No matter where you are on your path, recovery is possible. Here are some personal stories from those who have been there.
A RECOVERY STORY
I mostly lived in my bedroom, away from what felt like chaos.
When I was 9, my parents got divorced. This divorce changed the way I thought about life. My innocent, naive, and bright eyes were suddenly very open to the reality that my parents were no longer together, and that I had a new father-figure in my life. It was not long after my parents’ divorce that I felt isolated and alone. Being around my mother and stepfather meant that I was around alcohol addiction, and even at that young of an age, I knew it didn’t feel good or right. However, at the same time, I didn’t want to lose the relationship I had with my mom, so I stayed in the very situation that I knew in my gut felt wrong.
I felt in this “bind” for a really long time. I mostly lived in my bedroom, away from what felt like chaos. I felt powerless, and very stuck.
What initially started as healthier eating quickly evolved into a cycle of wanting to control every little thing that I consumed, over-exercising, and doing it all over again the next day. I shut out my friends, my family, my passions, and my life, to live in this over controlling and mind-taxing world of anorexia. I knew I wasn’t happy living this way, but I couldn’t seem to stop.
It took a while for me to “see the light”, so to speak, and want to recover – for me. My mother took me to a local hospital in August of 2013, a day I remember so vividly. Although I never returned home that day, it was for the better. It was the day I began to “re-grow” (what I like to call it). Over time, little by little, meaningful experiences started to accumulate and make me want change. From a nurse singing to me “The Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine, to meeting a strong little girl with a brain injury, to not being able to figure skate (something I was so passionate about), and to losing my grandmother and realizing how short life truly is, all of these experiences were steppingstone components in my recovery process. I value them very deeply.
I lived with the voice of anorexia for a few years after these initial steps in the right direction. It really wasn’t until I started pursuing my undergraduate degree in psychology where I felt like I was gaining control back, but in a way totally different than before. After moving away from home, a place and environment that personally triggered my eating disorder, I found it a lot easier to build my own identity, my own hobbies, my own passions, and importantly, my own life again. Finding things that intrinsically made me feel up-lifted, happy, and that bright-eyed little girl again were things that I stuck to and tried to do more of. I felt joy away from home in doing the little things, in walking alone to think and reflect, in skating and feeling the wind blow on my face, in dancing around singing Taylor Swift pretending I’m the main character of the song. These things all mitigated the negative voice I had in my head telling me to continue living according to anorexia standards, and more greatly made my own inner voice stronger.
My newest up-lifting endeavour is being a peer mentor with EDNS. It feels amazing to help others in ways that I struggled myself, and to possibly be one of those people who set off or strengthen that recovery “re-growth” process. It makes me feel alive, capable, strong, and worthy as a human, and as a human with a lived eating disorder experience.
A RECOVERY STORY
This picture may look like someone is happy and eating ice cream...
This picture may look like someone is happy and eating ice cream, however, this picture I took was during a hospital admission at SickKids when I was in a dark place in my battle with an eating disorder.
Recovery from anorexia and eating disorder otherwise specified goes beyond simply recovering what my eating disorder stole away from me, it is finding out who I am now that I have the knowledge and skills I learned throughout recovery. What am I going to do with it? What is my identity?
My name is Sterling, I go by he/him pronouns. I am now an 18-year-old Trent University Student studying a double major in chemistry and psychology. I am winning in my battle against anorexia! If I go back mere months before my start at university, I was in a very dark place mentally. If I go back about a year, I applied to university in a hospital bed on bedrest. I have always battled with high levels of anxiety and perfectionism; it was during the beginning of grade 9 when my eating disorder dug its claws into my life in a desperate attempt for myself to find control in my life. It spiralled out of control. I was engaging in more and more disordered behaviours each day. My eating disorder led me to believe that engaging in these behaviours would give me a sense of achievement and accomplishment however it did neither. Throughout my recovery I still struggled. I had panic attacks and I cried (a lot), however I was getting much better. This was all abruptly interrupted by Covid-19. I did relapse, but through virtual treatment and my determination to get to my goal of university that year, I started making recovery orientated decisions and I started getting better. I did accomplish my goal. I am at university right now. I am able to intuitively enjoy foods that are fun! I have the energy and headspace to do what I want! I am a mental health warrior in my community, Instagram, nationally and internationally. In my first new interview on Canadian television when asked how it feels to be a mental health advocate after a long battle I said “It doesn’t feel real”. That is extremely accurate! In less than one year, I was able to completely rediscover myself and forge a new identity I never ever thought was possible. In writing this, I hope to change the narrative around eating disorders; they are not a life sentence. There is always hope for recovering into an enjoyable and fulfilling life worth living! I am sharing this to show that you can still recover in the midst of a pandemic. You never have to face your battles alone! There are always people and organizations who can show you that hope is out there, including Eating Disorders Nova Scotia!
P.S As I hope you can see from my photo Mental illness doesn’t have a look! and everyone’s experience is just as valid whether they have a diagnosis or not, no matter what weight they are at, whether or not they have been hospitalized, etc!
A RECOVERY STORY
If I knew I had this “problem” why wasn’t I able to fix it on my own?
Looking back on my journey with my eating disorder it’s hard to pinpoint where my recovery truly began. I’ve always been painfully aware of my disorder which created a great deal of inner turmoil in struggling to validate my own experiences. If I knew I had this “problem” why wasn’t I able to fix it on my own?
I was raised in a very stable home, where affection and support were plentiful. I did well in school, had a good group of friends and extra curriculars. All in all my upbringing was as “normal” as one would hope. I really can’t even remember when my disordered behaviours began. The beginning of my bulimia almost blends in with my adolescence. It became a coping mechanism for the lack of control I was feeling over the crazy thoughts and feelings in my brain. All I knew was that it made me feel better when nothing else did. The normality and simplicity of my home life left me confused – why was this happening to me? Why couldn’t I feel normal? What even IS normal? I couldn’t understand what I did to deserve this constant grey cloud looming over my every move.
My recovery began when I moved to Montréal, QC to begin my undergraduate degree. I struggled with balancing school, my new friends, and this big move to a new province. I ultimately ended up failing out of university and needed to re-apply for admission for the following year. It was a rude awakening. but it was the awakening I needed. I needed to be confronted with the fact that my disorder wasn’t only harming my mind, body and soul, but it was also harming my future. If I wanted to accomplish all I had set out to achieve, I’d need to start with working on myself and addressing my bulimia.
I credit the change of scenery and surrounding myself with a healthy group of friends with jump starting my decision to seek help, but getting to where I am today took a lot of time and work. I dedicated my time and energy to my artistic practice, experiencing the benefits of art therapy and developing coping mechanisms that allowed me to express my emotions and regain control in more tangible ways. I immersed myself in my studies, realized I had substantial educational goals that deserve my utmost attention, and started to fill my time up with things that provided me with the validation I had been searching for.
Reminding myself of my bodies capabilities and its purpose allowed me to give it the respect it so desperately deserved. I am so incredibly fortunate to have this body that permits me to run, breathe, paint and absorb information that allows me to learn and grow. I’d just lost sight of that for a little while.
Recovery has reminded me of my worth, of course, but it’s also been a humbling experience in guiding me to be brave enough to ask for help. Having an eating disorder is tough, and facing it alone sure doesn’t make it easier. I’m so grateful to those who have stood by me in my journey, but mostly I’m grateful for myself and the woman I’ve become and continue to grow to be, all while embracing the disorder I’m leaving behind.
A RECOVERY STORY
Anorexia and I began our relationship when I was in the 7th grade.
Anorexia and I began our relationship when I was in the 7th grade.
There was a lot going on in my life at the time that made me feel alone, frustrated, neglected, and powerless. I grew up in a family that was very gendered and conservative. I also grew up in a family that revolved around the care of two of my three sisters because of their severe physical and mental disabilities; they were both in wheelchairs, largely non-verbal, and required 24/7 care. I felt forced to grow up quickly into a caregiving role.
My father was a minister of an active faith community so all eyes were on us. I felt obligated to pretend that everything was perfect and I was a good, passive, nurturing, polite, Christian girl; I did what I was told and felt like I had no control.
The initial thing that pulled me out of my relationship with my eating disorder was my first ever boyfriend. He was my first “love” and this relationship worked wonders for my self-esteem. I felt noticed, seen, loved, and desired. He cared about me and made me feel special.
It wasn’t until midway through my first university degree that I finally began being more vocal about my eating disorder experience with my eating disorder and finally dealt with some of the emotional remnants I’d ignored. I was pursuing a degree in psychology and could no longer ignore the role my emotions played in why Anorexia and I were so intimately involved for so long.
A professor of mine, a critical feminist psychologist and scholar named Michelle Lafrance, became an inspiration to me and a mentor. She opened my restricted, strict, and controlled eyes to the world of feminism. She provided a framework for my experiences as a young girl; a lens for why my eating disorder made so much sense in my life and why I felt I needed it so badly.
This professor was the first person who ever made me feel empowered and she reminded me that I did indeed have agency, and that I was worthy of taking up space in this world physically, emotionally and spiritually. While my first boyfriend distracted me from my eating disorder, it was Michelle who helped save me.
I’ve been recovered for many years now. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I may slip back into a behaviour but I always find a way out. I allow myself to show grace to my body, give it a break, and permission to enjoy the things my body does for me.
On the surface, there are still things I wish I could change, but deep down, in truth, I feel honoured to live in this body. I feel blessed by my body and grateful I have a body to take up an area of physical space in this massive world, to produce sound, music, opinions, passions.
Because of this body, I get to live.
A RECOVERY STORY
I was a highly sensitive kid. Since adolescence I felt like I didn’t fit in, and I couldn’t relate.
I was a highly sensitive kid. Since adolescence I felt like I didn’t fit in, and I couldn’t relate to the other kids in my school. I was extremely sensitive and self-conscious. I tended to take everything that was said to me to heart and turn it inward.
Around the age of 16, I started a “diet” with a friend. After about 2 weeks, she was able to stop the diet and return to normal eating, but I was not able to stop. For me it turned into an obsession. Restricting my food gave me the illusion that I was in “control” of something, which at an unconscious level, helped to ease my inner turmoil.
My self-worth was so low that I thought that if I was thin enough, or smart enough, then I would be okay. But no matter how thin or how many A’s I got in school, I was still full of fear and inadequacy.
I started to isolate myself from friends and family and lived in a world of secrecy, hiding the fact that I ate very little, exercised and studied to extremes. Once I got into University, I “switched” from the “drug” of anorexia to the “drug” bulimia. In my last year of undergrad, I was overwhelmed with fatigue and depression and was no longer able to concentrate on my studies. I finally admitted that I needed help. I was put on the waiting list for the eating disorder clinic and prescribed high dose antidepressants. The antidepressants helped to stop the binge and purge cycle so I thought that I was “cured”. However, I was not cured. I started using alcohol and drugs as a means to cope. I had no idea at that time that the drugs and alcohol were just another coping mechanism that I used to numb myself and avoid feeling my feelings.
Over the years, I relapsed with my eating disorder many times and I continued to try many things to make myself feel better. I tried different medications, I saw psychologists and psychiatrists, I read self-help books, I saw a naturopath, I tried changing jobs, moving cities, getting a divorce, and many other measures, but nothing seemed to help me. I felt lonely, depressed, inadequate, full of fear and terminally unique. The drugs and alcohol pushed me to the point of contemplating suicide. Out of desperation, I admitted defeat and found help through a 12-step program.
Shortly after I stopped using drugs and alcohol, my eating disorder quickly returned. Since I was familiar with the 12 steps, and it helped me with my drug and alcohol use, I was happy to find an online 12-step program for eating disorders. In this group, I was able to meet others who suffered from the same disease.
After struggling with this disease for over 20 years, I finally discovered that I wasn’t alone. I listened as others spoke of their recovery and I found hope in their messages. In this group, I found a mentor who guided me and helped me through my recovery process. I was provided with the tools that I needed in order to start and continue on my recovery journey. For me, this includes prayer and meditation, journaling, reaching out and helping others with this disease.
It has been a long process of “unlearning” for me. With the help of my mentor, I became aware of certain limiting beliefs that I had held inside of me for most of my life. I’ve learned that it is okay to cry and to feel my feelings. I have also learned that I’m not alone in this journey. When I am feeling “out of sorts”, a recovery warrior is just one phone call away.
I no longer turn to my eating disorder to cope with my emotions and life. I now have the gift of awareness. When I hear the nagging voice in my head whispering “you’re not enough”, I know that this is NOT true. I know that I AM GOOD ENOUGH. I never thought that recovery was possible for me. I thought that I was doomed a life of depression, anxiety, misery and loneliness. But I was wrong. There is hope. Recovery is possible. My healing journey was not fast or easy, but it has been most rewarding and I am grateful for every step along the way.
A RECOVERY STORY
There were less “I can’t do this” moments and more “I will do this” moments
by Collette Deschenes, EDNS Mentor
I played soccer for quite a long time; all throughout my pre-teen/teen years. I’m a klutz—but I loved it.
Not-so-graceful me would sometimes take a ball straight in the chest. The force would push me over and knock the wind out of me. I would lay there seeing stars for a few moments until finally, my team cheered me on to get back up.
And up I went. Then, not long after, the same thing would happen again. Even with the wind knocked out of me—I would get up every single time with more fervor.
Ironically enough, a wind-knocked-of-me incident was one of the events that finally helped me seek treatment for my eating disorder after years of struggling with anorexia and bulimia. I got into a car accident. An airbag to the face and chest served as a reminder: you’re still alive—but why aren’t you living? Immediately after the accident, I entered treatment at the University of Alberta Hospital.
“Two days . . .” I explained to my boss as I left work for full-time treatment. “Two days and I’ll be back.” But it took more than two days. For months, every single day felt like a soccer ball to the chest with the wind knocked of out me.
Truthfully, I struggled with recovery more times than I can even count. There were days-on-days of the “can’t breathe, don’t want to move forward” moments.
Throughout my recovery, I sought out and built a small group of people alongside my treatment team. They cheered me on during the messiest parts of healing.
A week into recovery (and what felt like the millionth fall down) my best friend turned to me on the couch as I sobbed.
“You know you have the strength to get up again,” she said supportively.
“But why am I not better YET. I want to be better now . . .” I cried, beyond exasperated with myself. “Getting knocked down every time . . . it’s exhausting.”
Over time, and with a ton of patience, there were less “I can’t do this” moments and more “I will do this” moments.
When I was tired, the people in my life reminded me of my resiliency. They believed in me when I couldn’t.
Until I could. I would try to get back up after each blow. Each relapse. Each time with more intensity.
Over time, and with a ton of patience, there were less “I can’t do this” moments and more “I will do this” moments. We want to set specifics on healing. How it should look “this way” or take “this amount of time.”
Because recovery, while always worth it, can be exhausting. Some days may feel like a force to your chest. Heavy and exhausting. We want it to be over. Now.
We want to flash forward to the clean, bright and better days. But real healing may not happen in two day or two months. It’s a series of messy moments. Recovery requires seeking real help and support from the people around you. You face all the things you don’t want to face. And feel all the things we want to anesthetize ourselves to.
It can leave you wondering how you can move forward after the thousandth fall. Until you can – and you do. That’s when you realize it takes more than two days, and it takes immense amounts of patience.
Flash forward to today: Over three years later, I still face tons of messy healing moments. There is pain and a lot of couch crying in these moments. But I see how beautiful life is without my eating disorder.
I see growth. I see resilience. And I see love—for myself and from the people around me.
Finally, I see myself.
About Collette: Collette is a creative communications professional who loves podcasts, poetry, singing car karaoke and exploring the outdoors. After years struggling with eating disorders, she began to write about her recovery journey and have shared and contributed to websites dedicated to inspiring hope such as RecoveryWarriors.com. She became a peer mentor with Eating Disorders Nova Scotia as she hopes to use her experiences to help others share their stories and find their voice through recovery. She believes that connection and hope are vital parts of recovery. Her goal someday is to create a published collection of poetry and stories that highlight healing, resiliency, and strength through recovery. Originally published for Recoverywarriors.com
A RECOVERY STORY
The support from Eating Disorders Nova Scotia gave me tools to start recovery.
by Emma, EDNS Mentee
I had only been struggling with anorexia a short while before a family member suggested I try the Eating Disorders Nova Scotia peer support group. I won’t lie, I was hesitant at first. I was feeling the all too common feeling that I, “wasn’t sick enough to get help.” The first meeting was rough but something told me to go back and so I did! What a great choice that ended up being. Through the support group, I didn’t only meet wonderful people whose stories touched me in profound ways but I also learned so much about my disorder and what recovery could look like for me.
Later I did the one-on-one peer mentoring. It really was invaluable to sit down with someone fully recovered and see it is possible and that no, this person is not all the things I feared I’d become if I fully embraced recovery myself. I think all of us who have struggled with EDs can fear losing something we value in the recovery process—I know I did! But to sit down and talk with someone who’s been there, I found, gave me the extra motivation I needed to keep going when I wanted to turn back or found myself getting stuck.
If you’re thinking of attending a peer support group or one-on-one mentoring but you find yourself hesitating—I get it! I did the same. For me it was the whole “not sick enough” that held me back at first. For you, it could be that or anything else . . . I know EDs affect us all differently and promise different things to each of us.
The support from Eating Disorders Nova Scotia gave me tools to start recovery. There’s no harm in giving it a shot. You can even just listen like I did the first few meetings! It’s one of the most supportive and understanding spaces I’ve been in.
Recovery is very difficult, but what I’m starting to understand is, staying stuck in the perpetual loop of an ED is so much worse.
I’ll leave you with this quote I found on Jennifer Rollin’s Instagram account (jennifer_rollin) “You are not alive to just pay bills and lose weight” – Caroline Dooner
A RECOVERY STORY
Dustin tried various treatments, but credits the eating disorder peer support group with launching his recovery.
Dustin tried various treatments, but credits the eating disorder peer support group with launching his recovery. For the first time he could see someone in real life who was living in recovery, someone to aspire to. Recovery for him means turning inward with kindness and warmth and compassion instead of regret, and shame, and self-loathing. This is Dustin’s story of his continuing journey on the path to recovery and the importance of peer support.
A RECOVERY STORY
Beth spent 10 years hiding eating disorders from everyone around her.
Beth spent 10 years hiding eating disorders from everyone around her. After reaching out to a family member, she found help in therapy, the formal mental heath system, and in connecting with people who has been through eating disorders. This is Beth’s story of her road to recovery, which started with accepting that she couldn’t fix things on her own.
A RECOVERY STORY
For Marta mindfulness has been an incredible tool that helped her with her eating disorde.
For Marta mindfulness has been an incredible tool that helped her with her eating disorder, depression and life in general. It has helped her to learn self-love and compassion. But what was, and still remains, key to reclaiming her life is peer support. This is Marta’s story of her eating disorder recovery journey and the advice she would give her former self.
A RECOVERY STORY
At 13, Jillian’s family pushed her into life-saving treatment, but she didn’t fully recover.
At 13, Jillian’s family pushed her into lifesaving treatment but she didn’t fully recover. As she got older she continued to struggle and she was faced with the choice of going towards recovery or letting the eating disorder take over. Therapy, regular check in’s with herself, re-engaging in her life and being involved with folks who have also recovered helps her to stay on that path. This is her story about her path to recovery and how supporting others confirms her passion for recovery.
A RECOVERY STORY
Tori remembers sitting on the floor of her room and thinking “there has to be something better than this”
Tori remembers sitting on the floor of her room and thinking “there has to be something better then this”. This is her story about recovering from her eating disorder, a journey heavily rooted in community based programming and a lot of support from family and friends.
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