Author: Val Berenshtein
For a little over one month now…
I have been recovering from anorexia and restrictive eating – the second time around. Unlike my first recovery, however, when I was in an official treatment facility, submerged within a microcosm of specialists and doctors serving a small pool of patients between the ages of eleven and nineteen, my second recover is being done completely on my own.
Today, my treatment team includes me, myself and I. That’s it. No therapists. No doctors. No nutritionists. No psychiatrists. I am the only person responsible to my own betterment, the only person who is working on helping myself.
I have gotten many questions about why I am approaching recovery this way. Several people have reached out, asking why I chose to circumvent official treatment, why I chose to circumvent “help”.
My answer comes down…
to my trust in the science behind my recovery.
When the body and the brain have been deprived of food for any amount of time – from a month or two to several decades –, there is an extreme disconnect between all of the organs and systems in the body, all of which must work together to promote the healthy functioning of a human being.
Think about the body and brain as one entity without any senses: no eyes, no ears, no ability to touch, no ability to perceive or understand. It relies on you, the person, to tell and show it what is going on in the environment so that it better knows how to respond to the environment.
When you limit the amount of food that your body and brain wants and needs, you tell and show it that you are in a dessert, with no food or water anywhere in sight. The body and brain decrease your metabolism, destroy your muscles to preserve fat, and direct your mind to fixate solely on food – nothing else.
This fixation is what drives the mental illness. It is what causes a person to develop an eating disorder, to become obsessed with food and to use food as a control mechanism for whatever turmoil or discomfort is going on in his or her life.
To use myself as an example…
I have been ill with anorexia and restrictive eating for close to five years now, and I do not remember what it feels like to not think about food all day, every day, even as I do other activities. I do not remember what it is like to genuinely enjoy hanging out with my friends or spending time with my family because my only fixation, obsession, and desire has been food, specifically the control I felt around food.
This is a very scary way to live. It is everything about you and your life being controlled by a mental illness that does not care what you want. You can beg and plead and cry and make promises, but at the end of the day, the mental illness will reign over you, putting cuffs on your hands and tape on your mouth so that you can neither reach out or ask for help.
So, the question becomes…
How do I reverse the damage done? How do I destroy the illness and take back my life?
Ironically, I could not answer this question while going through my first, formal treatment.
My first treatment included my hospitalization and subsequent admission into a partial hospitalization program, intensive outpatient program and regular outpatient program, all of which accumulated to seven months of treatment. Aside from partial weight restoration, I did not improve mentally.
Something about formal treatment made me feel like I needed to control my illness: I needed to eat three meals and two snacks at specific times during the day; I needed to look at my weight number when I was forced to weigh myself; I needed to stop focusing on my appearance rather than addressing the root cause of it: fat-phobia.
My treatment did everything it could to eliminate this control, but it did not do enough to convince me why this control needed to go. Subsequently, I did everything I could to hold on to this control and, thus, could not challenge myself; I saw no point.
It is only when I hit rock bottom…
in my first semester of college and, afterwards, dedicated myself to my own, self-recovery that I found the answers to those questions.
The only way for the food fixation and the imbalance within the brain and body to be reversed is by…
releasing all control, expectations, recovery “goals” and recovery predictions that I have for the recovery process. It involves listening to every, single hunger cue I experience, regardless of whether it is physical hunger, mental hunger, emotional hunger or boredom hunger, and trusting that all of these cues equate to the brain and body needing more food, no matter how physically full or in pain, discomfort, soreness and tenderness my stomach and body may be in. It is saying Screw It to the weight gain and physical changes and letting go of any expectations I have about what weight my body will be optimal at. It is pushing myself over and over and over again: seeing my friends when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry; going out when the excruciating physical pain makes me very uncomfortable in my own skin; challenging every single negative thought or anxiety I experience around food by eating – yes, eating! –, even if I do not feel any hunger cues at all. It is saying I love you and I trust you to your body as it heals and learns how to come alive once more.
Formal treatment did not help me…
learn these things; perhaps, it made me too comfortable with being ill and relying on others to help me through.
However, recovery is not meant to be a comfortable process. It is meant to be a process of pushing and challenging oneself, while also being gentle and understanding with oneself and surrounding oneself with a support system when difficult moment arise.
The journey through self-recovery…
can be scary. It can be frustrating and confusing and sometimes even debilitating. But, it is not for nothing.
I am choosing to recover by myself because I believe in my strength, and I believe that I deserve to live a happy and whole life. I may be scared today, but I will be OK tomorrow.