a “What to Expect in Recovery (Every Single Thing)” book. That would be so beyond helpful it’s not even funny. Unfortunately, this just isn’t realistic.
My own “start” (I use quotation marks because I truly didn’t have real recovery then) in recovery began with Forest View. Those previous 4ish months in eating disorder therapy with Sue and two months working with Paul? Not even close. Of course, then I thought that I already was on my way and would be 100% okay by the end of the year. Oh man do I laugh at that thought now.
My first few days at FV were a whirlwind. I was in this new and scary world of weigh-ins, blood draws, talking about my feelings, saying the word anorexia out loud, seeing so many sweet sick girls around me, learning about ED behaviors and how the other girls would tattle, Ensures (DISGUSTING SO SO DISGUSTING), cursing every dessert at lunch, and otherwise getting used to everything that was eating disorder treatment. At the time, other than sweet I, I was both the youngest patient (range from 36-55 in the others) and the one with the shortest marriage to Ed. Every other girl had been through treatment before and sadly, they didn’t clue me in too much. I have learned basically all of what’s coming in this post on my own. I want this to be a resource for anyone new to recovery because I know it can help.
Without further ado,
What They Didn’t Tell Me About Recovery
Refeeding syndrome: it exists, and it sucks. I am honestly surprised that no one ever mentioned this in treatment. It was talked about a tiny bit, but never by name. I didn’t learn of it’s existence until I went on huge internet searches (probably should make a post about that too). Even then, I didn’t believe it could ever apply to me. When I went from eating as little as possible to what they tried to force into me in treatment, my body honestly didn’t freak out that much. Looking back, that definitely had more to do with me not following my meal plan AT ALL and continuing to overexercise than me being lucky enough to evade RS. The only minute mention of RS was when my phosphorus dipped very low in my second week. The doctor told me it happens when people start eating again and that I may have to take supplements. Never was the syndrome mentioned. Not even when T had edema in her legs did they give it a name. I believe that by ignoring this “side effect” of recovery FV did me and the other girls a disservice, which is why it is the first point I want to make. For me, refeeding has brought a sense of lightheadedness that rarely goes away, a slew of GI problems, what I have found are huge dips and jumps in glucose levels, palpitations and very fast heart rate, mood swings like crazy, increased anxiety, confusion, acid reflux so bad I can barely eat some days, and general malaise and feeling “off.” It’s been a grueling few weeks. I never imagined I would feel this bad after I signed the divorce paper. I have no clue when it will stop, but I am hopeful (after researching about 200 different websites to confirm it) that it will. I have to keep pushing through all of these crappy days to get to the good ones. You can do it too! Going back to Ed behaviors only increases the chance that you can have more RS symptoms and nobody wants that. Hang in there because even though I can’t yet vouch for it, refeeding will get better.
Note: My experience of RS has been with AN, and I am sure it’s different depending on the disorder you have and each person, so please look into other resources to see all that RS can be (here is a great one). Also, please don’t follow my example. I have and continue to make excuses why I don’t need to see my doctor. This is beyond unsafe for anyone in recovery. If something doesn’t seem okay, go to the doctor. It’s better to be worried for nothing than miss something dangerous to your health.
Your body will recover WAY faster than your mind. Weight gain is a part of recovery. I’ve heard this so many times I can’t always hide my annoyance when people tell me this. I know I can’t recover but stay at the weight I was in my sickest. I just wish there were a way to gain weight only as your mind starts to recover. Sadly, another wish of mine that isn’t ever going to be possible. When your body and mind aren’t on the same page, it so easily becomes a very negative situation. Ed is constantly whispering that all you’re doing is becoming a huge fat whale and that it’s all you’ll ever be unless you follow his demands. You hate your changing body because you aren’t ready to accept it. Another way this comes into play that I didn’t expect at all is when it others see your body change. Once you start to be at a healthier weight, suddenly those around you assume everything is fine. News flash: you cannot tell how much of an internal struggle someone has with an eating disorder based on his or her appearance. It is so hard to keep going at this stage. No one around you believes you are sick but you still deal with Ed thoughts constantly. Your mind WILL catch up, I promise. As for the people who now become skeptical of your sickness, do your best to ignore them and lean on others who support you.
Committing to recovery doesn’t make it any easier – at least not at first. I don’t know about you, but the day I first thought about recovering I imagined it being a smooth process from there on out. I always figured in a few bumps in the road but my visions were absolutely opposite of what I got. Recovery is HARD. It’s choosing to fight every single day even when you’re worn out and your body feels like crap. You can’t half-ass recovery. A lot of the times it just sucks. There’s no way to sugar coat all of the bad days I’ve experienced. Here’s the thing though: it will get brighter. I have noticed some changes in myself already and others around me always comment on how much brighter and full of energy I am now. A few of these came from people who never knew about the ED, so I definitely believe it’s true. I have a ton of bad days, but I also have experienced some of the best days in years. It’s a rollercoaster of thoughts, feelings, and emotions but it is worth it. I can’t entirely vouch for that one yet but I know I’ll be able to one day.
It’s not always best to surround yourself with fellow eating disorder sufferers. To put it plainly, being surrounded by people who are going through the same thing as you can be quite triggering. Between Tumblr, Instagram, and here, I follow hundreds of girls and guys trying to recover, in recovery, and still deep in sickness. For me it can be so inspirational to see someone I feel a connection with eat that pizza or throw out a scale. I love reading all the positive things. Like I said before though, recovery isn’t all fun and good. There are far more negative and triggering things posted and said than positive ones most of the time. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be part of the recovery community or support friends who are in the fight along with you. I actually feel that is one of the most helpful tools available. Feeling like you aren’t alone in this is so very beneficial. For example, I have Livvy, Kim, and Lily who are all at varying stage in their recoveries and it i amazing to lend them support and receive it. I don’t think I’d be at this point in recovery without that. I also benefited from the recovery community before I even believed I had an eating disorder. The thing about having so many people around on social media or in person is that it can be detrimental to your own recovery. Pouring yourself into others is great but not if it hurts you. Following these people on social media is great until you reach a point where all of their posts become huge triggers. It’s hard to do, but I have had to hit the unfollow button so many times I’ve lost count. It’s for my own health and good, even if I felt a little guilty. I have also set some boundaries in a few of my relationships with friends and people I met at FV. That was harder than clicking unfollow but has benefitted my recovery. I haven’t blocked anyone out of my life but now it’s not so much an “I’ll give everything I can to help them even if it’s unhealthy for me” kind of relationship. As I’ve cleaned up some people who weren’t such a great influence on recovery, I’ve found tons more positive ones to “replace” them. I follow a ton more fully or nearly fully recovered and also ones who will, like me, try to not post triggering things. It’s so much better scrolling through my dash or IG now. It may take a bit of effort and hard decisions, but you will be so much happier once you find a balance of who you keep in your circle when it comes to other recoverers.
Not everyone you tell about your eating disorder will be a viable support or understand it. Oh goodness have I learned this one the hard way. I have gone through a pretty good number of support people (many of them “support” sadly) in the past year or so. I picked up a few when I started self harm recovery (including TJ who was amazing for the self harm for the first few months. He was exactly what I needed even if we don’t talk about it now), dropped off one or two after that, added a couple more once I realized “oh wait maybe I have an eating problem,” tried to frantically find more who would understand as I slipped deeper into the ED, lost all physical support and basically everyone online/out of state except Livvy and Lily, found people in treatment, and finally, finally, finally solidified support in person with Kim and eventually went on to reach out to more people like the youth girls and Christian fellowship members. It’s been very hectic figuring it all out. I think I’ve learned a ton about what to look for in someone who can be support and also some red flags that someone wouldn’t be great at it. Hopefully my advice can help to avoid the bad kind of support. One of the most important traits is someone who is mature, emotionally/mentally stable themselves, and not shy about talking of these type of things. Hint: don’t try to blab emotional things and blurt out to your best guy friend you have an eating disorder when he has never been there for you emotionally and always shies away from that kind of talk. He and I no longer are even friends, and it’s mostly because he a) didn’t know how to handle it and b) tried to tell me I was faking it and wanted attention. I may be a bit biased but girls/women have done much better in my experience than guys. It probably has something to do with my friends’ personalities, but I also think eating disorders are incredibly complex and just something guys won’t understand. I do have three wonderful ones who have been great for me though. Another thing when finding support is making sure you’re comfortable sharing things with them. Eating disorders are deeply personal and it’s not always easy finding the right person you are willing to share with. I will be uncomfortable sometimes but it shouldn’t be to a point where you don’t feel you can trust or talk to them. If you are lucky enough to know someone who is recovering or has recovered these type of support help so so much with the right boundaries. I cannot say enough good things about my three. It’s a complete blessing to not be in this fight alone. That being said, anyone can be there for you, not just fellow fighters. Also, please don’t feel down on yourself if you lose support after a while. It happens. It hurts. I truly believe the ones I have broken contact with are gone for a reason.
You may have to switch therapists, doctors, dietitians, etc a few times but having a great treatment team is KEY. I have been to three therapists, my doctor and then a psychiatrist for meds, and finally a new doctor who will help me keep my health in check. Although I don’t have or feel the need to get a dietitian on my team, they too can be great tools. At the very minimum a therapist and good doctor should be on your side. It’s okay and normal to have to “shop around” a bit when it comes to these people. It isn’t about not wanting to hurt their feelings or being worried of switching. In the end it comes down to YOUR health and the professionals who best get your situation and can help you. Trust me, all the hassle of finding the right ones is so worth it in the end.
You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Okay, so you don’t technically have to be, but it certainly would help. Nearly everything about recovery is uncomfortable. You eat as Ed is screaming at you every bite. You have refeeding symptoms. Your body image makes you see yourself as a potato, at best. Urges to use behaviors are constant and fighting it takes 1000x more effort than giving in. Sharing feelings and struggles with others is never very easy. Getting rid of those who are toxic to your recovery and health is hard. Admitting you need help is one of the most challenging but worthwhile things you can experience. Basically everything you do in recovery is fighting the voices in your head. It’s getting up every morning and yelling at Ed to shut up. It’s conflicting emotions and feelings. It’s fighting like hell. All of the bad is beyond worth it when you picture the freedom and life beyond your eating disorder.
I truly hope at least some of this will resonate with you. Also, a point I find so important is that I don’t want this to scare anyone away who is contemplating recovery. In fact, I hope that it insteads prepares you pretty realistically for what comes ahead. The positives far outweigh anything else that comes in recovery.
To anyone who read all of this, you’re a champ! 😉