Living Life Freely and Fully
**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.
Adriana Freitas is in her final year of high school, burdened with chronic senioritis. She has conducted research at the Cleveland Clinic and hopes to major in a STEM-related field during college. Adriana’s arms are open to the world: writing, reading, making music. An artist in her soul, she hopes to make the world more beautiful.
The perfect storm. That’s what they always call it. A timely union of genetics, stress, circumstance, environment, and biology producing an idea—a tiny voice that grew in my head to take over my body. My brain. My life.
At the end of my 8th-grade year (during the lockdown), I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. A perfect storm, littered with the debris of personal factors: My mother was a health nut and had instilled diet culture unknowingly into the core of our family’s values. I was about to leave middle school and enter high school. My body was growing in ways that felt unnatural and unfitting. COVID, the final piece, isolated me from my friends and my school.
But the storm brews. It takes time in the making, waiting in the wings down below; it does not just appear out of nowhere. For years, I forced self-imposed diets and Pinterest exercise routines upon myself in a constant quest to conquer the scale and reach a number I deemed acceptable. A number that, in reality, was impossible. That put my life and relationships in peril.
It was my twin who figured out what I was going through first, and who informed my mother of her suspicions. Born at the same time, our lives are and will always be irrevocably intertwined. We were always compared.
I was the smart one. She was the sporty one.
I was the shy one. She was the popular one.
I was not fat, but she was definitely the skinny one.
Three sisters in a house, all with different shapes. Our futures blooming before us in different shapes, unknown and looming. Our bodies developing in different shapes, placing us in constant competition.
But in the face of my eating disorder, my family united.
After my diagnosis, I was enrolled in The Emily Program full-time. Of course, with COVID shutting down virtually all public places, I would complete the program entirely online, signing onto Zoom call after Zoom call from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday. Weekends off. A new form of school. A different type of learning: self-love, acceptance, body image. Learning how to eat again.
I was the only one enrolled for the first week of the program. The clinicians focused all of their attention on me—one-on-one attention I did not want. I wanted to go back to exercise and control, instead of having my plates checked to be sure I’d eaten every meal. Or being placed on bed rest with no type of physical activity allowed. But I fed the staff fake smiles, willingly consuming cookies and protein shakes and french fries into my mouth. I lived in denial of my state, convinced of my healthfulness. Convinced that my family, my new therapist, my nutritionist were all wrong.
Then, my weight went up for the first time. After ages of deprivation, I finally started to feel energized, excited. Life came back in my cheeks, my interests returned. I was reaching back out to friends. Then: new numbers. Higher than I wanted. A sign of failure, my eating disorder said—making me feel worthless, not good enough. I was out of control and spiraling, facing this beast that shadowed me in the mirror. The beast: my family, The Emily Program, recovery. Things I wanted to run from.
So, at what point did I recover, in the full and final sense of the word? I don’t know if I did. I think I may always be in the process of recovering, always having to work to keep out the tiny voices in my head. But there does come a time when everything gets better. The voices, though sometimes appearing distantly, are sparse. Food can be enjoyed for its taste, its wealth of flavors and the memories tied to it, rather than as a chore, a necessity for survival. Movement is a rush, exciting and spontaneous, instead of a regimented exercise you drag your body through every day without rest. The feeling of a full stomach will be a happy feeling. And your life, in all its renewed and rediscovered wonders, will be full again, too.
It took me a long while to get here. This fullness would require efforts I made day after day in The Emily Program, a summer spent in it.
Eventually, more people joined my program. I got to meet others different from me who were going through the same thing. We had different backgrounds, religions, sexualities, upbringings, and ethnicities; however, we all were victims of an eating disorder, an illness that, at its root, comes down to not feeling good enough. But we saw worth in each other, provided support as we each recovered. In my despair, in my self-isolation and loneliness, a network began to build around me. I’d spent the months of my anorexia enshrouded in darkness, keeping a secret. Always cold. Avoiding everyone. Here, I saw the entrance of light.
My grandma would cook my favorite meal—eggplant parmigiana—and bring it weekly to my house, replenishing it as the supply lowered. My neighbors took me out for ice cream, not saying anything, but showing their most humble support with free dessert offers. My family attended group therapy sessions, freeing their schedules for my cause. They were making attempts to listen, to understand me, despite my sudden outbursts, my perpetual anger, my overwhelming stress levels. They dealt with such wounds gently, wrapping them in bandages with their love so I could heal. In this circle of supporters, I found strength to boost me along the road to recovery, initially telling myself it was for them, but eventually realizing I was doing it for me, too.
Recovery is recursive, arcing continuously in zigzags between struggles and successes. One day, while I was in The Emily Program, I threw a protein bar at my mother’s face, enraged that she wouldn’t let me walk beyond the mandated time limit. On another day, I might be looking forward to dessert, even craving it. Eventually, I felt a spark of hunger as my stomach grumbled for the first time in ages, a reintroduction to cues so long avoided. It would make me feel encouraged, excited to have my body back. But this loss of control would also terrify me as my body regulated itself back into its natural rhythm and gradually forgot the prescribed standards I had taught it. Between each day, a myriad of simultaneous dichotomous emotions and feelings. Each pound I gained, every fear food I tried was both a victory and tragedy.
I have been out of The Emily Program for over three years. I was discharged right before my first year of high school started. Though my high school years have been filled with ups and downs—both in terms of my anorexia and otherwise—I have found ways to cope, to quiet the voices. Writing. Making music. People. The struggle goes on, but I’ve realized that my life is better lived freely, lived fully. Recovery is hard work; I often find it helpful to remind myself why I chose it:
So that I can test and rank each and every Pop-Tart flavor.
So I have enough energy to read, my mind no longer exhausted by the act of thought.
So I may build friendships and stay connected with the world around me.
So I can add butter, sour cream, and chives to baked potatoes without worrying about extra calories.
So I can take long hikes on hot summer days without feeling faint.
So I’ll be able to attend college next year.
I choose recovery so that I may love myself, because I love myself. Because I am worth it.
And you are, too.
We want to hear your voice of recovery! If you are interested in participating in our Recovery Conversation series, please email email@example.com to learn more.