**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.
By Carla Bellino, a former The Emily Program client and woman in recovery. Carla’s own blog can be found here.
I’ve suffered from anorexia nervosa for a little more than 3 years, paired with depression, anxiety, and self-harm struggles. I’ve been through every care level of treatment available at The Emily Program.
When recovering from any addiction, I feel that there’s this overwhelming pressure to “follow the rules.” I was always under the impression that in order to reach recovery, I must do what is expected of me. I thought I would recover by doing what my family, friends, and treatment team wanted me to do…but that would have taken away from me. This recovery is mine. Once I finally took ownership of my recovery and decided to lead the way instead of letting everyone else direct me, I slowly started to reveal pieces of the person hiding beneath the eating disorder. In time, it all started falling into place. I started looking to the people in my life for guidance rather than directions and I discovered the powerful person within me. My struggles have always defeated me until I allowed them to build me into someone stronger. I recognized every struggle that I had, and I converted it into strength.
People always ask, “When did it all change for you? When did you really start progressing, and why?” I can’t answer that question. There is no “single thing” that helped me progress, and there is no moment of epiphany that I had a sudden realization that it is my calling to get better. My progress is all a result of making good decisions, learning coping mechanisms and skills, therapy/treatment, collaborating with friends and family, repairing relationships, learning boundaries and communication, digging into my deepest fears, insecurities, and beliefs, and traveling back to my past in order to discover the root of the problem. That’s just a few of the many things that I’ve worked on this past year in treatment. There are several other contributions and I’ll never be able to name them all; but the point is: recovery isn’t a single decision or a single epiphany. Recovery is a process that you learn, and you begin learning it the very first day of treatment. I already had almost everything that I needed in order to recover from the very beginning; it was just a long process of learning how to use my skills, family, and friends in order to HELP me instead of pushing everything away. And I think for a while, I may have even been using the skills but I didn’t even know I was because I didn’t recognize it. I didn’t want to recognize it, I was afraid of letting go of something that I felt protected me for so long.
It’s important to realize that harmful behaviors serve a purpose to each individual. For me, it was safety. I always felt weak and powerless, so I thought that my eating disorder would keep me safe. It was a defense mechanism for me until it destroyed me. Although painful and agonizing, without these struggles, I would have never came across my strengths. I keep my experiences close to my heart, and I refer to them as I direct myself through this journey. My journey.
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