For My Friends

Recovering from an eating disorder is a little like being released from prison after a torturous sentence. You are both the prisoner and the guard, and you have finally let yourself free. But much like an ex-convict trying to assimilate back into regular life, you have a lot of trouble knowing how to act.

I tripped my way through recovery, both mentally and physically. As I've said many times before, recovery is NOT just gaining weight. My feet grew two sizes, and I actually had to learn to walk again.

I had to learn to walk in a way that wasn't just me floating apparition-like through the nooks and crannies of life. I had to learn to take up space again and be okay with it. To have to say "Excuse me" again and not be able to fit though any crevice, no matter the dimension, without disturbing anyone else. To run into table edges and doorways because I wasn't used to my hips sticking out so much. To barely be able to put one foot in front of the other because I was so confused by the fact that my thighs were rubbing together again for the first time in years. To know when it's time to go to the bathroom and change your tampon, or even how to put a tampon in to begin with. To feel your weight in each step you take and be able to resist the urge to crumble to the floor in tears. To not be this invisible force anymore - to be PRESENT.

It's terrifying, to take up space in the world again. I saw others speak of this thing called "intuitive eating," this idea of trusting in your body and relying on it alone to tell you when to eat, and I shrank in fear. But I saw people close to me accomplishing it every day, without effort. Maybe they didn't know it, but these people were superheroes to me: superheroes of self-love who couldn't even see their own power.

This post is for the friends who got me through my recovery and taught me what it means to be human again. Many of you may not know how much you helped me, and if you don't read this maybe you never will. But you know who you are, and I thank you for all that you taught me just by being. For those who are in recovery and unsure of where to even begin, turn to your friends who have never had to think twice about what they were eating and watch how they exist. They will do more for you than they will ever, ever know.

When I began recovering, I was lost. I was living by myself and I was convinced this was the perfect way to recover: without comments or judgment or anyone else's opinion on what I should be doing. As far as the weight gain, it worked. I got my period back and restored my weight, but I still had several issues with fear foods, eating at certain times, going out, exercising and allowing myself to rest when I needed it.

Soon, I was forced to move in with roommates. I was still pushing myself through recovery, but I felt incredibly lost. I thought I was capable of recovery, but I wasn't sure if I was capable of real change. I could eat the food and gain the weight, but could I ever really change my mindset about my body?

In the midst of this, my roommate ate. She made pasta and sandwiches and pancakes and potatoes (always potatoes) and she took naps, she watched TV, she bought herself candles and bath bombs and twinkle lights for her room. She took pictures. She went out with her friends.  She also had a job and  she went to school, and I watched her in awe. She was kind to herself.

Eventually, we became closer and I opened up to her. I told her what I was going through. I wasn't sure if she'd be able to understand, but I knew the people I lived with had to know in case I fell off track. She listened to me, and then she helped me.

She introduced me to her friend and they introduced me to their world. They didn't judge their bodies in the way I was so accustomed to. Of course they had their insecurities - who doesn't? But they didn't let those insecurities define who they were. They ate what they were craving, they did what they felt like doing and they always listened to their hearts. This was foreign to me, but I knew I wanted to give it a try.

I let them cook for me. It was the first time anyone had in three years. As we sat down at the dining table and passed around pasta and vegetables and gobs of Parmesan cheese, we talked about our days. We laughed. Sometimes we even cried, but it was life. It was the first time in my life I considered that eating is not just eating: it's a chance to bond with your loved ones over a basic human need for life and to celebrate. The focus shouldn't be on the food - it should be on the experience.

I continued observing others and attempting to channel in myself the thing that made them brave when lunchtime came around. I saw my roommate call out of work because she wasn't feeling well and remembered all the times I forced myself through a shift when I felt moments away from blacking out. And then I realized the focus REALLY wasn't on food and never should have been: I was tip-toeing my way through every aspect of life and I had to start loving myself harder.

I watched my coworkers talk about their fitness routines, but I also watched them eat pizza and burgers and cookies and ice cream sometimes because life is about balance. I watched them eat two sandwiches one day and half a salad the next, not as punishment but because we're not the same amount of hungry every day and life is full of change, and that's okay.

I've been lucky enough to surround myself with people who give. People who've been so patient with my irrational fears and mood swings and all of the crying and looking in the mirror and hating what I see. You've kept me grounded and you've kept me on the right path. You've given me my strength to keep fighting.

To anyone who went to get themselves a snack and brought me back one as a small gesture of recognition: I saw you. To the person who threatened to break down my bathroom door because I was panicked and wouldn't come out, thank you. To the person who sat with me in the backseat of my car, thank you for making me feel beautiful at any size. To everyone who continues to catch me when I say "I've eaten so much," or "I'm being a pig," and to those who continue to check up on me, to make sure I'm eating and I'm being kind to myself, I see you.

No matter how long we've been in recovery, it is never the wrong time to feel taken care of. Our world isn't filled with enough love, but the one good thing about my anorexia is that it gave me the chance to see the openness and beauty of those around me. I have amazing people, and I credit you with my sanity.

While you're recovering, trust in yourself, but also trust in others. Trust in the simplicity of life and allow yourself to see it. It can come back to you - it wants to come back to you. But it can't do so without your willingness to see that there is a way to live without being cruel to yourself. The people around you are doing it, and there is no reason you can't do the same.


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