Hi folks! Given the really fantastic conversation going on from yesterday’s post on breaking through body molds (keep those comments coming), I thought today was a great day for a Green Recovery story. Please welcome Alex, the author of My Raw Recovery . Alex is a thoughtful, intelligent, and beautiful young writer, and she’s also the survivor of an incredibly harrowing ED story. I’ll let her share in her own elegant words. I hope you’ll all be as inspired as I have been by her journey toward healing.
I was surrounded by darkness. My body was the enemy. I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, successful enough, or thin enough. My thoughts were consumed entirely by something inside me that was my voice, but not me. I was obsessed with my body and ways to perfect it. The anxiety and pain of life felt too out of control and life just didn’t seem worth it anymore.
In my wildest dreams, I NEVER thought I’d develop an eating disorder. I’m a first-generation Romanian-American so growing up my mom’s meat-and-potatoes family pushed all sorts of animals my way. I hated the taste of meat and the concept of it as long as I can remember, and was a vegetarian periodically from the age of 13 on. Concerned I wasn’t getting enough protein and not having enough knowledge about vegan sources of protein, my parents would eventually pull me back into carnivore land. Once I was 18, I officially became a vegetarian.
Body hatred is something I’ve suffered from for a long time, like many other women and girls. I had a love/hate relationship with food. Diets were encouraged in my family. I grew up with a dad whose relatives were plagued by diabetes and high cholesterol and a mom who exercised almost every day and was very careful about what she ate. My mom and sister have a similar build and everyone always commented on my mom’s great body. I began to see myself as the fat, ugly eldest daughter who after a high school trauma got swallowed up by depression and barely made it out alive.
My eating disorder symptoms didn’t start until halfway through my junior year in college. My weight had fluctuated do to diets since the end of high school, but always remained in a normal, healthy range. At times I turned to comfort food to soothe my wounded soul, causing some weight gain and in turn more body hatred. The first time I purged was in April of 2010. A few months prior to that I had returned from studying abroad in Athens, Greece where delicious foods and alcohol are abundant. I’ll never forget a night where my roommates and I were going out and I had a skirt that didn’t fit me. My roommate tried it on and said, “THIS doesn’t fit you? Feel how flat my abs are. Do it.” Her body was perfect and I felt like a failure while she rubbed it in my face. I gained a few pounds abroad but still wasn’t at an unhealthy weight. Stress about the relationship I was in, fears about what I would do over the summer and post-graduation, and anxiety over my body and weight led me to do something I would never have thought I would do (i.e. purge and restrict), but I did it and it soon became a way of life.
During the summer of 2010 I studied abroad again but this time in France. I began restricting my food intake and avoiding situations where I might have to eat in front of others. By the time I got back to the states, I was at a lower weight than I had ever been at even during high school. I don’t like to use numbers or percentages because it’s not so much about the weight as it is how sick my thoughts were. That’s the true measure of sickness. Someone can be at a normal, healthy weight and be closer to death than you could ever imagine. Eating disorders do not discriminate.
By the time I returned to school for my senior year, nothing was safe anymore. I hid in my dorm room and I sunk deeper and deeper into depression and my eating disorder and it wasn’t until my ex threatened to break up with me that I told my parents and asked for help. I began a day treatment program and would go to class after treatment was done for the day. I still couldn’t admit I had an eating disorder. I thought I wasn’t “good enough” (read: thin enough) to have one. I was sick.
After a week of day treatment, my team decided to bump me up to the inpatient level. That meant quitting my job at school, which I had worked so hard to get and leaving everything else behind. I was still enrolled in two of my classes, which meant that throughout treatment I had to write papers and work on my thesis. My first morning at inpatient was the scariest day of my life. I spent the day in and out of meetings with therapists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, nurses, and doctors and thinking to myself, “I’m not this sick. I don’t need to be here.” It took me about a week to realize that I did actually need to be there. I spent 47 days in inpatient treatment and during the course of that stay decided I was going to postpone my final semester of college to take a medical leave and get my health back on track.
Unfortunately, not having any other identity besides being a student and feeling too self-conscious to leave the house, coupled with the fact that I chose not to have ANY after-care (worst idea ever if you are just leaving 24/7 care) caused me to relapse within a few weeks. That next year (all of 2011) was spent in and out of treatment centers (3 more to be exact) and hospitals. The reason I went to so many places was that while I thought I wanted to give up my eating disorder, I wasn’t ready. It became my quick-fix to numb out all the painful feelings that I couldn’t bear to feel. I wanted to get rid of my sick thoughts but not my sick body, which I never loved anyway.
I was diagnosed in October 2011 with Borderline Personality Disorder, which basically means I have difficulty regulating my emotions. This diagnosis was the missing link and the underlying cause of all my other self-destructive behaviors and with this knowledge I headed back to my first treatment center to treat my eating disorder once and for all. I took on my five-week stay with full force and fought my way through, reading DBT workbooks during my spare time and journaling my heart and urges out. As I write this, I am almost 21 weeks symptom-free, finishing my final semester in college, and about to graduate with honors.
I’ve now transitioned completely to a vegan diet and I am the happiest I ever remember being. Taking pride in cooking my own meals, eating filling, nourishing foods that don’t harm animals, and savoring the plethora of delicious vegan foods has given me a new outlook on life. In treatment centers, saying you are a vegan is taboo. For the most part they consider it restricting behavior. While this can be true, it isn’t for me and many other vegans. I’m learning to love food again and with my hunger cues back, I relish the chance to explore what veganism has to offer. I have more energy, my IBS symptoms have dissipated, and the thick fog of depression is starting to evaporate.
I’m learning to love my body through yoga and caring for myself with foods that make me feel good, and that includes all food groups. I love experimenting with new flavors, which makes eating fun and exciting and veganism all the more enticing. I feel more spiritually connected through both my yoga and my food. I’m lucky to have a wonderful therapist who is helping me create my own identity so that I can formulate a life that I want, not what I think will make others happy.
I believe recovery is a huge leap of faith, but my worst days in recovery are better than my best days in my eating disorder. I still have a lot to work through, and even though I still have urges at times to use my eating disorder, I’ve developed better coping skills. It took a lot of work and wholehearted dedication, but it has been so rewarding. I’m now excited about life and have the energy to live it. I’m learning that it’s ok to follow my dreams and to listen to my heart. Giving my body, mind, and soul what they need is allowing me to truly live, and that’s the greatest gift of all.
As usual, plenty of things stand out to me from this story of green recovery. First, I’m struck by Alex’s remark that she never thought she’d be the girl to have an ED, given her heritage. As a half-Greek girl, I can certainly relate: none of the women on my mother’s side of the family suffer from body dysmorphia or are diet-prone; indeed, they celebrate food with gusto. It sometimes surprises me that I became susceptible, though it shouldn’t. As increasing numbers of ED cases within African American, Hispanic, and Asian communities demonstrates, the wrongheaded myth that only upper middle class, American-born Caucasian women get eating disorders has now been thoroughly disproved. As Alex says herself, anyone is susceptible. Anyone—even if you come from a culture that is particularly oriented toward the celebration of food.
I’m also struck by Alex’s assertion that it’s not so much about weight as it is about thought process. While I do acknowledge the particular severity and hazards of ED cases in which the person suffering is extremely underweight, I also believe that EDs go far beyond weight loss. Some EDs do not manifest as extreme weight loss (indeed, it is possible to have serious bulimia without being underweight, and the same goes for binging and purging), and beyond that, weight gain is not the official mark of being recovered. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, weight gain was a crucial part of recovery for me. But it was not the heart of my recovery process. That came from rebuilding my spirit, from attaching my sense of self-worth to activities and passions and relationships, rather than my capacity to subsist on little food, and from directing my energies to the world outside me. Most of all, it came from redefining my relationship with food in a new and positive way—which is what Green Recovery is all about!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the points above, or to hear what else struck you about Alex’s story.
And thank you, Alex, for sharing with this community. We’re all proud of you, and cheering on your continued recovery!