When I first started struggling with an Eating Disorder, I kept it private. I feared others’ judgments and wanted everyone to see me the way I wanted to be seen; as this “high-achieving” put together student– someone who simultaneously had everything together at once. I wanted to be portrayed as someone who could do it all– have the “ideal” body, get straight A’s, do clubs and show leadership as well as play a sport and be on top. I thought struggling with my mental health made me weak and incompetant. I thought as long as I showed up every day with the facade that everything was okay I could figure it out behind the scenes.
I was not able to keep my struggles with my eating disorder and mental health a secret forever though. My sophomore year of high school, I had to leave school and my hometown for a while to attend inpatient treatment. When I returned at the end of the year, I was bombarded with make-up work and questions. It was not until then that I told people that I struggled with an Eating Disorder. I started to open up to certain close friends. I found it easier to share my full self with people who were older than me as I wanted to avoid gossip. I opened up to a few teachers that I trusted, one of whom had kept in touch with me while I was going through treatment. However, I largely continued to stay silent about my experience, afraid of tainting this “image” of myself I wanted to paint.
I attempted to keep up the facade I had created of being “put together” when I entered college. I did not want to get labeled as “the girl with an Eating Disorder” so I introduced myself as “the girl who was pre-med and interested in Jewish life on campus.” I wanted to be the girl who moved from a different area of the country but was adapting and learning to fit into Pennsylvania life. During my first year in college, my Eating Disorder hijacked my personality. It masked my identity with an obsession over counting and I became increasingly tense trying to keep everything above water while at war with my body.
After a while, I realized that keeping everything a secret and holding it inside was not helping me recover. I told myself when I was discharged from residential treatment in October 2019 that I was going to be open. Moreover, I promised I was going to do everything differently.
Here is an excerpt from my book looking back at the day.
So the last time I discharged, I made the promise to do everything differently. I wrote looking back that “I promised recovery was forever. Because [recovery] is forever meant saying goodbye to it all. The things that were harming my recovery. The sly excuses. The clothes that should have been gotten rid of a long time ago. Because recovery is forever is so much more than just a phrase, it was a promise.
Waldman, Lucie. The Jots of Becoming: A journey of hope and recovery.
Upon reflecting on my own writings, I realized that I was telling myself that I had to be more open about my experience. I had to let my guard down and let my outpatient treatment team (my home therapist, dietitian, doctor, and psychiatrist) help me and my parents. Through my writing, I discovered a new outlet for processing my experiences and feelings. I discharged around the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and I decided to write a letter of amends (featured in my book as well) to everyone, including myself. When I shared it with my therapist, she suggested I publish it. As soon as it was out in the open, I realized how much better I felt. I realized that being ashamed of my journey was not helping me or anyone else, so I started writing to embrace it.
The more I wrote, the more I grew in my own recovery and writing let others get an inside look into my head. I was able to put feelings into words instead of taking it out on my body. I found it was easier to put my feelings into writing instead of through talking. I noticed when I had slip-ups or lapses in the beginning if I was asked why it happened, I was at a loss for words, but if I journaled it, I felt free and unguarded and my authentic feelings were released. Through my writing, I was able to identify growth areas and share the things I needed to work on with my parents, my therapist, and even myself.
I’ve learned that writing and opening up about my experience are not just healing for me and my relationship with my body but also has the potential to impact others. I choose to share my story because I realized that my words can be the guiding light for someone else, that sharing my story might help someone else want to recover.
We often hear that people make a turn in their life when they hit “rock bottom.” I want to help others realize that there is not necessarily such a thing as rock bottom. I’ve learned that my Eating Disorder will never just willingly release me and recovery is all about reclaiming power. No matter how many treatment centers we’ve been to, no matter how we’ve been labeled, no matter how grim it seems. I want others to know there is always hope.
One of my biggest takeaways from recovery was all the strength and passion I needed was inside me, I had to channel it and seek it though. Recovering from Anorexia has inspired me to become a therapist because I know personally that there is always a chance to find your footing. You can be you, not a statistic. Recovery is hard but so possible.
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