A full recovery from an eating disorder is possible!

Hi, I’m Ali. I am a wife, mother, lawyer, writer and eating disorder survivor. I walked (sometimes crawled) the road to Recovered. Now I get to live my life free of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Recovering from a decades long eating disorder and healing my relationship with food were two of the hardest things I have ever done. Also incredibly life changing and life affirming. My health, my relationships and my life are better and more full because I Recovered.

In reading amazing writers like Roxane Gay, Brené Brown, Glennon Doyle, Linda Bacon, Carolyn Costin, Gwen Schubert Grabb and Elizabeth Gilbert, I wondered what I could do to help other women. The only thing I could think of was to tell my story.

Part of the reason I lived with an eating disorder for so many years was because I hadn’t met or read about anyone else that I could relate to.  There was no one to model what recovery might look like for me.  I was also told over and over that I would have to live with my eating disorder forever.  It might get better, but it would always be a part of me. 

Since recovery seemed like a hopeless endeavor, I gave up and let my eating disorder guide my choices.  I lived like that for almost ten years.  Then, in my early twenties, I hit rock bottom.  No I slammed into rock bottom.   I went on a two-week binge/purge bender, hopping from hotel to hotel so no one would catch on to the fact that all I was doing was binging and purging.  I woke up on the last morning and was genuinely surprised that I was still alive. I have no idea what, but something made me leave that hotel room and open a phone book (I know, right? What’s a phone book?) where I randomly picked the name of a therapist under the Eating Disorder heading.  Her name is Chris and she helped me start saving my life.

Chris was the first person I had ever met who identified herself as Recovered (I capitalize “Recovered” out of respect).  When she told me that I instantly, and for the first time ever, felt hopeful.  Chris assured me that recovery would be incredibly hard but if I made the commitment and did the work, I could be Recovered.  She analogized recovery to walking through a fire.  She said it would burn like hell, but if I kept moving I would get to the other side and life would be different.  She didn’t even say life would be better, just different.  That was enough. I didn’t need better, but I desperately needed different.    

 I did a lot of hard work and made some real headway into recovery.  And most of the time it felt like I was on my hands and knees crawling through the fire.  No flame retardant gear or oxygen mask.  Just me.  Burning.  It wasn’t pleasant but I kept going.  I got about 40% through the fire and decided that was good enough.  So I air-lifted out.  Things were different.  Better even.  I wasn’t binging and purging everyday so that felt like enough. It was such a huge hurdle for me to overcome that I actually convinced myself that I was Recovered.   

I wasn’t. No where near it actually.  In reality I was hovering above the fire and the chopper was running low on fuel.  I would go as long as a month or even two without binging and purging but it would always come back. When I wasn’t binging and purging, I was using other eating disorder behaviors like restricting my food intake (vegan, paleo etc) and obsessing about losing weight (or being “healthy” as I called it).  This allowed me to forget for a moment that my feet were dangling above the fire. This went on for years and I was able to go through the motions, but below me the fire raged… and it was getting hotter and harder to ignore.     

A few years ago, I discovered Glennon Doyle of Momastery . She candidly and bravely wrote about her struggles with addiction and an eating disorder.  Her story resonated with me because, finally, someone had struggled as much and for as long as I had.  We had similar socio economic backgrounds and there were times when I would read her stories and think I had written them about myself. Though I did not realize it at the time, reading Glennon’s book and blog caused a seismic shift in my perspective.   For the first time I didn’t feel alone.     

Then in March 2015, I decided to give everything I had to recovery.  The fire raged and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I looked for a book I wasn’t sure existed. I wanted something written by a woman (or women) who had been in the trenches and fought her way to be Recovered.  I wanted a step-by-step guide through the trenches of recovery.   I found that in 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb.  The more I read, the more I felt like Carolyn and Gwen were talking directly to me. 8 Keys wasn’t just a guide . It was my guide.  

I knew the book wouldn’t be enough so I also started seeing a therapist. It was important to find a therapist who was either in recovery or Recovered. I wanted to talk with someone who “got it.” I was lucky to find Liz. She has been a wonderful guide through this process. Liz even started a support group based on 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating DisorderThe group was instrumental in my recovery.  The book gave me the information and tools, and the group gave me a safe environment to process the information and begin applying the tools.   

It took a solid year of working hard every single day, but I made it through the fire. I Recovered. I no longer have eating disorder behaviors or thoughts. Recovered didn’t happen suddenly, there wasn’t one big epiphany or moment of clarity. There were actually several.  It took work. Long, hard, patient work.  

A full and complete recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Recovery isn’t easy and I can assure you, at times, it will hurt like hell, but it is worth it. Life is worth it.