Our world is in upheaval: the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Black Lives Matter, economic disaster, global warming and separation of immigrant children from their families.
Yet, somehow I am recovering from an eating disorder that has tried to kill me for the past 10 years. And what is even cooler is that many of my friends from treatment have also been recovering at home during this pandemic. This isn’t a coincidence.
For many people, being home all day is boring and feels isolating and stifling. But for those of us who struggle with social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), being home has allowed us to find peace and safety — two things that are necessary to give up eating disorder behaviors. I have learned how to be alone, and be happy. Since nobody is supposed to go anywhere, I’ve accepted that this time home alone is time for me to heal my body and mind. Immersing myself in my recovery has allowed society’s expectations to fall aside. The stay-at-home orders have helped too. My job is to heal. I cannot be a functioning adult in society if I am starving myself, binging and purging, or so anxious I need to escape reality with substances.
I’m not making light of the horrific and tragic accounts happening in the United States and all over the world, because the year 2020 has been hell for so many people. It started out horrible for me too. I was admitted to an inpatient unit for my eating disorder twice earlier this year. I was hospitalized twice for medical complications due to my stomach disorder and a genetic condition, and the aftermath of being neglected at the inpatient treatment center. I was in solitary confinement in the treatment center because I couldn’t stop vomiting unintentionally. The treatment center thought if they made me intolerably unhappy, I would stop vomiting. However, it wasn’t in my control, so I was in my room for three weeks until I was discharged.
I have gotten a feeding tube placed surgically, been through uncomfortable and scary procedures, have been in chronic pain and projectile vomited everything I put in my mouth (including my own saliva, acid and bile). I have screamed bloody murder at the treatment center staff when they invalidated me and didn’t believe that I was allergic to a tube feed they tried to put me on — the same tube feed that landed me in the hospital just months before. I lost my favorite dietician because I didn’t do recovery her way (going to another treatment center). Instead I came home to recover here, in my condo, with my service dog and family nearby. I still vomit unintentionally about five to 20 times a day, just from bile, acid and saliva I can’t digest. Life isn’t perfect by any means, but I’m not using eating disorder behaviors. That is a huge win for me!
I haven’t done this completely alone. I’ve been working with a healer and a recovery coach, and together they have helped me walk from being severely ill and unhappy, to being full of energy and happiness. I’ve done many sessions of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) with my healer, as well as energy work, mirror work, Internal Family Systems (IFS) parts work, and have used an electrical current to heal from different ailments that my healer senses in my body.
In my daily talks with my recovery coach, we discuss what I’m struggling with, what is going well and what might help. She understands addiction and has zero judgment about behaviors. Just knowing I have someone who I can be honest with is a huge help. I trust these two women with the truth. I don’t show my lowest moments, darkest thoughts and maladaptive behaviors with just anyone. Not even with my team of providers, because I’m scared of being labeled, judged or dismissed for having a mental illness in addition to physical illnesses. But I feel safe with these women, and I feel seen by them. They validate my suffering, my progress, my feelings, and they teach me how to find value in myself.
My friends who have taken this time to heal and have had their own journeys, but they share with me that their mindsets are shifting to a more positive perspective as well. We are learning how to be with ourselves, interact with nutrition differently and accept our bodies for what they are. When talking with my recovered and recovering friends, most say life is far better now than before when they were chasing a body they weren’t cut out to live in, or numbing out because life felt unmanageable.
Now I want to be present. I want to be social with safe people, but social anxiety and a fear of leaving home gets in the way. Since everything became virtual during this time, I’ve been connecting with other people in recovery over Zoom, and that has been supportive as well. People who struggle with addiction understand the feelings and thoughts we, as eating-disorder survivors, experience.
One friend, Gina Salamie, says, “I love quarantine. In fact, I think I might continue to self quarantine for a long long time once this is all cleared up. See, I’ve had an ED for a long time. I’ve tried to recover, and have always fell short because I wasn’t willing to let my body change. One week into quarantine, where I’d already made seven ‘essential shopping trips’ to support my binge/purge passion, it hit me. What if I like, did this? I realized that I’m safe, in my home. I can live in comfy clothes. I can cry and eat and grow and rest and recover. So I did. I literally spent a whole night up, reading the Fuck It Diet and watching Tabatha Farrar, and the next morning I was still the first one at the grocery but this time, I was shopping for food for me, not the eating disorder. Quarantine has allowed me to ‘comfortably’ (lol) gain weight, which in turn has allowed me to recover. And it’s so freaking cool.”
My therapist confirmed that many people with social anxiety are finding relief in being allowed to stay home, in our safe spaces during this pandemic. My tension has eased to the point where I’m OK allowing myself to feed my body. There is a peacefulness in my demeanor that wasn’t there before March 2020. I am so proud of myself and my friends who are recovering during this time. People who struggled for years are doing well now, and following their meal plans, when before we all just wanted to lose weight, to numb out and become invisible. No more. We are becoming empowered. We are valuing our freedom and independence over a false sense of control of our bodies.
So if there’s one thing good that comes out of this year, for me it’s the gift of recovery for myself and my friends. We are doing it!
Keep fighting, warriors!