Today is my birthday. It’s a not a milestone, and I am not actually one to care for many celebrations. Maybe that’s because I dreaded birthdays. It would mean excuses to not eat cake, avoid being with friends and family, it was a day NOT to celebrate my birth. I hated myself.
My anorexia was not a diet gone wrong, in fact when I got ill I was 18 – slightly older than the typical average age. I had no idea what I was doing when I went to the toilet one random day and decided to get rid of everything I had eaten. I now know I was suffering from delayed grief, family turmoil that I couldn’t control, and a deep need to feel loved by my dad. It wasn’t something I even thought about; it just happened and continued for more than half my life. I was shy and non-confrontational, a perfectionist and was always in the background. It was not surprising now when I look back that I became ill. Social media wasn’t even around when I was diagnosed. There was no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to engage with. I am not sure if social media would have helped or hindered me. There is a lot to like about social media, but there is also a lot to dislike.
Anyway, I digress from the purpose of this post. I have spoken a lot about the agony of my eating disorder, but I want to tell you about what the past few years have been about…recovery. It has been about so much more than food. It has been a messy journey of discovery. Recovery is about fighting for your life. It’s about wanting to fight for your life and not because everyone around you wants you to. It is about finding out what excites you, what makes you laugh, cry and jump for joy. It’s about feeling your feelings deep in your core and not trying to erase them by starving, binging or exercising. It’s about enjoying triple cut fat chips, ice-cream, pasta, toast with butter and marmite, Belgium chocolates (Guylian’s happen to be a favourite of mine). It’s about letting someone else feed you, because they care enough to put the effort in. Recovery is about enjoying all kinds of food, not just sticking to a safe meal plan which still leaves you too scared to spontaneously rock up at a restaurant. It’s letting go of the times you eat, and ordering an Indian from your local takeaway at 11pm after you’ve been at a concert because you are ‘hangry.’
Recovery is about regaining your periods and freaking out because your anorexia recognises this as no longer ill. It’s about experiencing a real orgasm for the first time, and letting go of the shame you have felt because you are late in joining the party. It’s about not seeking validation from your friends, boss, or family. It’s about having an inbuilt system that can hold you tight when the ‘shit hits the fan.’ It’s about not being so insecure that you are paralysed with fear. It’s about building your confidence, letting go of your identity as a child, and embracing yourself as a woman. It’s about living in the big wide world, paying bills, taking responsibility for your actions, feeling as though you are too swamped with stuff to get through the week, but continuing to ‘show up’ regardless. It’s not hankering for your dad to love you, but knowing that he does in his own way. It’s about thinking of others, and doing something for someone else without wanting something in return. It’s about showing yourself the same kindness you give so freely to others. It’s about touch and intimacy with yourself and others. It’s about being ruthlessly persistent in your pursuit for recovery, just as your eating disorder was incessant in destroying you. It’s about letting go of the grief for your step-dad, and the self-punishment because you couldn’t say what you wanted to face-face. It’s taking comfort knowing that he lives in me, wherever I am.
Recovery can be a scary place; it’s living in the unknown. It’s letting go of control of yourself and others. It’s discovering everything that is within you. Knowing that you did not choose your eating disorder, and that you deserve help. It’s about keeping going until you find what works for you (it took me 10 years, countless therapists, dieticians, treatment centres, groups before I found my motivation.) It’s about sharing your story and helping others. It’s letting go of the shame and guilt you have carried around with you. Recovery is about believing that you can find a way out, even when your eating disorder has been with you for a decade. It’s about letting go of perfectionism and living a life that’s a bit messy at times. It’s about grieving for your eating disorder, your ‘sick’ clothes and your safety net. Recovery is HUGE. It’s different for us all, but it’s exciting and scary. It’s everything your eating disorder isn’t.
This birthday I will enjoy my day without expectation. I will go with the flow (the snowy ‘beast from the east’ has hampered birthday plans) But I will spend time outside. I will enjoy good food and drink. I will attempt to bake myself a cake. I will do my favourite thing, and get in my PJ’s early and watch a film. What I am sure of is; I will be grateful to be present, free of fear and self-hatred. I will celebrate my birthday and look forward to another year of discovery. This is everything my recovery has been about so far.