Telling your eating disorder where to go

Taken in Townsville Qld 2010.© I retain copyright.

If you’re reading this, you’re taking a really positive step. The very first important thing in recovery is admitting that you think you have a problem, but then when you want support and need support how do you find it – what do you do? I’ve been there, feeling so helpless and desperately wanting to change, but at the same being unable to stop listening to the voice that compelled me to continue.

I often say that the most encouraging and important step in a person’s recovery is the point at which they say ‘I think I need help’ or ‘I don’t want to live like this anymore.’ If your experience is anything like mine, this happens in small bits to begin with, where the ‘real you’ inside voices concern over your health, dares to think for a moment about the future you could have, or feels a pang of guilt over something you said or did to a loved one whilst you were caught up in the stress of having to eat something, or being interrupted when you rushed off to make yourself sick.

But ‘I don’t want to be like this anymore’ or ‘I want to fight this’ isn’t necessarily the same thing as ‘I’m ready to fight this’. You’re able – you’re strong enough, but you might not be fully equipped – perhaps you don’t feel you have the right support or don’t know where to start. Eating disorders are persuasive, secretive, obsessive and compelling. They don’t slide away into submission. You need some support to fight them.

When I was at the point where I felt I might want to live and didn’t want to be poorly anymore, I found myself without the support I needed. I desperately wanted to speak to someone who had recovered from Anorexia, but I had no real example of somebody who had been through what I was currently going through and who could offer guidance, advise and above all empathy.

That’s why Tough Cookie exists – because I want anybody who is in that place feeling so in despair, without hope or struggling to know that it is possible to get better and that there is support out there for them. That’s why I run the blog and wrote the books. Here are a few things I learned during my journey – by sharing these I hope you won’t feel so alone and will know for sure that how you feel is just a natural part of the recovery process.

Try not to feel guilty and don’t beat yourself up

The problem with eating disorders is they get away with none of the pain, whilst you feel all the hurt and the guilt. Family members and friends often mistakenly think that they can ‘guilt’ you into eating, because they don’t see that it isn’t you behind your actions. Even without their input, you might feel naturally guilty anyway because you know that people around you are concerned and if you are in the first stages of overcoming your eating disorder, might feel as though you ‘aren’t doing it quickly enough.’

I can’t describe the guilt I experienced when I was at a point where I felt I wanted to ‘get better’. I could suddenly see the hurt I appeared to have caused and the difficulty, stress and strain I was putting my parents through. I didn’t care about myself – but I did care about them – that’s why I decided I wanted to try in the first place.

If you do find yourself feeling guilty, try to remember that none of this is your ‘fault’. Just like a physical illness, you aren’t responsible for the things you did or said, just like somebody with cancer isn’t responsible for upsetting people around them with their emaciated appearance, or somebody with a stomach bug isn’t responsible for throwing up everywhere. Guilt is a natural feeling and it actually shows that you give a shit – you care about things and that is a powerful and important thing. Try not to let guilt eat you up inside and hamper your progress – instead try to distract from it and focus on building your future.

Relapses happen

It isn’t a smooth ride for everybody. In fact most people find that recovery is a journey full of ups and downs. Some days you’ll feel good and do well – other days you’ll find yourself in the clutches of your eating disorder again unable to drown out the cruel voice which is angry because you haven’t been doing what it has been telling you to. But please know that gradually the bad days lessen and you find yourself with more and more good days. You start to fill the void created by the lack of noise your eating disorder makes with all the things you love – doing the things you want to do and enjoy again. You begin to dream about the future and take positive steps towards it – a future that an eating disorder doesn’t and cannot have a role in. All of these things ultimately help you to become the person you really are again.

Ask for (and take advantage of) as much support as possible

It’s difficult to go through this alone – and you don’t have to be alone, even if your family don’t seem to understand or you have no friends or professional help. I know that there are few resources online – but if you’re reading this you’ve found what I hope is a helpful and valuable resource. You can find details of charities I have personally heard are helpful here, and read more blogs and take a look at my books on this site. Sometimes you’ll find conventional healthcare services can’t (or are unable to) help you – but that’s okay – they didn’t help me either. With or without them, you can do it with other types of support by your side.

If you need further help and support on fighting Anorexia from a positive personal perspective,  you might find these articles helpful:

Coming out of an EDU – what now?

5 things Anorexia won’t tell you

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