My name is Lucie, and I am a certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach, a master’s in counseling student at Northeastern University, and the authors of The Jots of Becoming which talks about my process recovering from an Eating Disorder myself. Through my roles in the recovery community, I have had the opportunity to look back at my recovery process and thinking about the very abstract question “how did I get here?” Meaning, how did I get to a life that sometimes feels so free of the Eating Disorder when there was a point when I thought even recovery did not exist. Even though I have been recovered for three years, I look back in awe at the process. Especially now that I live in Boston, I remember sitting in treatment not even being able to imagine life without an Eating Disorder. Now, my life feels better than I could have even imagined.
And that is because recovery broke me out of the walls that my Eating Disorder confined me in. When thinking about my Eating Disorder, the first thing that comes to mind is how strong of a hold it had on me and confined me to this small life. It affected every facet of my life. It affected my relationships and made every activity and every interaction feel like it was an emergency or like it was life or death. Everything felt maximized like the decision between one sauce or another or where to go shopping felt like the end of the world and would consume my entire day.
When I described the endless suffering and life’s bleakness while struggling with an Eating Disorder would often say “why can’t you just eat?” “Just stop thinking and do it.” That if I got myself into this, I could get myself out of this. And it’s not that simple because the Eating Disorder served a purpose in my life. It came in and filled a hole of chaos and temporarily brought peace. It cleared the storm and helped me believe I could not live without it. However, that can only last so long. Something I that temporarily quieted the noise in my mind caused a blaring echo that I then had to succumb to silencing.
I was always an “anxious kid.” I worried about everything from thunderstorms, to the possibility of the house catching firing, and feeling obligated to keep the peace in my relationships and life around me. My anxiety would get so high, I would feel sick. I connected that if I did not eat when I was anxious, I would not throw up and I could not give up the anxiety because in the brain of a young child, it kept the things from happening. From there, the seeds were planted to develop an Eating Disorder because I had the perfect storm. I had the perfectionistic tendencies, unmedicated ADHD, trauma from dysfunctional family dynamics, and several members of my family had an Eating Disorder. I heard my mom talk about her weight changes and often heard discussions of who had lost weight and how it was “progress” at family reunions and what the latest diet was. After I got a Wii fit, I was very aware of my body size and the way the numbers change. I had access to a game in the center of my living room floor that could tell me the direction. I started fixating on it more and more. It veered towards an Eating Disorder when I started a gifted program for middle school. My anxiety rose and I felt inadequate compared to my peers. After being complimented during winter break by my family on how much better I looked, I felt like it was a good thing. I affirmed to myself I was successful. Why they were praising an eleven-year old’s weight is astonishing to me now, especially after working at a summer camp and becoming a professional in this field yet not surprising given the latest pediatric policies.
I started running a year later to see if it would help my anxiety. I found comfort in seeing the numbers on the treadmill and watching my progress. At first, my body image improved, and I felt more comfortable around eating. I thought maybe I had found my answer. However, I felt no matter how much I did, and it was not enough. That maybe someday I would feel comfortable, but I was not there yet. Then, I went on to run cross country and track my freshman year of high school. It definitely helped ease the transition to high school because I had an automatic group of friends and a community from summer training. It gave me structure, a friend group, and I thought I needed it to feel confident and good about my body. I associated having a smaller body with confidence and that if I kept doing what I was doing, someday I could feel the peace with food I saw other people feel. After all that time of inadequately nourishing my body and then introducing intense exertion, my body had it. October of freshman year, I passed out in gym class and hit my head resulting in a concussion. At that point I was diagnosed with an Eating Disorder. I had to take several weeks off running and due to the anxiety of gaining weight without running, I spiraled. Due to living in a small town without many Eating Disorder resources and my family’s beliefs on mental health that I should have been able to get it together, there were small points of intervention, yet nothing for long-term help. I mainly just existed in that spiraling state with small points of trying to get better for that track race or to stay in school. Every time it got harder to pick myself up because I thought I was “doing fine” and it was pointless. I do not think so many without Eating Disorders realize this is not something people “get over” and how much work it takes people to pick themselves up again. It does not matter if they’re a smart or capable in other areas in their life, just eating is not enough as recovery requires consistent nourishment through support and food.
At the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, I had to leave cross country and track. I started struggling with depression because I lost a community of support and thought I would have an Eating Disorder for the rest of my life. I had tried to pick myself up over and over again by myself and I was tired. It felt too strong. My depression and Eating Disorder got worse and I admitted to Eating Disorder treatment. I started recovery when I was there and recovered medically. It was hard to be there and away from school as I was aware of the work piling up and wanted to get back as quickly as I could I returned to the same town with no Eating Disorder treatment and these were the days before telehealth. After returning to my high school, things never felt the same as it was. I was forced to eat my lunch in a teacher’s classroom, and I had gone through this life altering experience of treatment and hours of therapy and what it was like to be in a setting like that and it felt isolating knowing my peers could not understand. I did not really know what to say about where I was as the first thing people asked is how could I take so much time off knowing the make-up work that would be waiting. The large sums of work were my fault because I should have just gotten it together and came back sooner, especially during the month of AP exams. I found myself missing my treatment friends because I felt they could understand in ways they never could. Not explaining the whole story made me feel like I was on the outside, but I also felt elusive and cool, like I had this other life. Unsurprisingly, I relapsed. spent the next year trying to pretend that I was recovered and that because I went to treatment I was “cured.” I thought if I could just eat enough to stay in school and be able to go to the football games and the school dances and keep up my grades, that that’s what recovery was and that I had made it. Looking back, I know this was not recovery and my Eating Disorder reared its head just as much and that it just was laced with a strong dose of denial. It could keep convincing me that medically I was not where it was, and I continued to stay in a state of isolation. I was thankful I was not in complete isolation. The teacher who watched me eat lunch in her classroom and my junior year psychology teacher were supportive and always checked in with me at school and let me know I was never alone. They were there for me to talk to and urged me to continue trying to nourish my body at lunch and made sure I knew their classroom was a safe space. And they helped me realize I needed more help. When I went to the doctor for a checkup at eighteen, which was almost two years later from discharging from treatment, she gave me the name of an Eating Disorder dietitian in my area. After some self-advocating, I started working with her. It was amazing to receive support and structure from a professional in a way I had never received before.
I only worked with her for a few weeks in-person before working as a counselor at a Jewish overnight camp. I felt a sense of community that I had never felt before and loved it. I got a taste of what life could be like without an Eating Disorder. I saw all these people who were having the s’mores on Shabbat and participating fully, and I wanted that. I started participating more. This was the first time I wanted recovery. I did not know thought what recovery really meant and this was not something I could just do on my own. I had medical problems and felt lost when it came to adding variety. I thought since I felt worse, maybe this was not for me. I was sent home early, which crushed me yet left an impact. I realized for the first time that this is not something that I could live with for the rest of my life and functional Eating Disorders do not exist. I realized that in order to return to a place with people I loved, I had to work towards recovery. After being sent home, I was home for a bit and attempted to recover. However, at the end of the month, I started college six hours away. I was excited as I had been looking forward to that for a long time. I had a treatment team, yet I convinced myself the college environment would motivate me to stay at a certain point and that recovery was not for me. I thought if I coasted at a place where I could live with an Eating Disorder and just do enough to stay in college, yet even that was a struggle because Eating Disorders do not negotiate. I enjoyed the other parts of my college, such as Hillel and friends, and I wanted to hold onto that. Unfortunately, I had to take a medical leave and entered residential treatment. I spent the next year in and out of treatment. I would do inpatient or residential, then step down to PHP and spiral, then step back up again.
I started truly wanting recovery when I realized my narrative was defined by only my Eating Disorder. Prior to my last residential stay, I had been labeled as the “non-compliant,” “chronic,” “waste of a bed” client. I remember one night listening to “Burning Gold” and the song switched by saying “I wish the wind would carry a change” to the chorus proclaiming “I’ve had enough” and ending the song with “I am the wind that’s carrying change.” I realized the Eating Disorder was harming me more than helping me and it was not working. I was in the same place again and again and I realized I wanted to write a new narrative and that meant doing something different. The last time in residential treatment, I allowed myself to sit with the discomfort, advocate for my needs, and participate actively in treatment. I met a friend who viewed recovery as something exciting and inspired me to feel prouder of the work I was doing. This connection, from making breakfast everyday together to long conversations, was pivotal to my recovery and I am forever grateful for it.
Recovery changed my narrative. Slowly but surely, the pages turned, and I became a protagonist I thought was worth fighting for. Yes, I was gaining weight and that scared me, yet I was so relieved I was finally gaining the ability to laugh, to feel excited about a meal, and to connect with friends on more than just the Eating Disorder. I remember talking to a friend one night and thinking this feels so good, I can’t lose this. After discharging, I vowed that I would not go back to the Eating Disorder, no matter how hard things got. So, it would mean something to me, it was written in the format of the Grey’s Anatomy post-it from Season 6. The original post-it promised “to love each other even when we hate each other. No running. Take care even when old and senile and smelly. And this is forever.”
I changed it to “I promise to nourish my body even when I don’t love it no stopping and this is forever”
My therapist in residential helped me advocate for a full treatment team, including a recovery coach. I continued to write new pages of my life while changing the narrative around elements of things I enjoyed in my Eating Disorder. I discovered new food I enjoyed and created an identity for myself that did not revolve around the way I ate or moved, the size of my body, or my illness. I formed authentic friendships and got to know my friends better and discuss more fulfilling things other than my treatment. I returned to the summer camp and emerged as a leader and it became a place of growth and joy and see my Jewish identity in a different way. Working there made me want to include that as part of my work. Additionally, I returned to college and finally started to enjoy learning again for the sake of learning. Since I loved psychology, I decided to pursue a career in counseling because I realized how many ideas I had related to Eating Disorder treatment and I wanted to contribute to this field. I wanted to learn as much as I could. I enjoyed connecting with individuals who were struggling over Instagram, but I wanted to contribute in a more structured way. I decided to enroll in Carolyn Costin’s ED recovery coaching program
During recovery, I felt the hardest feelings I felt in my life and had to challenge core beliefs I held about myself as well as relationships and started to work on trauma work. The perfect storm leading up to my Eating Disorder was rooted in my mental health history and I wanted to continue to work on it so my Eating Disorder would not have a chance at ever returning. Recovering from an Eating Disorder taught me that growth is not an endpoint. There is no such thing as “fully healed.” As a human, I will always have areas of growth. Recovering from an Eating Disorder taught me though that change is really possible. It is possible to learn to think differently and approach situations in a more helpful way to me and not just have a good relationship with food and my body but cultivate a meaningful relationship with myself. Eating Disorder recovery taught me that healing requires feeling a lot and sometimes it brings up difficult memories or reveals parts that I did not want to face but facing is always better than not facing and that I could tolerate difficult feelings. Over time, I have forged connections with others and myself that will last a lifetime.
In recovery, I literally started to write my narrative. I started journaling because it created the tangibility for my feelings I desired instead of using my body as communication through my Eating Disorder. I found it to be helpful in asking for things I needed and articulating thoughts outs that I did not have the confidence to say out loud. I started publishing my writing after I discharged from treatment. I discharged around Yom Kippur, which is a Jewish fasting holiday. I wanted to commemorate it in a meaningful way that honored my recovery. As it is a holiday about starting over and apologizing, I write a letter apologizing to loved ones, my body, and myself for actions because of my Eating Disorder. I read it to my therapist, and she said, “It’s so good, you could publish it.” I sent it into Project HEAL’S blog and then I started writing as a hobby and submitting my work for publication on different blogs. Writing helped me connect with my feelings and explore a creative side and got me back into reading, which was a passion pre-ED. I was writing so much that I did not want to wait for it to be published. I started posting on Instagram, which at this time was just friends and some family. I never expected it to become a community and a guide to my career. It inspired me to publish a book because I had so much writing and I wanted to compile it. I used to think my history with an Eating Disorder was something to be ashamed of because I thought, as I had been told, it was my fault, and I did this to myself. Over time, I worked to start showing myself to same compassion I show to others and connecting with a greater community mattered more than I how I appeared. Now, I view my story as something I carry with me and inspired to me to contribute to a field that is so misunderstood by the public.
I am frequently told, especially by my family, that isn’t it great that I recovered because it gave me a career and opportunities. And yes. It is great that I recovered. Even if I had not pursued speaking or a career in counseling, I can confidently state that I would wake up each morning and still be grateful I recovered. Feeling the freedom when I go out to eat with my friends or I go about my day after trying on a pair of jeans is there. In my eating disorder, I liked this quote from “The Boy who was Raised as a Dog” “People prefer the certain misery rather than the misery of uncertainty.” Stepping into this misery of uncertainty, although was the most daunting, emotion-wrenching experience of my life shattered me so I could put myself back together in a way I could not imagine. I was no longer held together by tape and glue but learned to stand on my own two feet and live independently in a life where I can continue to keep growing in a human way, not in a way that has to do with my Eating Disorder anymore.
I want to end by saying that recovery is not one big step. It is a series of incremental steps and the ones you do not expect to change your life are the ones that mean the most. A teacher who showed compassion to me when I needed it inspired me to pursue psychology. A summer job becomes the reason to recover when I could not think of another reason. A phone call to someone you don’t know well becomes a life-changing connection. A Spotify shuffle inspires you to start fighting. Sending in an article becomes a book. A struggle with an illness I never thought I would survive became the focal point of my career. I am grateful I never stopped fighting to end up here. To those of you who are watching and are struggling, I believe you can get there too.
And yes, show appreciation for your loved ones on your recovery journey; and most importantly, remember to thank yourself. Remember to thank yourself for all the times you said no when the Eating Disorder promised, just one more time. Remember all the times you kept eating through the meal even if you were crying and you really just wanted to stop. For all the times you chose what you wanted to on the menu. It is not as simple as recovery being all on you, yet you are your own hero in your recovery journey and the person who makes it happen. Support is crucial and so are you.
With that, thank you MEDA for providing me this opportunity to share my story.