My eating disorder didn’t manifest like the narratives portrayed in mainstream media. I didn’t spend hours scrolling through “thinspiration” on Tumblr or doing secret sit ups in my room. I didn’t try for a rail thin figure or a thigh gap. In fact, in the earliest days, I wasn’t aware I was “trying” for anything at all.
Through my teen years, the disorder grew. It morphed. It faded. It came back. All the while incorrigibly wrestling with my perception of reality. My headspace was much more “mind-full” than mindful. I was almost operating on a semi-unconscious level.
While I wouldn’t describe my thoughts as self-aware, I was still noticing. I noticed that when I did “A,” I felt “B.” For instance when I worked out, I felt a decrease in stress. When I ate healthy foods, I felt better about my body image. Ultimately, these cause-and-effect scenarios boiled down to the fact that when I strayed towards black and white thinking, my world seemed simpler and easier to grasp; and for a while it was.
Enthralled with diet culture ideals that seduced me into believing being a thin, strong, healthy athlete would make me invincible to life’s stressors, I pursued “lifestyle” change after lifestyle change. One after another after another. By my senior year of high school, I had chiseled myself into a lean, mean college-bound volleyball machine.
Junior and senior year of high school are tricky years to navigate in adolescence and my experience was no exception. Each time a stressor bubbled up, I turned to my “healthy lifestyle” for support and each time, it was there with open arms and the promise that if I just kept pushing forward, everything I was looking for would be waiting on the other side.
During nights off from volleyball practice, I found myself doing a slew of air squats, burpees, and pushups in my basement. Tackling bodyweight movements until my quads and triceps were drowning in lactic acid and my pores were clogged with sweat. May sound gross to most people but believe it or not, that was the only part of the day that I felt a true release. I was clutching to the control of my eating disorder’s commands to feel completely safe even if only for a few moments. It still felt worth it.
My eating disorder reached peak hideousness in my first two years of college. By then I had an arsenal of unhealthy coping mechanisms to choose from. My toolbox of “lifestyle changes” had tripled in size. Only, my once holy grail solutions had become less and less effective over time. The simplistic rigidity that once brought me calm and stagnation had rapidly plummeted in sustainability. My pursuit for ultimate control and happiness left me spinning into a numbed-out, depleted state, both mentally and physically.
When my final line in the sand was crossed and I had come to my rock bottom, I shifted my gaze to the perplexing ocean of recovery. Choosing recovery was for me very much like the first summer plunge into the cold bold Jersey shore waters.
I followed Instagram accounts, read memoirs, watched YouTube videos, and even listened to podcasts. I marveled at the recovery community’s passion, beauty, and depth. Curiosity swirled in my tummy and from then on, magnetism to recovery and its spontaneous rhythms and waves grew stronger in my heart. But still, this commitment to full recovery seemed just out of reach.
Knowing in good conscience it was the right path to truly achieve the health, happiness, and balance that I had thirsted after for so long, I mustered up enough courage to dip my toes in the water and see a counselor at my college. She was a substance abuse counselor who helped me to understand the parallels between addiction and eating disorders. She was a lifeguard in rough waters, and she assured me that if I began to drown, she would throw me a buoy.
The water was cold. It even seemed cruel at times. The deep joyful moments depicted in my research seemed like a total sham to me. But I couldn’t help but stay the course, because I knew what the alternative was and it had yet to deliver after 6 years of tireless efforts. It was time to try something new and beyond that, there was something so pure and just lurking behind the pain of recovery, I couldn’t help but to keep coming back.
I got smashed against the sand. I swam out too far and got whirled in a rip tide. I chuckled at the fluffy soapy ocean suds. I floated at peace. I took a wave to the chest. I body surfed to safety. I got hit again. But the longer I stuck around the waves, the more I learned how to surf.
The more vulnerability I leaned into, the more joy and gratitude came right along with it. The glow of recovery was finally touching my skin and it felt rich, nourishing, and filled with hope.
I do not regret or feel shame around my experience with my eating disorder. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I feel immense gratitude for that chapter of my life because it was in many ways an impetus for me to really answer the questions “Who am I?” and “What do I need?” Choosing recovery set an abundance of healing, love, and passion in motion for me. It reintroduced me….to me.
These days you can find me…well….just living my life! Which is really what recovery is all about, am I right?! I’m heading into my senior year of college, senior season on the volleyball court, and I am one month away from becoming a registered yoga teacher!
I believe recovery is about being present, authentic, and intuitive. There is no final destination. So while I’d love to wrap up this narrative with a pretty bow, my journey isn’t over yet, it’s only just beginning.
Written by Fara Cohen
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