Episode 23 - You! #MyRecoveryLetter
Every year in honor of Eating Recovery Day, we flip the script and devote our whole show to the recovery letters of those who listen. Today you’ll hear from people in recovery, family members, service providers, and other loved ones. You finding your voice on the road to recovery is why we make this show — it’s an absolute honor to give you a platform.
Also, if you would still like to join in the #myrecoveryletter project, simply go to myrecoveryletter.com and follow the prompts.
It's finally time for my favorite episode of the year.
If you've been listening for a while, you may recall a special episode that aired last spring in honor of Eating Recovery Day, an episode where we flip the script and devote our show to the recovery letters of those who listen. For this year's Eating Recovery Day episode, we are traveling the paths of your journeys. We'll hear from people in recovery, family members, service providers, and other loved ones. To me, this episode is representative of why we make Mental Note. There's power in sharing your story, and it's an honor to help a few of yours come to life. Also, if you didn't get a chance to submit your letter, it's not too late. Find out how at myrecoveryletter.com.
With that, I'll turn the mic over to you. You're listening to Mental Note Podcast. I'm Ellie Pike.
This one's to you anorexia, for changing my life. I want to open this with a personal share. The other day, I went to post an Instagram picture on my recovery account at @lindseyhallwrites, and yes, that was a shameless plug there. I was on a hiking trail, one of those warm winter days here in Boulder, Colorado, and I posed with my new Athleta sports bra, perfectly positioned of course, a light-infused filter ready to go. I had my caption already in my head, "Soaking up the sun, living my best recovery life," I planned to write to my followers. "Living my best recovery life," ugh.
As I went to post, awaiting the likes and comments as we do on our social media platforms, something struck me as so inherently disingenuous about that statement. I took a step back. "What is living a best recovery life?" I had to ask myself, and does such a thing exist?
As I gnawed on the inside of my lip, I realized that once again I was choosing to present myself in that perfect light, in the easy way that social media and eating disorders beg us to do, but ultimately, I thought, what a silly statement that hardly captures the art of recovery, and most certainly does not present the reality of life with an eating disorder.
I changed the text. "I am living a life," I decided to post, "And this sports bra feels comfortable and uncomfortable, and I am learning and unlearning to be free." I did not include superlatives, no grand statements. I am merely living a life in recovery and it is positive and hard, and I exist always in a flexible definition of okay.
At the end of the day, my story is really no different than most. I have been in recovery for four-and-a-half years from a lifelong struggle with the eating disorder cycle, I call it. I've been to treatment, been to outpatient, relapsed and survived. Like many others. I live in a state where I often have to remind myself what makes life and recovery meaningful enough to go on living it.
Recovery can admittedly seem like such a thankless task, a chore we put on autopilot, and because of that, it's interest how our eating disorders can seem to appear more appealing at times, appealing in their control, controlling in their fear, and seductive in their immediate gratification.
Perhaps I'm recording this from a rickety coffee shop table today to admit that it is true, that the appeal of your eating disorder could likely hiss in your ear for the rest of your life. However, I am also here to represent proof that we are capable of living with that hiss in our ear and still recover, and even be content. Regardless of which eating disorder or how long you've struggled old, you are capable of it.
There is a day that you could stop comparing calories and start comparing the differences between your eating disorder world and your "recovery" world. Perhaps then you will be reminded that the recovery world you create is more alive, more than the one you believe you've created in your eating disorder.
I record this letter on behalf of my eating disorder today because without that part of my life, how would I have ever known that both sadness and happiness, grief and praise are all capable of a living hand in hand, intertwined even, and still make for a full rounded life.
Sitting here making edits and backspace taps to this letter, I know that all I can ever hope to do as a writer is make a momentary impact or plant a seed of perspective, I guess. I'm certainly not arrogant enough to think that I can change the intimate, personal world of someone's eating disorder. I know its grasp all too well.
What I hope to do through this letter is remind all of us struggling or recovering that we, as humans, are simply a series of choices and our choices do not have to define us. I am the first to admit that I make productive, and also withholding, recovery choices daily. I make choices as I'm proud of and ones that, seemingly as I make them, I whisper, "Walk away from this choice," and I don't. This is the reality of being human, not just recovery.
We are creatures of habit, so we must be aware of what happens we create. Are we drinking too much and not eating? Are we skipping a meal and making an excuse? Are we avoiding our friend's birthday dinner? Are we researching calories online? Are we engaging with our eating disorder?
Look, life is inherently difficult and no human can effortlessly feel grateful to be alive every day any more than we could stay madly in love or desperately sick in grief. The mere act of existing forces us to get on with the busyness of living, which of course is difficult to navigate. Because of this reality, we are never not going to be faced with a choice to go back to our eating disorder. We have that choice every day in the shape of three or four meals and however many snacks, indulgences, holidays, and buffets and the like. It will be impossible to make the right one always.
I think what recovery is, at the end of the day, is learning how to live in a world where your life is a flexible definition of okay. In it, we are learning how and what to think about again, learning how to navigate our thoughts in spite of the ED voice, and how to look at the multifaceted angles of our eating disorder and stay on the outside of it instead of being hypnotized by the constant monologue inside our heads.
What we learn is not only how exciting the world can be when we are untethered from the eating disorder grip, but how unpredictable and spontaneous and intimate life is as well, and how to think and stay conscious and alert to the triggers that our world pushes at us.
Ultimately, my hope is that everyone in recovery finds their version of the flexibly okay life, and that we will base our successes off the days we listen to our bodies and be gentle on the days we've forgotten. That is real freedom that people in recovery talk about. Wearing a sports bar on a hike is a "freedom" of an eating disorder, sure, it can be a definitive check mark, but learning how to live flexibly and in tandem with both our eating disorder and our recovery, that is how we ever move forward, choosing what and how to think so that we can remain engaged in the moments where we look up from our daily grind and exclaim, "I'm happy, recovery is worth this."
To you, anorexia, I remain grateful that you are part of my life. You remind me, as I knock coffee out of the cup and into my lap, I still want to be here. I want to be right here.
Dear journal, you once were tattered and worn, kept in my bag with a small pile of loose pens, their capless tips discoloring the inner lining of my purse. I took you everywhere and I shared every moment of my life with you, but I'm sorry I haven't opened your pages in a while. Staying there with my inner thoughts began to feel like a daunting task. I once loved my words, littering your clean lines, watching the colored ink slowly expand, etching itself into your fibrous body and becoming a semi-permanent matter in the world. But as the instability began to take over my life and the thoughts of ending it all creeped in, filling your pages meant coming to terms with my self-destructive thoughts and behavior.
I desperately wanted to figure out why I couldn't bring myself to get out of bed and I intentionally hurt myself. There were days I would separate your two covers with the intent of filling them with the thoughts that I continuously stuffed to the back of my mind, but I just didn't have the strength.
After years of therapy and seeing doctor after doctor, without anyone being able to provide solutions to my depression, I began to lose all motivation to live. I was tired. I was too tired to tell anyone what was going on, including you. It was during my third attempt at taking my own life that I woke up in the ICU.
Waking up tethered to the same machines that brought me back to life made me realize just how far I had fallen. It was then that I was admitted into my third round of treatment for suicidal ideation and behavior, and I met with a psychiatrist every day for two weeks. It was then I was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder and it was then that I finally felt relief.
Being diagnosed as bipolar gave me freedom. The hardest part about mental health is trying to figure out the diagnosis. Before I knew I was bipolar, I just felt crazy and I blamed myself for my feelings. I had difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, because if I didn't love myself, why would anyone else? But once I was diagnosed, I knew that I could be helped.
My medication has given me a life of stability and happiness that I never thought possible. Looking back, I wish I would've told people what I was going through. I used to fear that they would think differently of me, but after opening up about my struggle, I was given relief, freedom and support. Everyone has their struggles, and maybe sharing mine will show someone that is in the depths of despair and ready to give up that there is hope.
On my darkest days, my dad would remind me to take it moment by moment. He would say, "Make every 10 minutes happier and healthier than the last, just focus on those 10 minutes." At first, that meant getting out of bed or brushing my teeth, but over time, those 10 minutes turned into hours, and then days.
Now, I live to make each decision happier and healthier than the last. Mental health is a never ending battle, but it's a battle that you will become strong enough to fight. Just because I feel stable now, doesn't mean the work is done. I have to practice self-care every day by protecting my sleep schedule, taking my medication, going to therapy and taking care of my physical and mental health.
Journal, thank you for sitting neatly on my nightstand, waiting patiently until the day I would find the strength to crack open your tattered cover and start a new page.
Love and light, Kiara.
Dear family and friends, I've worked with many of view at Eating Recovery Center as a family therapist, as an alumni and family liaison, and as a moderator on the Eating Disorder Family Connection Facebook page. If I have not worked with you, it is nice to meet you.
My reason for writing you this letter is to let you know I understand that you've been greatly impacted by your loved one's eating disorder. It is not an easy thing for a family to experience. I support you and validate all that you are going through. I understand that you may have had thoughts similar to these. Am I strong enough to support my daughter? Will I ever get my wife back? If only I hadn't dieted in front of her when she was younger. I'm so angry at him.
I understand you've experienced many emotions throughout your loved one's eating disorder, shame, fear, hopelessness, grief, self-blame, sadness, and anger. Some of the emotions you have felt you may not be proud of, and that's okay. You're allowed to feel all of the emotions, and in fact, I hope you embrace all of them. You are a person too.
My hope for you is that you take care of yourself. You deserve to practice self-care. Going to your own therapy, getting a massage, taking a vacation or whatever self-care looks like for you, please do it. Taking care of yourself will allow you to be present in supporting your loved one.
I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you when your loved one would recover, I wish I had the magic wand that made you say all of the right things, but I don't have either of these things. What I do have for you is my word that I will continue to support you, educate you and walk with you. Please remember you are doing the best you can. There's no manual for how to navigate this. Trust yourself and trust the people around you. I thank you for being a support person to your loved one, they are lucky to have you.
Dear little me. The world is going to try and break you by telling you that you are not enough. There are moments where you are going to feel misunderstood, invisible and alone. Oh, but sweet baby girl, I see you, I love you, and you are more than enough. Take my hand, walk alongside me and know that you are never alone.
My dearest tribe, I've lost count of how many times I've started this letter. Over and over again I begin anew, just to be disappointed by the inadequacy of my chosen words and their failure to accurately express my feelings for you, for us. Cliche phrases like, "I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for you," or, "I'm so lucky to have you in my life," although accurate, would only serve to disrespect this palpable, genuine power that your influence on my life is.
My tribe, my team, my people, my inspiration and my motivation, the calm to my storm and the storm to my calm. Many individuals from different walks of life, choosing to walk with me through mine. Some of you have been around from the beginning, while others arrived more recently. Your ranks consist of childhood friends, former coworkers, old roommates, college buddies, and even mental health professionals, a number of you have my blood running through your veins, but all of you are my family.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with me against anything, my own personal demons in the darkest depths of my being, you draw swords with me against anonymous enemies that you can't see, let alone understand, though not for lack of effort. Then regardless of how dark and dreadful the outlook may be, you sound the charge. My tribe, my fellowship, my hope's personification.
In my darkest hour, when binge eating disorder, the most ruthless fiend of a villain I've ever faced, was torturously destroying every aspect of my being, you did not waiver. You formed ranks and prepared to charge, for me. My tribe, my light brigade. Forward, the light brigade, charge for the guns, into the valley of death. Stormed at with shot and shell, boldly they rode, and well, into the jaws of death, into the mouth of hell.
Now, what great act of valor could I possibly have accomplished to deserve such fierce loyalty and tireless effort from so many amazing souls, that I do not know, but I do know that you just scoffed at that question, because, my dears, to you, my greatest accomplishment is me. In fact, it's through your collective expression of this notion that I discovered the greatest gift you've ever given me, the gift of self-love. All that I am and all that I ever will be is a direct cumulative reflection of each and every one of you, my tribe, my people, my love, my life. Andrew.
Dear daughter, I am grateful for you. Since the day you were born, you have brought joy and love into our lives. You are such a gentle and kind soul. I'm so lucky to be your mom. You have taught me so much. The strength and determination you have shown the past four years to beat your eating disorder is incredible to witness, the lessons you will take with you the rest of your life are priceless.
I know the eating disorder is not screaming at you anymore, but just a little whisper when you're feeling worn down, but I also see you pushing it away so you can continue to live your life to the fullest. When I think about what our day-to-day life was like after treatment, I can't believe how far you've come. From sheets taped over mirrors, to you having to send pictures of what you were eating when you first started going out with your friends again, to you now getting ready to graduate high school and head off to college out of state.
Even though I will miss you like crazy, and most likely be crying, it will be tears of joy. I am so proud of you. Your humor, love of all things living, and strong, quiet presence is a gift. You taught us the stronger the storm, the deeper the roots.
I believe that recovery is many things. For me, I largely view recovery as a daily practice. This practice requires active participation, assessment and choice. We might reflect and ask ourselves, where am I coming from, where am I now, and where am I going? This inquiry might be initiated by our recognition that something is not right or the way it could be. We recognize the discrepancy of where and who we are and where and who we want to be.
Recovery in courage is betterment. When we are not attending to our blind spots or pain or the struggles that have hijacked our lives, we risk losing balance and straying from our center, a place of authenticity and integrity. When we choose recovery, we choose of the biggest acts of self-care.
Recovery is multifaceted, and one task of recovery is acknowledging the points of dysregulation and destabilization, whether that be personal, interpersonal or environmental. We spot the crisis and we take care of ourselves. This is an act of bravery. It takes courage to acknowledge that something isn't right, and it takes courage to have patience with ourselves and be there for ourselves, however you make sense of that. The second task is identifying the opportunities for growth, another call to bravery. We thank our struggle and the lessons that it afforded, and we find a way to generate meaning that will inform the next advanced version of ourselves.
Now, the fun part, the extended truth part, everything I just said sounds nice, it's pretty and it's recovery distilled. Recovery is not as simple as I just outlined. Recovery inherently entails struggle, and like struggle, sometimes recovery cannot be contained, sometimes recovery is not linear. What I mean by that is recovery will sometimes look different from day to day and moment to moment.
As afore mentioned, recovery is a practice. Every moment we choose recovery, we call upon our creativity to shape the moment and opportunity before us, whether that be seizing recovery at a capacity of 100%, 50%, or a strong 5%. The act of resisting settling into where and who we choose to not be is recovering, and this act of revolution can be as big or as small as need be, even if it's a planned attacked for the next hour or day. Intention can be enough at times.
What I encourage is to arrive, re-arrive into your space of recovery daily, moment to moment, with flexibility and ingenuity. If change is on your heart and mind, you're already in that space, you have already done some work. With the help of others in listening to your voice of knowing, I believe we can all complete our path of becoming who we were meant to be and live the lives we were meant to enjoy.
This is Shaun Stone, clinical assessment specialist at Insight in Round Rock, Texas. I hope that each day you find yourself on the pathway of your recoveries. I hope that you think to connect with yourself, whether that be through a mindfulness or your recovery letter, to check your map and to make sure you're edging forward toward your better self and better tomorrow.
Dear Amy, words cannot begin to explain the love and gratitude I have for you choosing recovery. You had no idea then, but by doing so, I, Ames, was able to be born. You gave me a chance to come out and be the most authentic version of myself. I could have never gotten to this day without your strength, bravery, and dedication. You had no idea what your life was going to look like and dove in head first anyways. You are a part of myself that I hold so dearly, because your choice to live made all things possible for me.
Today, I am proud of myself, my journey, my sexuality, my gender identity, my purpose, and all the pieces that make up who I am. Thank you for staying and believing in your darkest moments so I could shed light and share my story today. I love you so much.
Your future self, Ames.
Thank you for listening to you on today's special Eating Recovery Day episode. If you feel like you missed the boat to share your recovery letter, good news, you haven't. Simply go to myrecoveryletter.com and follow the prompts to write and take part in the festivities. That's myrecoveryletter.com.
Mental Note is sponsored by Eating Recovery Center and Insight Behavioral Health Centers. If your story is in search of recovery, give them a call. Their clinically-trained staff can get you going right away with a free consultation with a licensed therapist who will help you figure out next steps. Reach them at 877-411-9578.
Our show is produced by Sam Pike, edited by Josh Wright and Sam Pike. I'm your host, Eleanor Pike, wishing you all the most beautiful spring. P.S. Not many of you know that I'm in the middle of adding a new addition to my own journey. Baby Penny Pike recently made her debut and I'm taking a little time off to embrace this new chapter of life. We'll still be adding shows to the feed and I would love to hear from you. Our email is mentalnote@eating recovery.com. I apologize if I don't immediately get back to you, I think you'll understand.