Image: @stairhopperWhen you are very sick your life is at a stand still. I struggled with eating disorders most of my life. When I hit twenty-two I hit “rock bottom”. I was too stuck in my patterns, routines, and obsessions to focus on anything except the bare minimum – working and my eating disorder.
The problem was that while my life was on pause, the rest of the world was still moving steadily along on play. Then when I finally decided to take steps towards getting better, pressing my own play button, most people were a few feet ahead of me to put it mildly.
Getting to a life that is more than your eating disorder can be daunting when it’s all you’ve known for so long. But you can do it!
Here’s how to take your life back.
1. Realize that people move on, don’t take it personally
I remember a few months into recovery, I went out with a group of friends from high school. I never felt more out of place. We met for dinner—Italian—but I couldn’t connect with them. They all had moved on, made history, formed closer bonds.
I was the outsider, unable to contribute to the conversation because I had no idea what was going on. I was that random friend they once knew—and that hurt. Because of my stranger status, I didn’t feel safe.
I had misplaced feelings after this meet up for years, even a little resentment. Thinking they changed or must have been really mean and self-centered all along. I wasted too much time feeding that faulty belief.
It wasn’t their fault I was stuck in my ED all those years and we grew apart.
Now that I am in a happy place in my life, I realize we all are where we are supposed to be, and are better for it. We just went in separate directions. Even though your direction may be different from some of your old friends doesn’t mean you are worse off. Don’t take it personally.
Instead, be open to the opportunity to create new friendships.
2. Find the new, healthier you
When you go through the recovery process you change a lot. It gives you a chance to rebuild in a healthier mindset. For example, when a couple divorces, the individuals sometimes try on radical personas or do radical things to try new versions of themselves.
I had to find me without anorexia. We’d had a messy divorce and all I totally lost my identity in the process. I wasn’t sure who I was.
Who was I without my eating disorder?
I had such a long history of people-pleasing that I didn’t know. I’d developed chameleon skills, changing colors at the drop of a hat as a situation demanded. Who was the adult, post-eating disorder Dani?
To find her, I needed to face situations I’d never let myself experience without anorexia. When I did face these situations, I found my likes and dislikes and really discovered who I was and what I was about.
So, focus on this new you instead of counting your losses and feeling bad. This healthier you is worth leaving your old life for. This healthier you will lead you to your happiest self with endless possibilities.
3. Get rid of the bad people in your life
When you have mental illness, you get sucked into your self-perpetuated belief that you don’t belong. In reality, you may have been holding yourself back from finding people you connect with for a variety of reasons. Maybe you have awful friends, and you feel you deserve them or no one else will like you. Or maybe you hardly have any friends because you isolate yourself.
I promise you, when you stop being so hard on yourself and stop these self-destructive beliefs and habits good things will come. You’ll find awesome people who will remind you not of the time you lost being sick, but of the life you have ahead of you!
4. Keep your support system close by
Transitioning to my recovered life didn’t come without help from my support system. In fact, I had many visits home for backup. I remember one night in particular; I was struggling with my self-esteem and started feeling sad.
After a glass of wine and that sad feeling was five times more potent. I started getting a daunting feeling like my recovery was in jeopardy. Binge and purge. Fill that empty void, yelled the old voice. Grabbing my coat, I called a car service to my parents’ house. My parents were going out for dinner with friends, but I knew being alone for the whole night couldn’t be an option. So I stayed a their house anyway, knowing they would be back later.
Knowing that I was accountable to someone other than myself made me know that I wouldn’t slip.
Always have someone close by that you know you can count on, especially during the early years of recovery. The day after that unsuccessful dinner with my high school friends, when ED was rearing its ugly head, my parents came into the city to make me feel better.
Also, having a therapist on call, to talk things through with was always helpful. It’s also easier not to look back feeling sorry for yourself when you have other people cheerleading you to move forward.
5. Know with each passing day, it does get better
The whole process of recovery, especially the weight gain portion, was ridiculously hard for me. I mean, at times anorexia seemed easier than recovery. Recovery had so many unknowns while anorexia was my familiar friend. I remember hearing, “It does get better” and thinking “Yeah right. Maybe for other people, but not me. Psh.”
But guess what? I am here to vouch it actually does get better.
You will start to build a life worth living. I have a baby, a husband, and hobbies (like writing!) I couldn’t have even imagined with anorexia. With an eating disorder, you are stifled, while in recovery you are free to be whoever you want to be. Remembering this and just being happy and free from anorexia’s reigns will make you never want to look back.
Trust me, I could sit here listing my losses to my illness and go down that depressing road. (Oh and I do at times. Come on, I’m only human!) For example, I lost my college years to my eating disorder. I didn’t go abroad or have the awesome social experience most people look back on fondly. But I continually choose not to dwell on those things.
Now that I am in recovery I gained so much life that is hard to look back on anything with regret. My past experiences have led me to what I have now. For that reason, I would never change a thing. So don’t think of it as the life you left behind, think of it as how much you have to live for now. Oh, and go out there and live after reading this.