By Faith Elicia
The mental torture of an eating disorder (ED) is all-consuming. Mental Health America states that people with ED often become obsessed with food, body image and/or weight. Living with ED, I identify with that description.
My ED did not appear overnight, so I can’t expect recovery to happen that quickly either. The National Eating Disorder Association says that recovery can take months — even years, and that slips, backslides, and relapses tend to be the rule rather than the exception.
Growing up in an alcoholic home, anxiety and panic ruled my world. ED joined forces with both and wreaked havoc on my already overwhelmed nervous system.
Living with ED means seeing everything in black and white. It is a dark and gloomy place to reside. Nine years in recovery have brought color back into my world, with each day more vibrant than the next.
The greatest gift I have received is a deeper sense of self-awareness. It has come from years of peeling away layers of the onion. When I reached the core, I made a heartbreaking discovery — a crater of emptiness, which was the result of feeling unworthy, incapable, and unlovable. Filling such a vast hole has been a struggle, but one I have forced myself to push through. It has been a slow process of utilizing strategies and tools to propel me forward. Each small, insignificant-seeming action has added up to recovery milestones.
Among my actions, these have been the most beneficial:
1. Practicing gratitude. My life is plentiful — something I used to take for granted. I am thankful for every blessing I receive. When I open my eyes and look through a bigger lens, my gratitude rises. Things could always be worse is one of my favorite sayings and helps me put things into perspective. Realistically speaking, every breath is a gift.
2. Focusing on progress, not perfection. Progress is a beautiful word. It is something I strive to achieve. In the past, perfection had always been my goal. Does it even exist? ED says it does. With each challenge, I know a lesson will follow. But like babies learning to walk, I must have determination, persistence, and willingness, or I will remain stagnant. My recovery has no finish line either. I am not in a race to beat everyone else. If that were the case, I would come in last. Today, I am okay with that.
3. Looking within. Glimmers of inner peace come from having a more spiritual outlook deepened by meditation, journaling, working the Twelve Steps for codependency, listening to inspirational speakers on YouTube and podcasts, taking online courses for inner growth, and reading.
4. Widening my view. In ED’s world, I become so inner-focused that I miss out on the beauty surrounding me. With the ability to distinguish between ED’s bullying and my inner light, I can see things for what they are. It is freeing not to be the center of the universe anymore — not that I ever was. ED just made me feel that way.
5. Opening to guidance. With an open mind, I receive answers. ED blocked anything positive from entering my being. It looped a soundtrack that told me I wasn’t good enough or worthy enough. Having a therapist who specializes in ED helps me to get to the nitty gritty so I can fill that crater with love and courage instead of fear and doubt.
Each little step is a significant recovery milestone — even the stumbles. My inner light grows more brightly with each discovery made, even the not-so-positive ones, and I get glimpses of feeling capable, worthy, and lovable. Feeding that inner light requires self-care, a necessity for healing.
Recovery has not been easy. It has been a frustrating and terrifying journey that has taken me far out of my comfort zone. But what I have gained is insurmountable. I have found my purpose and realized that I deserve more than living as a puppet with ED manipulating my strings.
Willingness, persistence, and determination — the trifecta I use to battle ED one day at a time, sometimes a minute at a time when ED is angry. Merely surviving is no longer an option though. I have too much to live and be grateful for.
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Faith Elicia has been on a nine-year path of recovery from an eating disorder. When not managing her husband’s medical practice or handling things for one of her three children, she escapes to the confines of her home office to write romance fiction. Her new book, Do You See What I See? (July 15, 2021), is an interactive workbook of personal reflections, strategies, and tools for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Learn more at faithelicia.com.