One Journey through Recovery - #EDAW2019
This week (Feb 1-7) is Eating Disorder Awareness week across Canada. One million Canadians struggle with eating disorders. An eating disorder can affect anyone regardless of shape, size, age, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status. Eating Disorders are serious mental illnesses that affect a person’s physical, mental and emotional health, and can have significant and potentially life-threatening consequences. Eating disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating disorder include extreme emotions, thoughts and behaviors surrounding food and weight. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible! One of our clients shares below about part of her journey with recovery and her experiences at Westwind.
The past 4.5 months have transcended me into an unknown realm of recovery I never believed I would be able to reach for myself. All the success stories I had heard felt too out of reach to be achievable for myself. I didn’t recognize the level of strength and courage I held within me because I didn’t have the willingness to change before starting my journey at Westwind. When I first contacted Val it was out of spite because my mom had first contacted the program and got in touch with Tresa. At that point I did not want recovery, especially if it wasn’t on my terms. The only way to get my mom off my back was to actually be accountable and reach out for help away from her, so my initial email was to get her off my back, I didn’t think I would actually follow through. Yet with every response and interaction with Val I started becoming more aware of the choices I was making and realized, as I was given a date of admission and it loomed, I was actually going to do this. I remember my first flight to Brandon. Aside from ED fears, flying was my biggest fear, and I had to conquer it in order to come face a million of my eating disorder’s greatest anxieties. But I somehow did it, panic attack in tow, and made the decision to change my life - feel the fear and do it anyways, and I did.
My first few weeks I was timid and confused. The treatment model was different from any I had experienced, which initially made me anxious. I was used to depending on others to make the decisions for me in my recovery, whereas at Westwind there were opportunities for independence and choice around the pace of my recovery and what I wanted it to look like. I realized no one was there to recover for me but rather assist me to reach my goals, and I had to do the work to recover myself. I started utilizing the support differently; rather than relying on others, I started taking risks to begin the journey of trusting myself and using the supports provided to lean on instead of collapsing into them. I started practising positive self talk and self compassion, challenging food and exercise behaviours, and straying into my own unknown headspace that slowly started clearing up. As my brain stopped hyper-focusing on what I was going to eat next and how much, I hit a space where I felt lost and uninteresting, like I had nothing to offer without my eating disorder. How was I supposed to occupy my time? What do people without ED’s think about all day? What are everyday activities I actually enjoy? Having a poor frame of reference as to who I was before my ED, I was scared I didn’t have enough to offer the world. However, as I continued to do the next right thing and pursue true recovery, the space in my head and the activities of my time started filling to the point I’m at now.
It feels abnormal when I think about food too much after I’ve eaten, and when I do think about food a lot I know it’s a sign that I’m hungry and need to nourish more. When I would see co-clients challenging fear foods I would be inspired, but didn’t feel I could do it myself. The thoughts of how ED would make me feel if I did have them were overwhelming and horrifying. It wasn’t until I started challenging my own fear foods that I saw that it was possible. For me it was making a commitment and following through because of the commitment I made to myself - side note, Tabitha Farrar has great podcasts and videos on commitment in recovery. The first bite was always the hardest, but I would keep going until I was done, and almost always I felt empowered and in control, the complete opposite of what my ED told me I would feel. I still felt anxious and guilty, of course, but the pride and liberations grew each time. I was taking back my life one bite at a time. Food is more than numbers and rules now. Some days it’s energy and fuel, other days it’s delicious and exciting, but most days it’s a mix of both, and on really good days, it’s just something I need to do to keep my body running optimally that I don’t have to overthink because I’m busy living my life.
Brandon has been an interesting place to start discovering who I am. It’s shown me I am tougher than I initially thought, that my body can handle -35 and survive, that the blizzards outside that reflected my thoughts would eventually settle and the blue sky would be painted against sunlight the next morning, or even later those same days. Westwind has really shown me how temporary emotions are when not fighting them or sinking into them and setting up camp; that sitting with the emotion and allowing myself to feel it and be curious really does help. Westwind has given me the space to explore the vocabulary I use with myself, and to question my voice and my ED’s. I’ve learnt that sticking with recovery and making the decisions for myself with the support of others has been incredibly empowering. I’ve learnt I’m brave when I stand against my eating disorder, and it truly is a little bitch that does not have my best interest. Reframing thoughts has helped me see how ridiculous my ED sounds when I unravel the lies and tricks it’s spinning. I’m beyond grateful for the knowledge I’ve gained here. The level of patience and lack of judgement during individual sessions, both therapy and dietary, as well as groups has been phenomenal. The respect I have for this program is beyond words. What initially seemed horrifying about the treatment model when I first arrived I now recognize as the pivotal platforms of my success. The trust I had to uncomfortably ease into is the reason I have the confidence I do now.
For the first time I have confidence in my ability to fully recover, because for the first time I’ve been the one making the decisions to better my life for myself rather than coasting along for others or being told what to do. I know my life is going to be richer because of the time and effort I put into myself at Westwind. This opportunity has not only changed my life, it’s saved it. I feel like I have the skills to take on real adult life without needing to rely on behaviours for a sense of control. I’m excited to move forward, and for what feels like the first time, start my life. I am going to recover, and that is the most invigorating and horrifying commitment I will ever make, but I know it’s a commitment I will follow through with, because life is so much better with cake and laughter. So, I leave you with a few of my favourite affirmations that have supported my strength throughout this journey:
Feel the fear and do it anyways. The only way out is through. Feed your body to fuel your future. The goal is to make the eating disorder uncomfortable. Tough times never last, tough people do. I have come so far, and will continue to move forward. Fear foods won’t kill you, not having them will.
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