Hope after an eating disorder

EDITORâÄôS NOTE: This is the final column in a four-part series about recovering from an eating disorder. Her name is Alivia and she is our hope. Still tucked inside her motherâÄôs body, she has not yet been exposed to this world of great pleasure and pain sewn into one. Her mother, a survivor, now yearns for a baby girl who always knows compassion and love above all else. We women, who were collected from all walks of life and brought together in a cosmic trial of perseverance, wait patiently to celebrate the new life that was conceived out of the courage to live. ItâÄôs been four years since AliviaâÄôs mother and I first met over a hospital lunch of beef cabbage roles and 1 percent milk. In that time, weâÄôve taken distinctive paths toward healing, and have celebrated each otherâÄôs successes and mourned each otherâÄôs pain. Now, I watch AliviaâÄôs mother grow with a beauty I cannot yet imagine on myself, realizing that she has become the physical representation of hope after an eating disorder. After four straight years of affirmations, meditations, medications, triumphs and setbacks, I feel I should be able to offer more advice about life after anorexia. But really, I only know what recovery means to me, and it is a far more mental than physical experience. I know that first it comes gradually, with bits of grief as you mourn the loss of your previous identity, and later as hope for your future potential that has laid dormant inside you for years. I know it forces to forge a new uniqueness, with hobbies and habits apart from the identity you so carefully crafted in your mind and onto your body. I know you sometimes feel isolated and alone because you no longer fit the requirements for âÄúsick,âÄù but are not yet ready to indulge in the world of âÄúhealthy.âÄù And I know youâÄôre forced to begin your relationship with humanity all over again, with ideas of being kind to yourself first, learning how to cope without starvation and trusting your body that has betrayed you all the years of your life. This all takes time and an immense amount of effort. In the beginning of my transition, I remember the cold, sullen days when food refused to confront my mouth and I need to be reminded and coaxed to indulge in thrice-daily feedings. These days enclosed me, and make me question if they would ever pass or if I would always struggle to find balance. But then other days began to emerge, slowly but gracefully, boldly outnumbering the dark ones. My thoughts became clear with each act of normality that dotted my days. I no longer considered myself as broken or disposable and saw the dignity of living with purpose outside myself. And suddenly, I was no longer defined by my eating disorder. Instead I had a voice from which to find healing and strength. My recovery is an ongoing process and sometimes IâÄôm not even sure what end goal IâÄôm really striving for is, aside from staying sane and healthy. This process is often boring, usually irritating, but always worthwhile in the end âÄî despite what I occasionally claim. I still have an uneasy relationship with my body. At night, I find myself fanaticizing about reshaping it into a pillar of perfection that doesnâÄôt exist. IâÄôm also prone to dropping down on the floor and starting a set of sit-ups after eating, and I canâÄôt help but ask for the 1,000th time if a daily dessert is really necessary. ItâÄôs gotten easier in four years, but I canâÄôt pretend that I occasionally survive only by my bodyâÄôs deep physical need to continue living and other times I hold the passion to survive deep within my bones. But despite it all, I feel as though my life has finally congealed into something worthwhile, and I think that has made all the difference. I canâÄôt deny that IâÄôve been incredibly lucky as well. My family and friends have been unbelievably patient and supportive, despite my continuous displays of infantile frustration. TheyâÄôve tried every kind of protein shake, eaten hospital-catered meals, sat in group therapy and listened to therapeutic healing music with me. After four years, my boyfriend still benignly humors me when I prod at newly discovered imperfections dimpling the backside of my thighs and hips that IâÄôm sure didnâÄôt exist yesterday. He accepts my frail, twisted bones for what they are, a sickness that will be defeated with time, compassion and patience. Recovery comes in many forms, requires many hands for healing and demands more than what seems capable of one person. But it is possible to recover because IâÄôve seen it, IâÄôve felt it and I believe in it. There is hope in our lifetime and in the next because there is proof that love can grow from the cracks in your soul. Her name is Alivia and she is our hope. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, in the United States, 10 million females and 1 million males are experiencing an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Between 5 to 20 percent of those struggling with anorexia nervosa will die from the disorder. For more information about eating disorders or on how to get help, please visit the NEDA website at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or call their information and referral helpline at 1-800-931-2237. Kathryn Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]