Recovering from an Eating Disorder Without My Strongest Support System Nearby

Author: Val Berenshtein

I go to college…

nine states away from my home. That is 891 miles away from my mother and father, away from my siblings, away from the town I grew up in, away from the safety of my four-walled bedroom, away from the love, support and nurture I depended on for so many years. I am in a very new and different environment. I am amongst a plethora of new people, coming from all different backgrounds and experiences. I feel like a speck in an ocean of nonsensical chaos, where I often am alone and invalidated.

I will say it plainly: it sucks to be going through anorexia and restrictive eating disorder recovery while away from home. It is hard, harder than I could ever put into words.

It is debilitating to be in physical pain and discomfort from a 10,000+- calories-per-day recovery diet and not have my mother’s soothing voice around to pour love on my open, hurting wounds. It is agonizing to glance at myself in the mirror, noticing the disproportionality of my weight gain, and not have my grandma near to hold me and let me cry on her shoulder. It is unbearable to deal with the feeling of eating far too much without being able to hide away afterwards to sit with my feelings and process them on my own time.

There are tears in my eyes…

as I write this because nobody around me fully understands what I am going through and the extent to which my recovery is affecting me. Nobody sees the internal struggle – the seemingly-interminable mental battle – I have going on every time I finish a big meal or eat a random snack and have to sit with my feelings while executing another activity. Nobody feels the same physical pain, soreness, tenderness and discomfort I have to embrace on a 24/7 basis. I think it is very difficult for anybody, including myself, to wholly understand what it is like to blindly trust a process of weight-gain, trust that it will not last forever, trust that the pain will eventually go away, trust that normal eating will one day come again, trust that everything will be OK.

I accept this inability for others to understand. I accept my own inability to sometimes understand.

But, that does not take away from the hurt, pain and loneliness I feel. I wish I could sit down with someone and let everything off of my chest, cry the ocean that I need to cry, and just exist.

I wish that I could do these things because I am living in a confusing and lonely world (despite knowing that I am not alone) and trying to understand and trust my brain and my body. There is nothing quite as scary as feeling disconnected from yourself, which is how I have felt for the past five years, being ill with anorexia and restrictive eating. I am trying to rebuild that trust and connection between myself and my brain and body, but it is difficult without having the support, love, care and comfort I had for the past month while being at home with my family.

Did I make the right decision…

coming back to college for my spring semester? I was highly considering taking the semester off to work on myself and my recovery. I thought that the best place for me to achieve a full recovery would be at home, in the safety and comfort of my loved ones.

A big part of me believes this is so, that I should, indeed, have stayed home. Home was where my mother’s kindness made each day a little bit easier, where my grandma’s hugs melted all the pains and sorrows away, where my five-year-old brother’s energy sparked light in my eyes and a fire in my heart that I thought had burned out perpetually.

What am I doing here? Why am I back? It has only been three days but already I feel my heart breaking and my trust in the recovery process dwindling.

Is this the way recovery is supposed to feel? Is it supposed to be this hard and confusing? Does it get worse before it gets better, and if so, how much worse will it get?

Yes, I wish I was home right now. I really wish my family was here to support, care for and love me like nobody else can right now. I specifically wish that my mother and grandmother were here.

But, I am nine states away…

891 miles south of New Jersey, and my wish cannot be granted. I have to learn how to be OK on my own, to be comfortable with and trusting of and loving towards myself. I have to believe that everything will turn out the way it is supposed to. I have to keep pushing through, especially in times when everything seems upside-down and inside-out.

When you are going through recovery…

for an eating disorder or any other mental illness, there is no such thing as having a day off. Discomfort, pain, loneliness, struggle, and failure may fill your days to the point where you think they are the only days you will ever have. But, just when things get tough – tough to the point where you want to give up –, the road may turn in unexpected ways.

Today, I had ate more than I was comfortable with. I cried a bit. I wanted to isolate. Yet, instead, I reached out to my friends. I invited them to be my guinea pigs for my photography practice. After dinner, we all went to a hot tub, laughing and talking and enjoying each others company. This is something I would not have been able to do in the past five years, and although I was not feeling my best through today’s time with friends, I was also not feeling my worst. That, to me, was an accomplishment in and of itself. My road is slowly turning.

Through these overwhelming negative and slowly-growing positive experiences, I am learning that no matter where I am, no matter how far away from home or my loved ones I may be, I cannot give up – cannot give up just yet. My life is worth the challenge and the fight. I will not stop until I take back my life.

-Val Berenshtein

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