7 (Real) Truths About Eating Disorder Recovery:
(Because there ain’t no sense lying about it)
1.) Pant Suit Is The New Black?:
Your style changes. Maybe not drastically- but it will.
Roll with it.
Go through phases; experiment.
I spent 8 years in over-sized t-shirts and sweatpants. I was like a walking groupie for Iggy Azalea.
Concert t-shirts, college sweatshirts, fraternity function v-necks-
And the sweatpants. Oh, the pants. Victoria Secret black sweatpants that dragged at the feet. Seen here:
And here (CRINGE):
I loved those thigh-hiding safety nets. I wore them everywhere. Throw on a pair of Sheepskin Boots and at any given point, heat or snow, I had only 10 fingers visible on my whole body.
Hideous in retrospect. I don’t quite know what I was trying to ”pull off” other than I can remember thinking:
“Oh, you’re just chill- yo. You’re mad chill and you just don’t like dressing up.”
Truthfully, I don’t like dressing up. It doesn’t come naturally for me, but those sweatpants were not an attempt to prove my ”chill” factor, and my style has been a constant source of evolution the past year and a half.
Even when I first exited rehab, I wore leggings and big t-shirts everywhere.
“Hey,” I thought to myself. “At least I’m wearing form-fitting tights.”
That too, has since changed. My career, I imagine, has played a part; New York/Colorado as well.
But so has just simply rolling with the current of recovery.
I’m still figuring out what I like; what feels flattering to my body. My friends joke, but I feel like at 26 I’m a pubescent teen in terms of figuring out what my “style” actually is.
It often depends on the stage of recovery I’m in that day.
This summer, I’m attempting to wear shorts again and it’s a struggle. I’ve got cut-off, ratty denim shorts, black linen Gap shorts, knee-length cargo shorts- the options are endless and I still can’t decide.
I haven’t worn shorts since my anorexia days so I’m feeling around blindly in the dark.
On another hand, I banned dresses at the end of last year in an attempt to “define” my style, but as the days reach 90-degrees I’m finding that all I yearn for a bit of a breeze on the thighs.
Even in gym clothes – I no longer wear baggy t-shirts to work out in, but still sometimes find myself running in leggings when the weather calls for shorts.
One day, I’ll wear a bikini and rock my version of a ”screw it” attitude – but other days, I’ll feel more self-conscious and wear black-on-black-on-black.
It’s fluid- just as recovery is fluid- and I’m realizing no clothing is “off limits” as I once believed, which has opened up doors and windows.
Your waist isn’t too short, your legs aren’t too chubby, your arms aren’t too skinny. Your chest isn’t too flat.
And, hey, if pant suits are what you enjoy, then rock ’em-
2.) Battlefield Wounds:
Consequences are consequences.
And straight up, my feet are foul.
Running ruined my feet. Not just because I’ve never been a fan of spending money on pedicures, but because I didn’t tend to them in the prime of my exercise addiction.
So wrapped up in clocking miles and burning calories, I ignored the hang nails, and the blood blisters. I scoffed at the calluses and the ingrown nail.
“The price you pay,” I reasoned.
Binge-eating, Bulimia, Anorexia – those choices affect your body outward and inward. Fluctuating weight over the years has left stretch-marks on my thighs (as seen above).
There are great social media campaigns going on right now over stretch-marks and thighs. #ThighReading on Twitter. Check it out; it’s comforting (and you can see my blistery little feet)
As I continue on this journey of self-love, I’m realizing even the nail beds of your feet are yours to protect.
I used to run on stress fractures and shin splints. At some point, I was told I had bones of a 70-year old.
What’s beautiful, however, is that often your body is resilient, and wants to fight for you.
I ran last night in Central Park and at some point it dawned on me how strong I felt- gliding up and down the path.
Nothing hurt- and as T-Swift “Bad Blood” kept me revved up, I ran 3 miles appreciating what it feels like to be healthy.
Accept that you’ve put your body through hell- in whatever way ”hell” is to you- and be gentle in the recovery of it.
3.) “You Look Skinny/Healthy/Normal/Good”:
Yes, comments are the worst. Also, inevitable – so working yourself into a tizzy isn’t going to solve anything.
My advice on this is simple:
Shake it off. (I’m on a T-Swift kick apparently?)
Look, we have eating disorders. To many people, our sickness is alien. Literally, alien. While there’s so much more research being done- and a plethora of media support- most ”muggles” (to drop a Harry Potter reference) still think it’s a disease we “think upon ourselves.”
They don’t get it. We don’t even get it – let’s be honest.
Every single time I see my parents they tell me I look “good,” or “healthy” or sometimes, “skinny,” and I immediately go into hibernation mode.
I don’t want to know when people are looking at my body, but at the same time I try to remember that this is my family and I have worried them for years.
In short, I brought this kind of scrutiny on myself. Your family is your family. Just as you are trying to recover, they are trying to recover from you.
In other instances, I see someone I haven’t seen in awhile and when referencing my blog, they respond with “Yeah I’ve been reading your blog here and there- you look good now.”
To which I’m left standing there like ”Oh… guess I looked shit before?” (and yes, of course, I think that.)
Occasionally, and possibly the worst, is when my eating disorder works its way into a group conversation, and someone inevitably will turn to me- bug eyed- and exclaim ”WHY would you have an eating disorder? You’re, like, already basically thin.”
To which I stand there shrugging and jumping into my series of ED responses:
“I’m not that thin.”
“Thin is subjective.”
“YOU DON’T SEE ME NAKED.”
“WHAT DOES ‘BASICALLY THIN’ EVEN MEAN?”
In reality, when you take a step back you realize that people are just trying to respond on command. They’re trying to help. I, myself, still find times where I do the same. While it’d be better if our culture just didn’t comment on body sizes/weight at all, it’s never going to happen and we’re trained to give compliments based on the way people look.
We can throw tantrums at our friends and family; we can sulk about it and go all Avril Lavigne “nobody understands me,” but the truth is that YEAH, they don’t. So deal with it.
I don’t love the commentary on my body. I don’t enjoy when someone I’m dating says “you’re perfect to me,” because in my head all I think is ”OH- ARE YOU SAYING I’M NOT PERFECT IN GENERAL AND YOU’RE JUST LOOKING PAST THE DEFECTS?” (It’s so crazy, I know.)
But commentary isn’t a reason to relapse, and if you’re allowing it to be then you’re looking for reasons.
A comment on a bad day might trigger you- sure- but there’s a lot of triggers in this life and it’s up to you to deal with them accordingly.
If I’m uncomfortable about a conversation with my body, I say it. I don’t accuse the person, I don’t make them feel uncomfortable. I just side-swipe the convo onto something else.
Or, if I’m really close to them, I do my little Lindsey-grin and say “Ohhh… let’s not even tap the minefield.”
‘Cause really, let’s not tap that minefield.
Alright, Miley, I’m not here to make a feminist call- but I bloody hate bras.
It is a wild source of contention in my personal life.
My mother, God bless her heart, is a Southern belle and she cannot STAND the days I waltz around free-nipping to the world at large.
My girl coworkers, bless them too, will look at me some days and shake their head.
“Didn’t feel like undergarments today?”
However, the truth is that it’s not just my “New York feminism” getting in the way. It’s my eating disorder.
I’ve hated wearing bras since the moment my stomach had enough fat around it to roll- cue 17 years old.
While I have a fairly thin rib cage, I’m incredibly short-waisted and the fat on my body tends to collect in my stomach.
There is nothing, let me repeat, NOTHING more uncomfortable than wearing a Victoria Secret strapless bra and feeling the indention of the under-wire drive into my fat while I sit. It absolutely sets my ED on fire.
Might as well just put my fat on display, I grumble on days I’m forced to wear one (and there are plenty of those.)
“If I was thin again, this wouldn’t be an issue,” I start thinking.
“This bra is too tight, I’m gaining weight,” I panic.
Biologically small-chested, when I was anorexic I was no-chested so I didn’t wear bras because they stopped fitting and I was too embarrassed to go back to trainers.
As you recover from an eating disorder, it’s often hard for people to adjust into their healthy body weight and the changes that occur when that happens.
You can’t expect to accept your healthy body immediately- just as you can’t expect to feel wholly comfortable in a place that isn’t home.
It’s a process. It’s a curve.
So if recovery means “freeing the nip” some days-
Then free on, Miley, free on.
5.) Relationship Status: It’s Complicated
Dating after an eating disorder is hard. They tell you in rehab to give it a year- but naturally I blew past that and immediately got into a long-distance, long-term relationship which inevitably ended because I couldn’t commit to a plan.
Was it a smart idea? In retrospect, probably not.
I was fresh out of rehab, a “tabula rosa” if you will, and I was shaky and vulnerable. I wanted love and security. I wanted the reassurance that this rehab/eating disorder hadn’t forever ruined my chances at finding a “mate,” and so I dated someone who didn’t get the best parts of me- and who I could never be a good partner to.
I promised things I wouldn’t keep- and inevitably couldn’t because the truth is I had no idea how I was going to change in recovery.
When your only real, committed relationship has been with your eating disorder- divorcing it leaves you with a lot of time on your hands. Time to develop hobbies (for me, writing), time to socialize without restriction, time to actually focus on a career.
Though I was in a committed relationship, I was evolving outside of it and running down the rabbit hole of my recovery alone.
In short, I was selfish- because you’re supposed to be selfish.
However, as I approach dating now, I still find it difficult in terms of how and when it’s appropriate to share my eating disorder needs.
Though it’s helpful I have a blog, it also often leaves me quite vulnerable knowing that someone I’ve only just begun to date can read the worst moments of my life.
Do you tell people up front? Do you say you’re ”recovered” to lessen the blow (even though it’s a process)? Do they have a right to ask questions?
Do you owe them the truth?
In short, I don’t know. For every person I’ve dated it’s been a different way of addressing it, and they’ve each handled it in ways that feels natural to them.
What I do understand, however, is that you don’t ”owe” anyone anything – my therapist tells me that often. You don’t have to answer questions, and you don’t have to give an explanation as to ”why.”
Your eating disorder and recovery is yours, and it does not make you any less respectable or strong.
You are not “crazy” because you suffered, just as you are not “vain” for having one.
You are human and you struggle.
And often I find that people are itching to be human back, when you give them the chance.
6.) A Selfie A Day Keeps The Doctor Away?:
Face it, you’ll probably always have days that you’re distracted by the mirror.
“Where’s Linds?” Someone asks.
“Checking herself out in the hallway,” another friend sighs.
In the prime of my eating disorder, I was preoccupied with reflections. Reflections in windows; reflection in swinging doors; hell, my reflection on a marble building.
Do I look bigger here?
What about here?
OH! There’s a mirror-
Is that pimple on my chin noticeable?
Did my thigh grow?
My stomach looks lumpy.
In the past, my family used to mistakenly cue it as vanity, but a lot of it circles around the fluctuating body dysmorphia that clings onto an eating disorder- recovery or not.
While it’s lessened, body dysmorphia is an ever-evolving mental game.
I’ll go weeks feeling fine about how I look. I’ll giggle through the streets- my loud laugh in tow- and not think twice about the space I take up in this world.
But inevitably, there will come a point that I panic and think to myself “MY GOD- you haven’t been thinking about your body in weeks! I bet you’ve gained a baby elephant!”
Find ways to soften the “tick.”
Occasionally, I take a selfie. No, not an Instagram filtered selfie (though I’ve been known to do those as well), but I’ll get on my computer and take a full-bodied selfie. Sound strange? It is, and it’d be odd if anyone found my stash of selfies.
But, sometimes I need to remind myself I’m the same.
I’ll take it from one angle or the other and it helps me realize I’m the same as 3 weeks prior- or 6 weeks.
Another bit of advice?
Every couple of weeks my therapist will weigh me. I don’t have a scale in my house because it’d haunt me but I find I need the reminder at times.
Last night, I went into her office and somehow she knew I was feeling that way. She looked at me and she said ”Do you need to weigh today?” And I nodded.
“I don’t want to see though,” I said.
So we went upstairs we weighed.
“Is it more than 10lbs?”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s not even 1lb,” she said.
Not even a pound.
As recovery goes along, you’ll find yourself less and less preoccupied with your size, but hey, you’re human. You’re allowed to find a reminder.
7.) You Won’t Know It- But You’ll Live:
You’ll live in ways you never saw possible.
You’ll live, and it’ll scare you.
It’ll absolutely bloody terrify you-
You’ll be out with friends one day, and hours will pass and you won’t notice.
You’ll forget that life was once about your exercise schedule; or your eating times. You’ll stop darting your eyes for the nearest binge store or bathroom.
One day, you’ll look around and think to yourself:
“Am I doing this? Do I really not care?”
And then you’ll spend 30 minute convincing yourself you still do-
When you don’t.
You’ll find yourself in OA meetings, and Body Image Exhibits.
You’ll skip work outs in place of happy hours, runs in place of walks.
You’ll go to bed late; miss a morning work out, but appreciate the extra hour of sleep.
You’ll avoid the gym in place of a hike- and you’ll come home with bug bites and tan lines.
You’ll eat too much cake and rub your stomach after- groaning and complaining.
You’ll bike ride through states and become mindfully lost.
You’ll love someone and break their heart.
You’ll love someone and they’ll break your heart; and when they do- you won’t assume it’s because of how you look.
You’ll realize you’re making decisions you don’t have to hide; that your ability to lie is worsening.
You’ll learn how to tell someone they hurt you; and answer the phone to hear someone tell you that you’ve hurt them.
You’ll get home too late some nights, and eat dinner in your t-shirt on the couch at 10:15 (as I am doing now).
You’ll wake up one day; you’ll want recovery-
And you’ll find yourself telling someone else the same.
Run Wild, You’re Free- you’ll say.
And how bloody free you will be-