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August 22, 2014

The Meaning of a Birthday

This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

By Jamie Forman, a former Emily Program client, and woman in recovery

I don’t get excited about my birthday because of the parties and presents (although I can’t complain about those in the slightest :)). I get excited because, for me, another birthday marks another year of life; another year of strength and passion and commitment to being clean and sober from everything that I fought against for so long.

Three years ago, I spent my 18th birthday at The Emily Program, a treatment center for girls and boys with eating disorders and accompanying addictions. I spent 6 years of my life using eating disorder symptoms and drinking (post-treatment) to try and eliminate things that I couldn’t identify, in ways I couldn’t pinpoint. I spent 24 hours a day running from the pressure of life and school and friends and instead of going out and kissing boys and taking pictures and eating delicious food, I stayed in and ran until I couldn’t walk, harming myself until I couldn’t breathe.

Making it to my 18th birthday was one of the greatest milestones in my life. It was the day students at ASU (where I wanted to go for so long) were starting classes; it was the day all of my friends were moving into their dorms and beginning their college lives; it was the day I was allowed to go home for a couple of hours that evening and have a difficult, halfhearted celebratory dinner with my family before continuing to work at my problems. But it was also the day my entire road to recovery was reversed for the better.

Spending such a milestone birthday in a windowless room, being forced to talk about things you never shared with anyone but the treadmill and toilet bowl made me realize just how bad my life had gotten. I never had any pressure from parents, peers, or siblings to be a certain way, and I still managed to destroy my life. August 18th, 2011 was the day I decided I couldn’t go on like that. It was the day I decided to put off going to college to focus on my health. I knew if I had pushed everything aside and just gone away to college that year, I may not have made it to reach the second semester.

Three years later, I just celebrated my 21st birthday. I did not spend it going out and getting wasted or gambling or partying or doing anything that could turn negative. These days my life is all about remaining centered and doing things that benefit my life and that continue to celebrate what I worked so hard to get back.

After different discussions with a doctor I have worked with, I may have one drink to celebrate, but drinking responsibly isn’t something I have necessarily earned the right to. Addictions usually work in groups and it’s difficult to have one without having another.

This birthday, I spent it working at a job I worked so hard to get; a job I don’t always feel I deserve, but that I love like nothing else. That evening, I went out to dinner with friends and that weekend, out to dance; because dancing won’t get me in the kind of trouble that other activities will.

I’m not celebrating a day of presents and treats and attention; it’s about celebrating making it another year with a clear mind and a happy heart.

Get help. Find hope.