What does recovery mean to you? If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder or if you struggle with body image issues, you may think about the term ‘recovery’ often. My own recovery from bulimia was not a straight, neat line. It went up and down and every which way before I finally secured a lasting and healthy recovery. As the year 2011 draws to an end, I am reflective about what the start of a new year brings to us in terms of self-care and intuitive healing.
A new year brings a fresh start, or the possibility of one. I find this to be hopeful, but I also am worried about the message that the holidays can send to those struggling with eating and weight issues (and even to those who aren’t). We are a ‘diet-minded society’ in the United States and I find that this can be harmful to those who are striving to create a unique and personal sense of inner peace with food. I heard an advertisement on the radio the other day that said something like “Indulge now, because you know that there will only be celery sticks after the new year”. This persuasive advertising was meant to sell me some type of food that tastes “really good” but is “really bad” for me — and then it kicks in a nice helping of guilt at the end. Does expecting to feel guilty and needing to ‘compensate’ for eating delicious food lead to a balanced relationship with food? I am struggling with the message that this concept sends to us all.
So, what does a balanced and healthy recovery mean to you? I want to be careful to not fall into the dominant mindset that suggests a new year’s resolution should be “to recover”; don’t get me wrong, I think that embracing recovery, if it is the right time for you to do so, can be a life-changing commitment. However, feeling forced to do so, or guilt-tripped into it, as advertisements want us to feel, is not the way to a lasting and comprehensive recovery from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder. The new year is simply a new opportunity to make a change, to know that your life is worth it, that you deserve to live free of eating disorders and in peace with yourself. Recovery must come from within you. Only you can decide when and how you want your recovery from eating disorders to be.
For me, the end of the year is a time of reflection, goal-setting, and personal development. I have been practicing this for many years, all the way through my own recovery and beyond. If you or someone you know is contemplating making a stride towards recovery, I encourage you to embrace some of these same practices. Here are a few questions to set your recovery wheels in motion:
-Why choose recovery now? What do you have to gain? What do you have to lose?
-What risks are involved in choosing recovery from an eating disorder?
-What fears do you have about recovery? (weight gain, uncomfortable feelings, etc.) What hopes do you have about recovery? (positive thoughts, self-acceptance, healthy relationship with food, etc.)
-What support systems do you have available to you? Who can help you? (more on this below)
-Draw a picture or write a short story about what your life could be like if you lived in freedom from the eating disorder. Who are you and what are your strengths?
-How will you know when you have made some steps towards helping yourself? What will be different?
Sitting down with a pen and paper (or a computer) and really concentrating on these questions can give you a sense of direction and can bring some clarity towards your motivations for change. Sometimes you may only feel in 5% of yourself that you want to recovery. That is okay. Know where you stand today and think about some goals (even if some feel far-fetched right now!) to help yourself start to picture what your life would be like without guilt, shame, and the confinement of an eating disorder. You deserve this freedom!
Yesterday evening, September 25th, marked the first “unveiling” of the work-in-progress support center: “A place of our own”. The Eating Disorder Foundation, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado, has been providing education and support for those affected by eating disorders and their families since 2005. Now, in February 2012, the EDF will open a state-of-the-art support center where people struggling with eating disorders and presenting with varying degrees of recovery can come and hang out in a safe place. ”A place of our own” will be the first of its kind in the nation and is blazing the trail for increased advocacy, education, and awareness in eating disorder treatment and recovery.
I have been volunteering with the EDF for the past two and a half years, participating in projects such as educational presentations in schools and organizing outreach events, but most of my time has been spent in facilitating the weekly ANAD support group for those struggling with eating disorders (Tuesdays, 6:30-8pm; free. Contact me for more information). Through this group, I have been honored to be invited into the lives of the members in an intimate and supportive way, and I have developed deep relationships with group members as well as other volunteers involved with the foundation. Toni Saiber, the founder of EDF, has tirelessly put the word out about the need for attention and education towards eating disorder recovery. She and the 300 people who attended the fundraiser yesterday evening plus other supporters are saving lives every day.
Are you a professional or someone with interest in volunteering with the Eating Disorder Foundation? We need volunteers at our new support center! We are looking for facilitators to help out with a plethora of new groups and classes: you could facilitate and educational class or a movement group, you could run a support group, conduct a workshop, present a town hall meeting, or lead a recreational activity. The purpose of the support center is to “help people integrate what they learn into their everyday lives, thus increasing the chances for longterm change.” By giving to others, our lives are forever touched and changed.
Classes and groups are not meant as treatment, but as resources to help build resiliency and skills to support recovery. ”A place of our own” will be a place where people can come and hang out, with no expectations or pressure – something that is often foreign in the world that eating disorders create. It is a safe place where you will not be judged for who you are or where you are on your journey towards recovery. It is a positive, healthy space where members can inspire and encourage one another. When I think about this idea, my heart skips a beat. Though eating disorders are increasing in numbers, variety, and severity, having a place like the EDF’s support center is going to battle those numbers and provide acceptance and hope in a world where there can be so much pain.
As the gold and red autumn leaves were falling around the new support center yesterday evening, I had a vision of what will be going on in that very space just six months from now. There will be people hanging out in the garden, reading books. They might be quietly discussing tools for healthy mind and healthy body. A yoga class will be in session upstairs in the group room. There will be volunteers on hand to guide a person away from harm and towards recovery. Or, they will just sit and be with themselves. Sometimes, just being present in the moment and appreciating its gifts is all that is needed.
The Eating Disorder Foundation is offering those who struggle with eating disorders a helping hand. You are not alone. I am so inspired by the work and vision of the EDF, and by those who will use this space as a gateway to their own recovery.
For more information about “A place of our own” and how you can help, go to www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.