**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Rachel Wilshusen is a dynamic and vibrant writer with liberal arts degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, University College London, and the University of Cambridge. After an extensive battle with anorexia, including admittance to an eating disorder center, Rachel wrote Emancipated Love Junkie to embolden others to follow her path toward recovery. Coastal runs with her husband and jumping into ocean waves are her favorite ways to spend sunny mornings in Del Mar, California. Learn more about Rachel via email, Instagram, and her website, rachelwilshusen.com.
As a little girl in pigtails racing through sprinklers in the summertime, I knew I was enough. I polished off ice cream sundaes with pleasure, strutted around my school’s four square court with swagger, and felt at home in my skin. Radiating my true, joyful self, I unconsciously accepted that I deserved all the goodness life has to offer. But then puberty showed up and life got sticky. Transferring to new schools each year as an Army kid, I found it hard to assimilate into social circles and allowed insecurities about my weight and appearance to stifle my self-worth.
One early morning, not long after starting university, I caught my naked body in a full-length dorm mirror and, with great finality, pronounced myself a fat failure unworthy of love. This false belief resulted in an extensive eating disorder as I attempted to starve myself into becoming a “perfect” woman with a “perfect” body. I optimistically hoped restricting my intake and working myself raw from sunrise to sundown would calm my anxious heart and prove myself worthy of love. Instead, I chased my tail as a constant wreck, with a tear-stained cheek often glued to various apartment floorboards as I absorbed feelings of defeat, regret, and self-loathing.
As the years passed, I became increasingly irate with my anorexia—I wanted so desperately to eat a cupcake or a banana without experiencing an onslaught of awful emotions! Without an understanding that recovery comes from within and determined to keep my pain a secret, however, I recommitted to suffering in silence. I continued on as an unhappy woman until one cold winter’s night in Charleston, South Carolina, when an attack on my character by my brother’s girlfriend rocked my world. I was trying so hard to be perfect and here was someone declaring I was unequivocal failing! Bursting with anger and frustration, I ran out of my house and onto a dark street, flailing my arms and sobbing uncontrollably, until I was caught by the loving arms of my older brother who soothed my aching soul. Completely exhausted by my disorder and prepared to try anything to feel at peace, I finally accepted I needed professional help.
Scheduling therapy sessions and admitting myself to an ED treatment center were two of the best choices of my life. Digging through layers of doubt and fear, I rediscovered something I’d always known deep, deep down in the pit of my gut: I am good enough and I deserve to be happy. This powerful, universal truth meant everything to a broken girl running low on confidence and hope. It meant I could stop striving for perfection, an ideal that would never bring me happiness. It meant I could once more feel comfortable in my skin, with the knowledge that I am a valuable soul, regardless of my achievements. It also meant I could start to heal and manifest my true, joyful spirit as I journeyed toward recovery.
Just because something is true, however, doesn’t make it easy to embrace! After staring at an unworthy woman in the mirror for over fifteen years, it was difficult to accept my worth and honor my needs. Consequently, after leaving treatment and reentering the often chaotic social fray, I resolved to fake it. If I was serious about recovery and truly valued my well-being, I needed to fake it till I make it! Abiding by this expression wasn’t effortless and at first I slipped up a lot. Recovery, however, is often two steps forward and one step back, and with every stumble I became more resolved to treat myself with the kindness and respect we all deserve. I reminded myself each morning that I deserve to eat, rest, slow down, and take breaks. I finished my dinner and washed it down with a cookie when I felt more inclined to hurl my lasagna or salmon out the window. I compassionately washed my body with calming lavender soap on the nights I felt like a fraud. I drove to support group meetings when crying into my pillow presented an easier option. And gradually, like the sunshine after a steady rain that never seems to end, accepting myself became easier. I was able to nourish my body with confidence, reframe negative thoughts into positive truths, and truly believe that I merit a happy and healthy existence, regardless of my weight or productivity.
You might feel undeserving of love today. Maybe you crave isolation, want to skip your next meal, or are convinced you are the worst of the worst! But know these feelings and beliefs are a part of your ED and separate from your truth. You are not the negative voice in your head and you are not a failure. Your true, joyful self—the little human who was once running through sprinklers and gleefully eating ice cream—still lies within and is the true essence of who you are. So go on and fake it! Treat yourself with kindness, even if it doesn’t ring true in the slightest. Every loving step forward, no matter how small, is a powerful step toward reconnecting to your true self and realizing a happy and healthy recovered life.
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