Recovery from any eating disorder is often a long and arduous process, which takes huge amounts of strength and effort.
I struggled with both anorexia and purging disorder interchangeably for around 18 years, but am stable and settled in my recovery journey now. I am still a work in progress and some days are very much harder than others, but I feel safe and confident that a relapse is the most unlikely it’s ever been. I know it can feel overwhelming an impossible to both start recovery and to maintain it, so I thought I’d share some of the things that have most helped me to stay well.
The biggest factor in my recovery has undeniably been my access to high quality treatment. I have been very fortunate to have had positive experiences of inpatient, day patient, CBT-E and psychodynamic psychotherapy, all of which were vital to me at the various stages of my recovery. When in the depths of anorexia, dietetic and refeeding support has been vital to my survival. Later on in the journey it was therapy that took me from surviving to thriving. That said, the best therapy in the world won’t help you if you don’t also put in the work. It’s truly one of the most difficult but most rewarding processes I’ve ever gone through, but my therapist didn’t ‘fix’ me – I learnt how to help myself.
I learnt in therapy that a big part of what drove my anorexia were some of my personality traits – perfectionistic, black and which, high achieving and goal oriented characteristics made me vulnerable to an eating disorder from a young age. What has been really helpful for me, is learning how to channel them in the right way. I know now that I am somebody who thrives on setting and achieving goals, and I use those qualities now for good, not for destruction. Having short, medium and long term goals helps me to stay in recovery, because it keeps me focused on my future and all the things I want to achieve. Experiences, hobbies, education, career- working towards all of these things keeps my attention on being well and healthy.
I have always written about my experiences, even going back to when I was a young child, but it was only this most recent episode of treatment that I religiously bullet journalled my way through it, recording everything I learnt in therapy and groups, my meal plans, my highs and lows of the weeks and various other observations along the way. As well as being an excellent resource for me to reflect back on when things feel difficult, it was also the creative process itself that was a key outlet for all the distress I was experiencing.
I am very fortunate to have a close and caring group of friends and family around me, none of whom abandoned me when I was unwell, despite the fact that may have felt like the easier option for them at times. I have learnt over the years that people want to help, but they often aren’t sure how. By communicating with the people around me, I not only let them in, but also keep anorexia out. People know when to challenge me and when to be gentle, or when I might need extra support, because I have opened up and allowed them help. Having a stable support network was so key throughout the journey, but especially after I was discharged from services and no longer had professional support.
Over the last few years I have spent a lot of time learning about diet culture and the impact this has on society’s relationship with food and body image. Reading about this in books, articles and across social media has been key in me unlearning some of the toxic lessons I was taught about food and my body growing up, and has relieved a lot of the feelings of blame I had internalised about being ill. I also realise now what impact the way I talk about these things could have on the people around me, and I like to think I have reduced my risk of causing harm to others who also struggle with these issues as a result. It’s very much an ongoing journey of learning for me, but I’m much further along than I was.
There are lots of other things that have helped me in my recovery journey, but these five elements have massively contributed to not only helping me start to get well, but helping me to stay well. I would love to hear some things that have helped you in your recovery, and I hope this list may help you in your own journeys.
Everyone’s recovery needs are different, and I hope all of you out there are able to find what helps you most.
Treatment was vital for my recovery journey. Being able to have someone else take over the food prep and decision-making was so important. Yes, I hated it and yes, I struggled with portions, but in the end, it’s what helped me relearn eating.
Boundaries, however, were the most important thing. Once I learned how to have and hold those, things started to get better on the eating disorder front, though I’m not as settled in recovery as you. I currently feel quite unstable following a holiday weight gain, which is a red flag.