What It’s Like to Study Abroad While in Eating Disorder Recovery

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©2016 defectivebarbie

It had been a little under a year since I came out of an intensive outpatient program. Recovery had been a rollercoaster since then. I was about to enter my Junior year of college and lived in a sorority for all of my Sophomore year after treatment. What I have learned as a college student with an eating disorder is that being “recovered” doesn’t exist really.

Recovery is a choice you make every day. Your eating disorder is always trying to be smarter than you and is sneakier than you think. Recovery is a daily practice and a habit I plan to have for the rest of my life.

During Spring of my Sophomore year, an opportunity to study abroad in Taiwan that Fall had come up. Every part of my heart and soul knew that I needed to take advantage of this. After treatment, I went through a year of a couple relapses, picking myself back up, and making huge strides in recovery. My family has been my biggest support group, so when telling them that an opportunity to go to Taiwan for 3 months came up, they shut me down completely.

How can you handle being away from us (your biggest support group) for that long?

What’s going to happen if you relapse and you call us saying you need to come home?

Think about all of the anxiety you will experience from culture shock, why would you put yourself through that?

Triggers are a part of life. Deciding to study abroad while in recovery was a leap of faith. It is knowing that I will run into triggers and it is knowing that I have the strength within me to overcome them. Any person that is successful in life has had to make a leap of faith to getting there. Getting emotionally involved with a big dream is something that is scary but exciting, but it doesn’t mean that you back down. When I was deep in my eating disorder, deciding finally to choose recovery was a leap of faith.

Making the decision to study abroad in Taiwan was a way to not let my eating disorder have control over me.

Through brave and persistent effort, my parents believed it was good for me and good for growth in my recovery to let me go. I could have stayed home and played it safe, but this life is a journey and my eating disorder wasn’t the boss of it anymore.

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When I arrived in Taiwan, it was a rush of smells, sights, people, interactions, and FOOD I have never experienced before. My brain was over-stimulated and a little anxious every single day during the first couple weeks. The culture shock was such an incredible experience, but something I didn’t quite anticipate. Therefore, the eating disordered thoughts began to kick me while I was feeling down.

Taiwanese food has a lot of oil, sugar, and refined carbs. The high humidity and heat in Taiwan hit me like a ton of bricks every time I went outside. The combination of sweating from the humidity and the different foods I was eating put on the pressure to watch what I was eating. The disorder decided to tell me that it was important for me to lose weight while I was away. That I would come back to college looking amazing and everyone would love me. It was the loudest noise in my head. Every low I hit in recovery had me picking myself back up and rising higher than ever.

I knew I had to rise above it.

If I wanted to travel throughout my life, this first big step of going to a different country was here to guide me through these tough times. Loving yourself is a journey with many obstacles that seem nearly impossible to jump over. Well, I decided it was possible and so can you.

Meditating every morning and night for even just a couple minutes helps calm the mind before the eating disorder has anything to say. Studying here in Taiwan showed me that there are a lot of different foods to eat and experiences to have every single day. Not every day’s plan while traveling will work out. Plans change and experiences in other countries are not always what you anticipate. What you can plan ahead for is journaling. I wrote about my feelings towards different situations and the meals I ate that day.

Ignoring the anxiety will only let the eating disorder win, so shut down your disease by simply acknowledging these feelings. Finally, look at the big picture and think about your motivation to travel. It is not to visit a country to lose weight or to look like a model while you pose in front of the Eiffel Tower. You are there to feed your soul, learn, and fall in love with fulfilling your dreams. Recovery is a painful but beautiful journey; it is what all your dreams are made of.

Artwork by ©2016 defectivebarbie

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