Recovery from an eating disorder or any addiction can feel like an uphill battle. Admitting you need help is the first step. However, what comes after that is usually everyone around you telling you what you should do.
How you should act.
What you should or shouldn’t eat.
What you should stay away from.
What therapist you shouldn’t see.
What book you should read.
And for anyone who has been struggling with addiction, directives like that can surely trigger a relapse.
I struggled for years trying to step into recovery, only to find myself drowning in a sea of failure. The harder I tried, the more I felt like I was failing. Not meeting everyone’s expectations of what they think recovery should be like.
So I hid my progress, or should I say lack thereof. I felt like the fear of failure on top of being an addict was just too big to uncover. So I lied. I lied to everyone around me on and off for years that I was in-fact “better.”
I want to let you know that there is hope. You can do this. And it all starts with you deciding that you have had enough.
Coming to a place where the fear of judgment is outweighed by the fear of living with an eating disorder. A life cut short because this could eventually kill you. That was my greatest push. I didn’t want to live this way. I didn’t want a family, to be married with kids, living in secret, Living a lie. I didn’t realize it but I had observed addiction in my household growing up. I had observed co-dependency not knowing it. I took it on as “normal behavior.”
For a big part of my life, I didn’t think it was fair that I didn’t get a choice in the matter. But I wanted a choice for my kids, and the biggest truth… I didn’t want to die.
I believe that conventional wisdom may have your best interests at heart. But unless you have actually struggled with this kind of hell, seeking help itself, and then receiving it can be overwhelming. It’s a struggle all it’s own.
The following tips are my suggestions to consider as you work fully into recovery. What I did, what worked for me, and what I hope for you to consider so you can live the life you have always dreamed of.
1. Say It Out Loud
For years I couldn’t even get myself to say it out loud. That I had a problem and that I needed help. What I recognized is if I couldn’t even say it to myself, how was I going to say it to someone else? Today, look at yourself in the mirror. Look in your eyes and compassionately tell yourself “you can’t do this alone anymore, you need help. I have an addiction, and I deserve a future without this addiction”.
The first time I said this, I could barely get the words out. I was so ashamed. So afraid. But also so relieved. For several years I kept talking to myself in the mirror. So I could hear and see me. Eventually, those conversations turned into forgiveness, and conversations on how to move forward. Working to stay positive is essential. Try using affirmation exercises or mantras to help curb the negative inner voices.
2. Make A List
Addiction can make you short-sighted. It can, in the moment, leave you unable to see the future. It can also fog the past.
You weren’t always like this. You have also done a lot of great things. You are a good person, despite what your addiction mind says to you.
So today make a list of all the things you are good at. All your talents, gifts, and reasons why people love you. I had so many talents I wasn’t giving myself credit for. I was a great writer, amazing with kids, super creative, and later on, a pretty kick-ass yoga teacher. I had many gifts, but my addictive mind made seeing those things (especially in the heat of the moment) very challenging.
So make a list. Do not hold back. Everything you can think of. Even if in your head, mid-sentence your addictive mind says “that’s not true”. Don’t believe it.
Call this journaling. Or simply and officially putting out to the universe how you are an amazing person. Hang this list on your mirror and read it every day.
3. Allow Yourself to Feel Whatever You Feel
I was overwhelmed, and to be honest, I felt a lot of guilt. Part of addiction is guilt. Guilt for what you did or didn’t do. How you may have felt that things went a certain way because of you. And the overwhelming feeling of not being able to control them.
I had a lot of anger, frustration, and grief when I began to step into recovery. I was very angry with family members. And yes, very angry at myself. It appeared that everyone kept telling me to forgive this person, don’t blame that person. It’s not their fault.
But here’s the thing. I was not at a place in my recovery to be able to do that. I had spent 10 years perfecting the art of not feeling. Now I was beginning to feel all this stuff, and here are outsiders telling me that those feelings aren’t fair to others.
So I’m telling you as someone who has been there and made it successfully to the other side: Feel what you need to feel. Don’t attach to it. But give yourself permission to be pissed off. Mad. Happy. Sad. Angry. Whatever. Those are your feelings and you are entitled to them.
There will come a time when you are at a place where you can now do something with them. You have felt them enough. And now you don’t feel the need to have them. That will be the time to look at forgiveness, or releasing, or allowing yourself to see your situation with family or friends in a new light. But please know, it is okay to feel what you feel.
4. No One Expects That You Can Do This Alone
I had in my head for years that I needed to do this all by myself. And I was wrong. Not only does no one expects you to do this alone, but it is 100,000 times more difficult to do it all by yourself. I thought I had something to prove to myself, or my parents, or my husband. But the truth is, the only proving I needed to do was that I would do anything to get my life back.
So I am going to ask you what I asked myself, “How bad do you want it?” Once you decide that, everything becomes an option. I realized I could not do it anymore on my own. And that pushed me to a place where I finally opened up to my mom that I was not better, and needed help.
I cried when I told her this. I felt both humiliation and relief. I was free. Free from this life. Finally, I could really get better.
Sending myself to an out-patient treatment was the best decision in my recovery. I needed to be with others who were struggling like I was. But also I needed accountability, ideas, and a place to be honest. When you enter into specialized eating disorder treatment programs, the entire game can change for you. It did for me.
5. Buddy Up
I didn’t realize this until I entered into out-patient treatment, but having someone there that “gets you” and understands your situation without judgment was pivotal in my recovery success. I would come home from treatment and go back into my life. Although my family knew I was in treatment, it wasn’t like I could or even felt ready to open up about how I was feeling or when I was struggling.
Through outpatient treatment, I connected with a woman named April. At the time, we lived an hour apart, but that didn’t matter. She got me. And we made a pact to call each other when we were struggling. When it was hard. When we felt alone. When we just wanted to use food, or our additives to punish or run away. Calling her helped me step over hurdles that I struggled with for years.
Letting April into my life changed everything. It helped me feel safe. It reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I felt no judgment with her. I believe everyone needs a buddy, a sponsor, someone in their corner. Someone that is just there for you. That gets you. That has been in your EXACT shoes. I want to encourage you to find that.
6. Try Yoga
Yes, I am serious. I would not be here if it wasn’t for yoga. I found yoga before I found treatment for my eating disorder. And Yoga taught me how to feel. Yoga taught me how to be still. Yoga taught me how to be patient. Yoga taught me how to feel, and not be afraid of what I felt.
When I came to the out-patient treatment, I realized right away that I was further along than many of the women there. Not because I thought I was better than them. But because I had a different perspective. I had done quite a bit of work that I didn’t even realize prior to treatment.
I don’t suggest choosing yoga over treatment. But I do whole-heartedly believe that yoga can be the difference between making deep changes to truly live addiction-free and the lesser.
If you don’t choose yoga, choose something that asks you to be quiet. That challenges you to get uncomfortable in a safe place. Something that allows you to come as you are. That may mean shopping around for the right style or teacher. Now almost twenty years after embarking on my yoga journey, it still serves me. It still uncovers aspects of my addiction and recovery. I am so grateful to dig in because I have a lifelong toolbox I call yoga to help me.
Never Lose Hope
Despite all the obstacles and unfortunate circumstances that I was handed at an early age, I overcame them. Every time I was beaten down, I kept getting back up. I never lost hope. I never gave up. Deep down I always knew I could get through this.
Sometimes that voice was faint. That spark small. But even at my lowest of lows, I never lost hope. I believe that if you are alive and breathing on this earth, there is still a purpose for you. Your life still has value to contribute.
Today, it is because of trudging through addiction into recovery, overcoming the loss of my daughter, and facing adversity in my personal and professional life that I get to stand here and offer gratitude for my life. And at the same time help others find their light and develop tools to help them shine.
It’s the “how” and “why” I created the HOPE Process: Helping Others Purposefully Excel. How I built a toolbox of tools that actually work. I want that for you. I believe in you.
An eating disorder is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. But they are treatable, and there is hope. With the right tools, support and perspective on life you can do this. Everything I have created in my professional life is because of what I have been through. I am actually grateful for it.
Yes. You heard me.
The thousands of classes taught, trainings led, book and blogs written, and my newest program coupled with online coaching is all because of my journey.
Practices for a Positive and Productive Life Masterclass – All of these things are for people just like you. Because I know what it’s like to struggle. To feel like no one gets you. To feel like you just want to give up. Don’t give up. Never give up. Never lose hope.
Why? Because I am living proof that believing you are worth it, is worth it.
A Message From Hope
An eating disorder is a real and complex mental illness. It is something that no one should ever have to face alone. I 100% believe in every suggestion above. However receiving proper treatment from a qualified professional is above everything essential and necessary for your health, safety, and future. If you do not know where to reach out, orr if you cannot afford treatment, connect with National Eating Disorders Association Hotline for help.
Hi Hope. I just saw you today at the New London wellness event. I enjoyed your presentation very much. I also spoke to you briefly beforehand regarding how I do yoga for strength training rather than relaxing because I struggle with relaxing…I am going to check out your YouTube’s as you suggested. I thought it was interesting tgat we have a couple of things in common. Almost 30 years ago I was in Rogers for the 30 day program for Adult Children of Alcoholics. It was a very rough time for me and till this day use many of the techniques I learned in treatment. The second is I am from Hartland and have family in the Hartford area. ?
Small and beautiful world.
Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring us all.
Thanks so much for commenting. I so enjoyed meeting you and all the other amazing women at that great event! Thank you for your kind words.