Just 2 months from today, my new book project, RESTORING OUR BODIES, RECLAIMING OUR LIVES will be released by Trumpeter Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications. All sales of this book will benefit the Academy for Eating Disorders Scholarship Fund, to encourage young clinicians and researchers to join the fight against eating disorders.
To encourage YOU to help us spread the word about this worthy project, I'll be posting excerpts from the book over the next eight weeks.
Much of RESTORING OUR BODIES, RECLAIMING OUR LIVES consists of letters I've received that, together, trace the path from turning point to full recovery from eating disorders. This first week's post is a letter from a young woman named Becky, now a senior in college, who was eleven years old when she entered what she describes as her “bunker of restriction.” Hers is a poignant description of the moment of reckoning that every sufferer needs to reach, in some form or fashion, before recovery can begin in earnest.
Friends, teachers, and family spotted trouble and began reaching out to Becky in sixth grade. But it wasn’t until her second semester of college that she reached her true turning point. The moment outwardly resembled thousands of others over the course of her disease. But inside that moment, a critical shift began.
When I was young, I was tentative and anxious, concerned that my academic performance, athletic skills, musical talent, body size, and level of devotion as a daughter were never good enough. When these fears became overwhelming and uncontrollable, my eating disorder led me to an emotionally reclusive and hidden state. Like a dormant seed refusing to blossom because of the harsh conditions of the outside world, I hunkered down in my bunker of restriction, purging and over-exercising for my own long, cold winter.
Looking back, it’s hard for me to believe that I had any conscious understanding of what I was doing. But I do know that it didn’t feel like a choice. It was the only way I could be spared my disgust and dissatisfaction with myself. I didn’t want to accept the help that I needed. I lied and deceived my parents, caregivers, and friends. Instead of taking responsibility, I’d create artificial deadlines to be “finished with my eating disorder”—whatever that meant. My first “deadline” was the end of eighth grade and, like many that would follow, was not met.
I fell into a pattern. I’d enter treatment, stabilize on the premise of a false deadline, and then fall apart, restarting the whole cycle. But I truly believed I wanted to get better, and managed to convince my parents and my treatment team that I was ready to leave home to begin college.
Freshman year I started to catch glimpses of health, of blossoming. I made a group of friends, became involved in student organizations, and met my wonderful boyfriend. Despite all these accomplishments, soon after returning for second semester, I found myself again ensnared in my eating disorder. I kept myself secluded, too tired, cold, and anxious to experience the wonderful things that a college student should. As the semester passed me by, my therapist and medical doctor began suggesting that I withdraw for the semester to seek treatment. I told them this was giving up and I was going to finish the year. I did indeed finish the year with straight A’s, but I came home depleted, depressed, and desperate.
A few days after I returned I stepped on a scale. This activity that for so long was either characterized by excessive checking or intense phobia served as a major reality check. It triggered a set of emotions that I hadn’t let myself feel for many years. “What if . . . . . . I was healthy, happy, content” suddenly became a question that I no longer could ignore.
I didn’t know if I wanted to get better, but I knew I had to give myself a chance to bring my body to a place where it could appropriately make that decision. In my current state, I didn’t have the capacity to choose health. For the first time, I entered a residential program with a real willingness to listen to my doctors and, more importantly, listen to what was deep inside of me, a little tiny glimmer of hope.
Now, I’m not one to use quotes to express my emotions, but a quote of Rabbi Hillel’s, one of the most influential scholars in Jewish history, started to enter my mind around this time. Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” The quote has often been used to describe the history of the Jewish people and to motivate young Jewish minds, but it had and continues to have an undeniable connection to my recovery. These simple questions awakened emotions and thoughts that I’d refused to let myself feel for years.
My residential stay was not easy. I made many teary phone calls saying that I was going to sign myself out of the program and that I just couldn’t take the stress of the weight gain and intensive therapy. Despite these feelings, something deep inside would not let me leave the program. I knew that I had to give myself a shot at health, a chance to grow up and out. Once my body was physically healthier and my mind clearer, I could then decide whether or not I truly wanted to get better. And I knew that if I didn’t give myself this option now, I was bound to live a miserable life, a life with an eating disorder.
With each day of nourishment, I became stronger both physically and mentally. I faced Rabbi Hillel’s questions with a little bit more hope than I had on the previous day. When I was discharged, I had a feeling that I’d never experienced upon leaving a program. I sensed and began to feel the possibilities of life. “If not now, when?” For the first time, I felt comfortable answering, “Now!”
This discharge was just over two years ago. Please don’t be mistaken; these two years have not been easy. I’ve worked each day to win small battles with myself over my own self-worth. But something is different now. I’m winning these battles. I’m choosing my health and my future, two concepts that were so foreign to me only a few short years ago. I’ve decided I no longer want a life of restriction. I’ve traded it in for a full life.
I nourish myself each and every day, and as a result, I can walk down the street on a crisp fall day and feel the contrast of the warm sun with the cool air on my face, and I feel content. I can walk through a museum and experience beauty and think of nothing else. My boyfriend of two and half years has shown me that it’s safe to love and be loved, and that has allowed me to slowly break away from the scars of my past. I also experience spirituality in a new way. My Judaism, previously bound by prayer books and long hours in temple, has been a guiding light in my process. Jewish values and emphasis on the importance of life have had an immense impact on me.
At the end of the day, I want recovery because I’ve grown to enjoy the feeling of contentedness, happiness, and health. Of course, there will be darker days here and there, but I’ve chosen the path of health, and I have no intention of turning back.