Finding Meaning in Your Eating Disorder Recovery
The Eating Disorder
I had an eating disorder from the time I was 16 years old until 26. Ten long years of misery. My eating disorder was not something I was proud of. I was very ashamed of it and the behaviors that accompanied it. I binged on huge amounts of food. I restricted and starved myself. I over-exercised and pushed my body to the point of exhaustion. All the while hiding behind a façade of working as a dietitian teaching others how to live a healthy life. I felt like a total hypocrite. Something had to change.
When I finally gained control of my eating disorder the main reason I did so was because I knew somewhere in the back of mind I wanted to have children. While going through recovery was the hardest thing I had done in my life up until that point, the promise of having children motivated me and propelled me to regain my health and find balance in my life. Even though I had not found “the one” yet, I knew that once I did I would want my eating disorder to be a thing of the past to ensure our chances of conceiving.
Any time I thought about going back to my old ways of behaving, I remembered my values of health and family, and how nothing with be possible if I kept using my eating disorder behaviors. I learned how to deal with my feelings without using food, how to stand up for myself, and how to ask for what I needed. In short I became a total functioning, fulfilled person. And then I met my husband. I knew when I met him he was the one. Sounds SO corny I know. But it’s true. He was everything I ever wanted.
Things moved fairly fast for us. We moved in together after dating only 8 months. A year later we were engaged and a year later we were married. I started my own therapy business right after we married, and while we both knew we wanted kids we wanted to wait a bit to settle into marriage. So we did. All the while I NEVER worried about getting pregnant. At this point I was 33 years old and well into recovery. I had no doubt in my mind that my body was healthy, and I felt stable and happy with my life.
When we were ready to have a baby and started trying I thought getting pregnant would be easy. Because why wouldn’t it be? Isn’t this what I have been told my entire life? Women have babies. Our bodies are designed to do this. We are BORN to do this. It’s as innate as learning to walk or laughing at a funny joke. Or so I thought…
Fertility and the Eating Disorder
My journey with fertility (I refuse to use the word INfertility out of sheer principle) has been difficult. Heart wrenching at times. Not getting pregnant yet has caused me to question every decision in my life. And to circle back around to my eating disorder, it’s caused me to question my recovery. My recovery that I held as the most sacred event of my life. It has caused me to think “If I recovered because I wanted to have children, but I can’t have children, does that mean I recovered for nothing? And what does this mean for my life?"
When I first had this thought, it stopped me dead in my tracks. My recovery was a waste? How could this be? Cue the most intense shame and guilt you could imagine, along with trying to convince myself that I was not having these thoughts of “recovery being a waste”. Because rationally I knew recovery was not a waste. I knew that without my recovery my life would be a mess. Or I might not even be alive anymore. I knew I would never have been able to create the life I did if I was still using my old eating disorder behaviors.
My eating disorder caused me to push away relationships, friends, jobs, and anything else good in my life. So without recovery I would have NOTHING. But this did not stop the emotional part of my brain continuing to think this thought “If I can’t have kids, what does that mean for my recovery?”
Meaning of Recovery
Now that I am 10 years into recovery, I am re-examining the meaning of my recovery. I have realized that the original reasons I recovered must be changed and adapted for my life today. What worked for me 10 years ago does not work anymore. What is the meaning of your recovery? What do you want in your life? If you would have asked me these questions 10 years ago I would have told you “to have children” but now I realize there is more to it. There has to be. And I am slowly coming to a place of acceptance around this.
Releasing the Shame
My hope with sharing this is to connect with you if you are feeling shame and loneliness about something in your life. It is also partially selfish. I want to alleviate some of my shame around the situation.
I have realized that the shame I feel about my difficulties getting pregnant is similar to the shame I felt about my eating disorder. I felt very isolated and ashamed of my behaviors so I kept them all a secret. But the shame only grew and continued when I did that. I would like to believe I have grown and evolved from the person I was 10 years ago, and here is one way I am doing that. I am speaking out about my struggles. I refuse to feel this shame anymore because shame is toxic. And silence breeds shame. And we don’t have to do it alone.