By Alison Tedford – I felt trapped for far too long, held captive by my own preoccupation with the number displayed on my bathroom scale. On particularly dark days, it seemed to glow brighter than the hope in my heart. Staring at it had the same effect as an eclipse, overshadowing any redeeming quality about myself. It seems unlikely that something that is powerless when I remove the batteries could have so much power over my brain and how I lived my life. But that blinking number trapped me into thinking things that were not true about myself, what I am worth, and what I have to offer the world.
One day, while driving in the car with my mom, I told her about my struggles. I did so much in the same way I would make a casual observation about the weather. “It’s raining again. Also, I have anorexia and bulimia, and I need to do something about it.” This revelation brought about a period of positive change in my life. Old ways of coping were not working anymore, and I know I needed to learn to live in a different way. I learned a lot in my eating disorder recovery, and some of it was rather unexpected.
I learned body image is like algebra. “I feel fat” is the problem. Fat is the variable. It stands for something. Figuring out what it stood for was the key to my recovery. When you try to solve the problem, accepting “fat” as the actual value and not as a stand-in word for something else, you create an entirely different and much more dangerous problem. You do all these things to eliminate “fat” when it wasn’t the issue in the first place. It was sad, angry, ignored, or something else. I had to stop counting the things that didn’t matter and that drove my disorder. I had to learn how to do math to interpret my feelings and see the big picture.
Recovery isn’t about making sure you never fall; it’s a wholehearted commitment to the business of getting back up again.
I learned body image is holistic. The danger zone was when sentences began with “My body this” or “My body that,” as if my body was separate from me. It is easier to love something when you see it as a part of yourself; “us” and “them” divisions allow room for resentment. When I started to see myself as whole, it was easier to accept and love myself. “My body is tired” had to become “I am tired.” Taking care of my body is an obligation to something external, while taking care of myself is self-care and personal responsibility. I had to learn how to see myself as an integrated whole and find power in that.
I also learned about empowerment. Undergoing treatment and interacting with qualified professionals gave me the tools I needed to reshape my life in a healthy way. There were psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, social workers, art therapists, and youth workers. I had a team of people to assist, encourage, and support me. It was still my responsibility to put their lessons to good use. Nobody could do it for me. I had to do the work. I had to actively participate. I was in the driver’s seat and I felt like my life was going somewhere, even if the road wasn’t always smooth.
I learned the recovery process isn’t a constant, perfect thing. There are ups and downs. It’s a way of travelling more than a place to arrive at long last. It is the way you approach your journey, because seasons and circumstances can allow symptoms to resurface along the way. Recovery isn’t about making sure you never fall; it’s a wholehearted commitment to the business of getting back up again.
Recovery was my personal commitment to me to embrace the joy in my life. It was about counting blessings instead of calories. It was about lifting my gaze from the number on the scale and appreciating the beauty that surrounded me. It was about coming to the humbling realization that I am part of that beauty myself. The only eclipse obscuring my vision is the way self-love can cover a multitude of insecurities. The hope in my heart finally glows brighter than the scale.