Looking back on it all now, I doubt that I would have felt any differently about all of the things on this list if someone had warned me, but it sure would have been nice to know that I should expect them to happen so I could prepare myself.
Navigating recovery is tricky. It’s filled with sharp turns, high speed freeways, mountain roads with a danger of falling rocks, and sometimes even a washed out bridge or two. It’s easy to feel like you’re driving in circles, when in reality, as long as you’re making a conscious effort every day to recover, you’re likely making progress regardless of whether or not you can see it. I read a lot about eating disorders on the internet before I ever took that first step to get help. I knew something was not typical with the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing, and all signs pointed to an eating disorder.
Even after all the googling and secret research I did, I still found there were a few things I would have loved to know to expect before I started treatment. Let me share them with you now, so that you might be a bit better prepared than I was.
It’s going to be nearly impossible to get out of the car for your first appointment at the Eating Disorder Clinic
It’s going to be nearly impossible to get out of your car, or off the bus, or the train to walk into your first appointment at the Eating Disorder Treatment Clinic.
When I pulled up to the building at Westwind Eating Disorder Treatment Centre a few minutes before my first appointment, I couldn’t turn my car off. I parked on the street, shifted the car out of gear and sat in my car looking up at the beautiful historic building that is home to the centre. I remember wondering how such a remarkably beautiful structure could make me feel so incredibly disgusted.
The truth is, my eating disorder voice (I call her Edie) was riding shotgun and she wanted nothing to do with that place. She was the reason I thought I was disgusting. It had only been just over a week since I first suspected that Edie was there in my head, weaving her deadly lies into reality in my mind. I hadn’t learned this yet, but eating disorders are clever. They know when they’re at risk of being discovered, or silenced and Edie was on high alert. She had sounded the alarm and was pulling out all the stops to keep me from stepping foot into Westwind so that I didn’t start the process of silencing her.
Looking back on it all, I know that the thoughts I was having in that moment were actually Edie telling me whatever she could to convince me not to go inside.
She told me that I wasn’t really sick, but that I was going through a rough patch and if I could just get back on a diet and back to working out lots, I’d feel so much better. She lied and said that I didn’t belong there and as soon as my therapist heard what I had to say about how I had been feeling, she’d tell me that there’s no need for me to be there, and that I was wasting her time. For good measure, Edie threw in the suggestion that the therapist might even think I was being dramatic as a way to get attention.
When I turned the engine off, and Edie started to panic that I might actually go inside the building, she went to the opposite extreme and told me that if I told the therapist everything about how I’ve been feeling and what I’ve been thinking, I’d for sure end up admitted to an inpatient program and wouldn’t be able to go home for god only knows how long. And I’ll admit, this idea kept me in my car for a few more minutes. But in the end, I knew I had to find the courage to get out of the car and go to that appointment because my husband was waiting for me at home and would be disappointed if I didn’t at least try.
When you come to this step in your recovery, find a reason – any reason – to go inside when you get to that first appointment and remind yourself of that reason all the way there.
You might feel like the oldest person to ever discover that they have an eating disorder and that can make you feel like you don’t deserve treatment.
When I started treatment I was 42 years old. You may be much younger than that, and in that case, this might not apply to you. But if you look around you at anyone and everyone you know who is battling an eating disorder and feel as though you can’t relate to their youthful struggles, keep reading.
There are no eating disorder support groups that meet where I live, so the only other people I saw that are struggling with an eating disorder like me are people I’ve found on social media, and the people I said “hello” to in the Eating Disorder Treatment Enter when I went to and from my therapy appointments.
I can count on one hand the number of people that I saw in my first year of treatment who are as old as me. It’s terribly lonely when you feel like you’re the only one and you find difficulty relating to the people in your own community.
The vast majority of the people struggling with an eating disorder who I interacted with were in college, or had young families. I’m a new empty nester. The challenges that these young people struggled with were as different from my own as night is to day. And because a big part of what drives my eating disorder is comparing myself to others, the differences I saw between us gave Edie reason to try to convince me that I didn’t deserve treatment. She wanted me to believe that because I had waited so long to get help, I didn’t deserve it – that I had done this to myself, in a sense, and should be punished for that by not being allowed to find the freedom that recovery brings.
She had me comparing my struggles to the challenges of these younger people trying to recover and could always find an angle that acted as proof that my struggles are not as big or as hard as what the younger people faced. Edie was trying to convince me that I would be judged as weak an unworthy for getting help with my disorder.
She was lying, and if you have a little voice inside you saying things like that, or have thoughts that you are too old to deserve help, those are lies as well. Your recovery adventure can’t be compared to anyone else’s and you deserve help.
Nobody is going to give you a list of tasks to check off that will tell you how close you are to being fully recovered.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been a big list maker. If there’s something needing to be done, the first thing to do is make a list. The list is the roadmap to successful completion of any task as far as I was concerned.
I went into my first few appointments expecting Tresa (my therapist) to hand me a list. I expected it to be formatted nicely on a page or two with proper checkboxes beside each task on the list. Surely, since I’m not the first person she’s treated and (sadly) won’t be the last, she must have all of the steps to recovery all mapped out so that we can be sure I’m on track to be all recovered right on schedule.
After she produced no such document for me at my first couple of appointments, and I was starting to feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things there was to learn about my illness and how to fight it, I thought maybe she’d be able to just tell me the list of steps so I could record them in my journal. Then I could track my progress for myself.
Tresa assured me, when I asked her for this magical list in about the third or fourth appointment, that there is no such list.
She explained to me gently while I cried, that everyone’s recovery is different, nobody’s path to get there is straight, and we can’t use a list of tasks to track it because there is no way to know what I have to work through to recover until we discover what caused my mental illness in the first place.
I wanted to quit treatment that day. I can’t remember if I said it out loud to Tresa or just in my head, but I had no intention to return to see her for our next appointment. I didn’t quit. I kept going, and you can too.
You developed an eating disorder to help you cope with something at one point in your life and you won’t be able to recover without dealing with whatever that was.
The idea that my mental illness could have possibly been any kind of help to me at some point in my life was absurd when I first learned that. I mean, how could something that is causing me so much pain and suffering have been what I needed – EVER?!
The truth is, Edie joined me when I was unable to cope with situations and experiences in my life in my late teens. She gave me something to focus on that allowed me to have a sense of control, and order. She provided me with a necessary distraction from feeling some pretty terrible emotions that I just wasn’t capable of dealing with at the time. She is complicated and it took me a very long time to understand how she wove her magic to get me through some awful struggles.
Yes, it’s true, many of the challenges that she’s helped me through were orchestrated by her. But that’s how eating disorders work. Once they have a hold of you, they have to continually show you reasons that you need them, so they can stay. They groom you into believing that there isn’t anything that feels more comfortable than being alone with them, doing the things that you have come to like to do “together”.
Engaging in eating disorder behaviours becomes second nature as a way to cope with uncomfortable and stressful emotions.
Eventually, I found that I could keep myself in what I thought was a perpetual state of bliss because Edie had me so deeply reliant on my behaviours. For a period of time, at the height of my eating disorder, I actually believed that there was nothing that could happen that would make me feel anything other than happy.
In truth, whenever I started to feel an emotion I didn’t want to feel, I’d turn my focus to food or exercise to avoid that negative emotion. What I was feeling wasn’t happiness – it just wasn’t sadness, anger, grief or disappointment (or whatever emotion I didn’t want to feel), no matter what.
It wasn’t until I starting digging up all of those old feelings that I’d been avoiding for 25 years or so, and learned how to be okay with feeling them, that I started to really understand how to let go of my eating disorder. It was only then that I started to believe that I might not need Edie after all.
If you stick with it and commit to recovery, you’re going to learn more about yourself and the world than you ever could have imagined.
I’m not here to lie to you. Recovery is damned hard.
One of the more valuable things I’ve learned from my recovery is that I am my greatest teacher. I’ve come to understand that if I can let myself be curious about what I’m thinking and feeling, everything that I need to learn in order to keep mentally healthy and stay dedicated to my recovery can be learned from paying attention to me, and asking myself lots of questions about what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling.
This list of things that nobody told me about when I started treatment isn’t going to help you recover. Only you can do that. And it might take support from family, friends, and a small army of treatment professionals. I’ll be the first to tell you that that is perfectly okay.
What this list can do is make you feel “seen”, or at a little less alone. That has been a very powerful thing for me on my recovery adventure. I’ve reached out to, followed, chatted with and learned everything I can from as many anti-diet, health at every size professionals, and body positive/body liberation advocates as I can find. It’s opened up the world for me and helped me to see what is real, what is an Edie or diet culture lie and even what is possible.
To find out more about how I learn from myself in recovery, click the button above and read about my online Creative Journaling for Recovery Community. Access to the FREE community will get you an abundance of journaling, art and self reflection resources and activities to help support you while you navigate recovery from an eating disorder through journaling.