The recovery story below was written by Sara, a 30-year-old woman living in Long Beach, California. She currently works full-time, attends school and is preparing to receive her Master’s degree in May, 2011. Reflecting on a painful childhood and a life riddled with dieting and body image issues, Sara says that today she finally feels grounded and healthy. She feels able to embrace her authentic self, as well as her love for both animals and nature. Sara believes that receiving support in facing her eating disorder and its underlying causes has brought her to this happy and healthy place. Below is her story…
It has been almost 5 years since I came to Shoreline and began my recovery journey. I remember making that first call. I was scared, ashamed and doubtful that I would ever be able to overcome my eating disorder. I remember fighting back tears during the intake, knowing that I would have to gain weight if I began treatment. I remember being terrified everyone would find out that under my eating disorder was a black, unlovable and unworthy hole. An argument raged in my head that I did not need “treatment,” that it would be too costly, too time consuming, disruptive to my schedule, and it simply wouldn’t work. I argued with myself that if only I had more “willpower” I could get better on my own. However, deep down my heart knew that my life and spirit were being swallowed by something beyond my control. I felt alone and hopeless. However, I realized though that even if treatment didn’t work, I felt more cared about and concerned for in that one intake session than I could remember. I was hungry for love and affection, and this is what pulled me through the door and made all the difference.
Treatment was one of the most challenging, frustrating, and rewarding experiences of my life. I participated in treatment for 2 solid years – this included Intensive Outpatient Program, Partial Hospitalization Program, and living at Satori house. Fighting an eating disorder is war and I could not have done it alone. Thankfully, an army of therapists, treatment friends, and a psychiatrist backed me and held hope for me when I couldn’t grasp it myself. For a long time, my eating disorder still felt in control. Intense emotions would emerge that I had stuffed for years. At times, I was resistant and ambivalent about letting go of my eating disorder. I relived trauma that had haunted me a lifetime. Outside of group, my head was consumed with eating disorder chatter and trying to figure out what was “normal,” many times ready to give up altogether. It was a constant battleground, but slowly things began to shift. I put one foot in front of the next and returned to group each day. I felt contained and cared for by my therapists. They understood me and approached me with compassion and patience. For the first time I was able to put names to my struggles. My Shoreline circle heard and validated me. Healing began to take root.
Early into my treatment I went on a trip to Africa. I remember putting a travel book in our healing circle and surprising everyone by saying, “Africa is recovery, I am going to Africa.” This may have been my first moment of light and motivation in the treatment process. It was a bit impulsive and emotionally difficult on me while there – I remember calling my therapist all the way across the world in tears and feeling comforted by her voice. Though it was hard, I am grateful I had that experience. I made reality out of something I had long dreamed. I was living. I experienced a world outside of my eating disorder. Recovery was given a new meaning.
I believe with all my heart that living at Satori was instrumental in my recovery journey. With suitcase in hand, I was told that my one requirement was to ask for help. Having 24 hour support forced me to challenge my eating disorder, hold myself accountable and tolerate discomfort in ways I never imagined possible. I quickly learned the importance and necessity of asking for hep. The Recovery Coaches helped me create a safety plan prior to going out. I would call the the house when I was triggered. I was able to process tough situations and reflect on successful situations.
I’ve had to go onto disability twice while in treatment. I will again emphasize that fighting an eating disorder is war that takes up every once of energy. As I gained stability, the Recovery Coaches helped me to prepare a resume and encouraged me in the job hunt and interview process. Today, three years later, I am at the same job I obtained while living at Satori. I am proud of myself for this accomplishment and as each of my yearly work reviews approach, I reflect on this support with a sense of gratitude and appreciation.
I had been hankering for a dog for some time and decided to get a puppy as part of my recovery plan when I moved out of Satori. I named her after an island I had visited off of the coast of Tanzania because it symbolic of Shoreline and of recovery. After naming her, I discovered that in Sanskrit, her means “Restorer of Good Health,” and that she has been.
It has been three years now since I have been out of intensive treatment and living on my own. I am still in therapy and continue to heal and grow stronger in my recovery. Five years ago, walking through the doors of Shoreline, I was asked where I want to be in five years. It was a painful question. My response was living in my own apartment with a dog, obtaining my Master’s degree, being at peace, and above all not having my eating disorder. It was excrutiating for me to verbalize because while it felt tangible for most people, it seemed impossible and a mere fantasy for me.
I am pleasantly surprised and proud to say that today, five years later, I live on my own apartment with a precious dog, work fulltime and after six years will be graduating this Spring with my Master’s degree. Most days, my eating disorder feels a distant memory. Who would have thought? I continue to be astute and mindful to prevent it from sneaking in, but I am free. I am living a full life in peace.
Through this journey, I have learned that recovery is not a linear process, rather is full of ebbs and flows. I am learning that sometimes I have to walk blindly and trust in the process and wisdom of those around me. I am learning to approach myself with compassion, forgiveness, and nurturance as this invites for healing, discovery and movement. I have found the healing power of tears and of being heard. I am discovering strength and resilience in myself that I did not know I possess. I have discovered laughter. I have found that recovery is possible. Life can be found. Joy discovered.
– Sara B.