Seven years ago this past December I arrived back from Utah ready to restart my life. I re-entered the world as I knew it now as a recovered anorexic and exercise bulimic. So much has happened since I stepped off the plane that cold December evening. Many things that I had hoped would transpire never happened, and other events that I would have never imagined, both positive and negative, have come to pass.
But no matter where I might be in my life right now, at the end of each year I find in myself a desire to look back at that destructive and hopeless person I once was and send a little silent prayer of gratitude for what the universe has granted me since then, and for what I have granted myself.
Life has not always been easy. In fact, there have been times when I have slipped and relapsed for a short while. Luckily, I've always found my footing again and become a little bit stronger and more resilient in the process.
Each failure or hardship in the past seven years of recovery has led me to a deeper insight and a better understanding of what it means to not only live in recovery from an eating disorder, but also to truly accept myself for who I am outside of the reflection in the mirror or the number on the scale. So here are seven lessons I have learned in the past seven years of recovery.
1. My real beauty is found in my actions.
There is so much incredibly beauty in acts of kindness, creativity and strength. That said, the results of my actions do not determine my value or self-worth, because these things are not in my control.
2. Making myself a priority is essential, BUT ...
... it does not give me permission to act like a spoiled brat. Practicing kindness and self-care in a balanced way can be very difficult if you're prone to being a people-pleaser like I was. I must be mindful of my actions at all times and be honest with myself. I always ask myself: is this action/behavior coming from a place of love and kindness, or a place of negativity and aggression?
3. Recovery from an addiction or an eating disorder is a daily practice that takes time.
I must remind myself, kindly, to be patient. Just like you can't be a little pregnant, you can't be a little bit in your eating disorder. The slope is incredibly slippery, and, for the most part, relapse is inevitable. Yet the important thing is that I'm aware of when I slip, and get up as soon as I fall down. I don't wait to hit another rock bottom, because the next time I might not be as strong to recover.
4. No matter how awesome external validation might make me feel, it will never provide a lasting feeling of worthiness.
Depending on external validation like compliments from others, social media "likes" or "followers", or numbers on scales never works, and will always end up leaving me feeling empty and unhappy.
5. Don't validate others' self-worth based on appearance.
I must practice what I preach and avoid making comments on what other people look like in order to make them feel good. Comment and compliment others on their actions, or ask them about their life passion. Be the change you wish to see in the world.
6. I must use fear as my guide, and allow it to direct my decisions and actions.
The real moments of growth in my recovery have been when I was completely and incredibly terrified of something, but did it anyway. As I move further along into my recovery, my fears have less and less to do with food. Scary things become things like quitting my job, telling a friend that I can't have her in my life anymore, or being open and valuable when I'm scared of being judged.
Eating a doughnut is nothing compared to what life itself decides to dish up. After all, the eating disorder was never about the food in the first place, so why do I think all the hard work is over once I am over my "fear foods"?
7. Forgive myself and forgive myself and forgive myself again.
I'm still working on this one. Forgiving myself for not only suffering from an eating disorder and changing the course of my life (which I logically know is not my fault) but also for the daily things that make me feel guilty (mommy guilt is a big one) is a daily practice. Some days it's easier than others, but the fact that I know it's possible to forgive myself is huge.
As 2015 begins, I welcome all unforeseen joys and challenges, because both will be experienced without the destructive veil of an eating disorder. Hope and recovery are possible.