I thought that recovery would be a straight-forward process taking a maximum of 4 weeks. Once I was one week in, I began to realize that my recovery would not just be about patching up. It felt like a dead end – I thought I wasn’t sick enough to invest in treatment, but not well enough to live life.
‘So where do you feel you’re at Alex?’ my worried father asked as I radiated the hopelessness I felt inside. ‘Well, to be honest, dad, if recovery is a mountain, I’m standing at the bottom with my hands in my pockets, kicking rocks around.
I had imagined that getting a counselor, some pills, and a job to pass the time would get me back to university in no time – the only thing that would change, I thought, would be that I would be a year behind and had to make new friends. I felt university was a part of my identity, which I seemed to have lost.
Through the self-discovery which followed in a 2-year course of treatment, I found my true identity in a number of ways:
1. Stripping away distractions
I ‘took time out of life’ – left university, left my job, to get to a solid base point which I could work up from. At this point, I was still convinced that my identity was who I was before my illness, but my therapists helped convince me to have faith in this part of the process and the person I’d become. I also made new friends through treatment who were all working toward the same goal. At this stage, I spent most of my time with people I met through support groups or therapy.
2. Looking after my body
I worked with a nutritionist to take away the limitations my eating disorder had put on the foods I could eat. She helped me to set food challenges and monitored my health. I also made a conscious effort to go to all the health appointments and made my health a priority.
3. Learning mindfulness
Through mindfulness meditation, I learned to listen to my body and my mind. I did body scan meditations where I felt my emotions fully and welcomed them into my body. I realized the extent to which my eating disorder had been blocking out emotions, and made it my mission to get them back into my life again as part of myself.
4. Discovering what I enjoyed
With a new found sense of knowing my emotions, I was able to judge really well what felt right for me and what I enjoyed. I discovered what I loved – the real me loved going to the cinema, playing instruments (I even had a drumming lesson), helping at my local youth marching band. I did all these things to get a sense of who I was at my core, which had been buried for so long.
5. Making these things a priority
I made it a priority to do these things weekly. With all the free time I had, I went to the cinema down the road from my treatment center after sessions, sometimes twice a week. I also made it part of my routine to go to the local market which I enjoyed looking around. My weeks became filled with fun activities and the feeling of my spirit soaring.
6. Finding a sustainable balance
I then found longer-term things to do that meant I could fit all of these things into my life whilst having enough money to sustain myself! I got a job at a place which felt really right and discovered my interest in philosophy, which led to my degree and moving out of home.
Recovery doesn’t just mean I can eat a meal. It means I can eat a meal with my new loving partner, before heading out with great friends, or going to university to study a degree I love and enjoy. Recovery has not just changed the way I see food, but the way I see and do everything.
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