Needless to say, I am abundantly grateful for your comments on my superhero smoothie post. Thank you, CR readers, for inspiring me every day.
I’m here today with a new Green Recovery post. This one is from Meghan, who writes the blog Happy Life: One Gal’s Plunge into the Present. Meghan has a long, long history with both anorexia and bulimia, and she has recently recovered from a serious relapse. Her blog chronicles her journey into self love, recovery, and plant-based eating. I adore Meghan’s courage and optimism in the face of the recovery process, and I appreciate her candor about how difficult recovery has been for her.
Recently, a reader mentioned that she finds the Green Recovery posts to be triggering, because they underscore the fact that she herself is having a hard time recovering, in spite of adopting a plant-based diet and trying very hard. To this reader, I want to say two things:
1) You should absolutely not read any Green Recovery posts if they trigger you! Please. Take the day off from CR, go take a sunlit walk, and do anything but allow yourself to feel poorly because of these posts. As a consumer of blogs, you must know what your boundaries are. I personally implore you not to check in if something threatens your peace of mind.
2) My first bout with disordered eating came when I was 11, going on 12. I did not consider myself “recovered” till my mid-twenties—25 or 26. Though my habits and health had improved a few years before that, it was only at that point that my way of thinking about food really shifted into something beautiful and positive, rather than guilt-laden and fearful.
This is nearly 15 years of an unhealthy, contentious relationship with food and my body. 15 years is a long time, but some people take longer still to recover. For some folks, it happens more quickly. Recovery is a continuum. Eating disorders are serious illnesses, and it is not easy to simply get better because you want to. No matter how long it takes you, no matter how many times you relapse, and no matter how hard you struggle, please do not feel angry or impatient with yourself. If it’s taking a long time, it’s because you’re up against a very powerful foe.
Be good to yourself. You have enough of a fight to contend with without feeling self-loathing because you don’t recover at some specific “rate.” Recovery is a long, winding road, and we all encounter twists, turns, and speed bumps (I had two relapses myself, not to mention many intermittent years of normal weight, but abnormal thoughts about food). I feel no shame or frustration with the fact that my recovery was long and slow; I also am always mindful that relapses can happen to the best of us, and so I treat my recovery with respect and care.
Treat yourself with respect and care, too. Even if you’re still experiencing an ED, that does not mean that you are not working towards a goal of wellness. Appreciate your own courage in trying to get well; in the end, the desire to recover is what makes you a hero in the first place.
And now, for some very similar thoughts about the difficulty of recovery and the importance of appreciating recovery as a fluid process, rather than a cut-and-dry before/after, I present the lovely Meghan.
I have lived with ED for many years. Since I was about 14 years old. ED is a terrible roommate, taking up much valuable space and precious time, and is an active force in dissolving delicate self love. As much as I have fought with ED, ED has also been a source of comfort and release, and has been very hard to let go of. I borrow use of the name ED from a dear friend, who also referred to the unwelcome sidekick in her life in the same way. ED is what I am choosing to call my Eating Disorder. I have suffered from bulimia and bouts of anorexia since my early teens. ED tormented me the worst in high school….and the result made for a fragile young girl sometimes of skin and bones, with not only a terrible relationship with food, but also very ungracious and raw interactions with my family, friends, and with my very own spirit.
Bulimia. That is a word that I used to be so ashamed of saying out loud. But now I use it with ease as it is a part of who I am, was, and will become. It has been a part of my life for so long, and it has taken me up until this point to realize that it is nothing to apologize for. It just is. I remember back when I was first "diagnosed" with my bulimia, it was a word that left waves of uncomfortable silence in its wake. At that time, my mother was desperate to find educational support and medical assistance, but resources were next to nil and for the most part people just didn’t talk about eating disorders. There was such a massive stigma associated with not only the word, but everything that came along with it. Eating disorders, especially bulimia, were considered gross, silly, shallow, and easy to cure. Not so. It can take a real personal bottoming out to act as that catalyst for change…
January 25 2011 – ED had been with me for about 16 years on and off by this point, but only really surfaced to knock on my door at the worst of times. I had gotten pretty good and locking the door, latching the deadbolt, and ignoring his pleads for entry. But in January of that year, I was unable to keep him at bay…
I was having a really rough time moving on from my breakup with my ex-fiancé; my relationship issues had a strangle hold over me, and I was feeling not good enough, not smart enough, and just plain blue. I had just recently been discharged from my nine month bankruptcy, but was financially strapped and panicking. My father was not well, recently diagnoses with both Frontotemporal dementia and ALS, and my family was worried. I was starting my life over and felt really alone and completely out of control.
So ED showed up and kicked my ass. I relapsed. Bad. I ended up at the emergency room of St. Joe’s hospital in Toronto, on a morphine IV drip, with a 7 inch long spatula lodged in my esophagus. The pain was excruciating. I was in and out of consciousness. I was there for 24 hours, and after the procedure to remove the blockage, my heart rate was drastically low. My body was in trauma the nurses told me. I was stoned up, and felt like I was living a bad nightmare. The good doctors then pumped me full of electrolytes, fluids, and more pain relievers, and waited for me to rebuild my strength. After hours plugged into the heart rate monitors, a couple of ECGs (electrocardiograms), and some gentle words from my discharging ER doc, I was released.
This was the turning point. I could not, would not, ever, let ED take me down like that again. In all my years battling the disease, I had never gone so far as needing real medical assistance. Even when I hovered at my lowest weights, even as I ruined my tooth enamel through constant vomiting in high school, as my bones were grasping for all the nutrients they could sponge up from the little food I was keeping inside of me…..I had never let it get this bad.
And it will never happen again. Ever.
I am 31 years old now, and do not consider myself fully recovered. I am living a recovered life. My disordered eating has been a part of my world for so long, that I sort of forget what it is like to have a one hundred percent healthy relationship with food. I have spent many years learning all I can about nutrition, have major passion for my time spent in the kitchen, and pride myself in the ability to choose the best fuel for my active body. I am very, and acutely aware of what I consume, and how it makes me feel both physically and mentally. I have long been into the science behind eating healthily, and to that end I have learned a few things that have helped sort out some personal digestive needs, and also what it takes to feel like my optimal self.
In 2009, I adopted a gluten free diet, spent a time eating “in the raw”, and am now thriving as a vegan. Since adopting my vegan way of eating, I have developed an even healthier relationship with food, more confidence in my consumption, and have a spring in my step that has been missing for years. My commitment to fully exploring a plant based diet is totally personal, and I do so for my pleasure, vitality, and overall health. I have been faced with many questions regarding my decision to move towards this “radical” or “extreme” way of eating, as many assume that it is not a healthy choice for those with an eating disordered history.
However, I am quick to defend that, yes, a vegan “diet” is very specific, and yes, there is a lot to think about when getting my nutrition in this way. But, I also know that folks in the vegan community tend to experience fewer bouts with extreme dieting, body image, or food issues. I love knowing that every morsel of food I put into my body is brimming with nutrients and goodness, and adore my time in the kitchen creating complex and delicious meals for myself and my loved ones. I love that now, when I have that satisfied feeling of fullness after dining, that my body recognizes that I am full of fuel, not just food. Right now, this is what is right for me, and I do not make myself crazy. Eating this way feels the most natural and healthy, and that is all that matters.
While my ultimate goal is to someday soon be able to say that I have fully kicked ED to the curb, I am at the same time very grateful to have finally banished most of my self-blame, self pity, and embarrassment about my bulimia. I would be lying if I said I that I never have ED-inspired thoughts at times when my anxiety peaks, my stress levels soar, or when my heart is aching. But, what is real and true, is that I also have quite a few tricks up my sleeve to combat those ideas, and have developed a slew of brilliant ways to cope, and to blot out those false perceptions before they can cause me any harm. I may not yet have sorted out all the root emotional causes for my ED, but the one thing I do know is that being vegan has changed my life in positive whys that I could never have imagined, and it will continue to be a solid tool in my life of recovery.
I hope Meghan’s story makes clear that recovery is a process—an ongoing process that sometimes demands endless patience and energy. All we can do is our best: small strategies for coping and healing, honesty about our triggers and setbacks, and authentic efforts to keep going,e ven when it’s hard. You can’t push yourself to recover overnight, because no one can: EDs don’t happen overnight, and because they’re a part of us, they can’t just be excised out in a week or two. So give it time. But don’t lose faith that recovery is possible, and that you, too, can get there. And you will.
Thank you, Meghan, for speaking up. Everyone here in the CR community is supporting you, every step of the way!