It has been one year since I walked through the doors of Toronto General Hospital (TGH) to begin my first day in their outpatient Eating Disorder Program. Even though I’d been through Credit Valley Hospital’s (CVH) Eating Disorder Program, I’d been forewarned by my new doctors that the program was different. I had no idea what to expect and that terrified me. Thankfully, I made it through my first day and second day. Eventually, I made it through my first week and before I knew it, I was walking away from that seventh floor ready to take the next step in my recovery.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and my journey since leaving TGH. Everything that I have learned has helped me to change my life for the better. I’ve been able to have my work featured in a calendar; graduate college; model on a runway; and these are all things that I never would have achieved without recovery. I am so proud of myself for everything I’ve accomplished and I owe it all to recovery, from eating my first dorito to rescuing a kitten. Two lessons have truly stuck out to me throughout my journey that I wish I’d known at the beginning. I wish I’d known how much perspective plays a role in what’s normal in our lives. I wish I appreciated every step of recovery along the way. I wish I knew how good the good days will be and how bad the bad days will be. I wish I had someone to help me learn these lessons. Now, I get to share them with you in the hopes that you can learn from my mistakes.
Recovery means letting go of everything I believe to be true.
In order to start the process of recovery, I first had to recognize that something had gone very wrong. When I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder, I didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with what I was doing. To me, life with eating disorder symptoms was completely normal. Because of this, I refused treatment for MONTHS until I felt pressured enough by my loved ones to go. Even after completing my first round of treatment, I held onto what I believed was normal. I wanted, so badly, to believe that I could live a healthy life with my eating disorder. The truth? There is no life with an eating disorder.
When you’re engaging in eating disorder behaviours, you’re not capable of living a healthy life. You’re only capable of living a disordered life. I remember trying to work and go to school full-time, all while engaging in disordered behaviours, and not being able to function properly. My body wasn’t getting the energy I needed to do everything I signed myself up for. Soon enough, it started to show in my life: I fell behind in school; I was late for work; and I couldn’t follow or focus on simple conversations. Because I had never lived any other way, I had no way of knowing that what I was doing was wrong. My only frame of reference was my eating disorder.
Eventually, I did make the choice to recover. After a few weeks of refeeding, my head no longer felt as if under a deep fog. I began to question myself, wondering if what I was doing was just another aspect of my eating disorder. I questioned everything, really, and I had to. I had to question everything I knew in order to learn that there was more to life than my eating disorder. I’ve learned that opinions are not facts and that my truth needs to be grounded in facts and in reality. For example, it is a fact that you cannot have a healthy life and have an eating disorder. It is a fact that eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses. And it is a fact that recovery means letting go of everything that you know and allowing yourself to embrace something new.
Recovery is not linear and no two days will look the same.
Everyone entering into recovery likes to think that recovery is a straight shot to “being better” and I really wish that was the case. In reality, recovery is a roller-coaster with no lap bar or seatbelt. When I first started my recovery journey, I thought that once I was weight-restored and out of the hospital everything else would be easy. I told myself “if I can handle treatment, I can handle anything”. While it’s an amazing achievement to complete eating disorder treatment, the real challenge begins once you’re in your own life. One of the biggest challenges, for me, was holding myself accountable to eat my meals. Everyday, mealtime was a fight for a completely different reason and I dreaded it. I blamed myself for making it a horrible experience not just for me, but also for my partner. I would yell at him for suggesting we stop what we’re doing to have lunch, or I would cry because we ran out of lunch meat, or anything else that would potentially keep me away from food. But, everyday Shawn was patient with me and would convince me to eat, even just small amounts.
It took some time, and I was able to adjust to being outside of hospital and having a regular meal plan. I started having some good days again where I felt like I could handle anything. I actually believed that I would never struggle with my eating disorder again. I felt great and I was eating my meals so why would I have to worry about my disorder behaviours coming back? When I had my first no good really bad day, I called my doctor and told him I was in the midst of a relapse and needed to be readmitted to TGH. I was determined that I was in a full relapse and that without medical intervention, I would never be able to get back on track. My doctor (bless his soul) calmed me from my panic attack and assured me that what I was experiencing was just a “slip” and that it’s completely normal for anybody with an eating disorder to experience. He explained to me that what’s important is noticing the slip and doing what I need to do to get back on track. As hard as that was to accept, it was a game changer in how I viewed my recovery. Rather than penalizing myself for a slip, I’m using that energy to learn how I can better use my skills to avoid a slip all together. I’m trying to learn from my mistakes rather than let them define me.
Recovery isn’t linear. Everyday is going to look different because everyday you’re growing from your experience. You’re not the same person you were yesterday and you won’t be the same person tomorrow. You’ll have good days that are so good you’ll never want them to end.and you’ll also have bad days where you’ll want everything to end. You’ll even have good days with a bit of bad and vice versa. But in recovery, all of those days will result in you living your best life possible without an eating disorder.