Today, I’m featuring part two of my interview with Alexis, who writes the wonderful blog Surfacing After Silence. I’m really grateful that Alexis was willing to share her story with us, and I truly appreciate her honesty.
Below, Alexis talks about the ups and downs of her recovery, what she’s learned, how families can help, what recovery means to her and more.
You can read part one here.
What have been the toughest parts of seeking recovery and how did you get through them?
The toughest part for me was taking time off of school. I’ve always prided myself on my academic abilities, but there came a point where I was barely able to function in classes, and that was not acceptable at the Master’s level. I felt that by going into treatment, I was somehow failing my academic program even though all of my professors were glad I was willing to seek more intensive help.
Do you still struggle with eating disordered thoughts and behaviors? If so, how do you overcome them?
I had four years of solid recovery, with absolutely no eating disordered thoughts and behaviors. Then last year I finally found out what was wrong with my heart. Initially, I was in the “grateful to be alive” mindset and tried not to think about everything I had to give up—I can no longer run, or do any physical activity that raises my heart rate above 110.
Then I entered a depression as I came to grips with everything the heart diagnosis entailed and we discovered my thyroid had stopped working and I gained a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. I found myself thrown back into disordered thought patterns and started restricting again. Thankfully, I recognized what was happening and realized that because of my heart, I could not afford to relapse and decided to seek more intensive treatment. I had never entered inpatient treatment that soon before, and sometimes I felt like I didn’t “deserve” to be there, but it did allow me to get back on track almost immediately.
Many people don’t realize the physical consequences of eating disorders, including electrolyte imbalances, irregular heartbeat, osteoporosis, severe tooth decay and digestive problems. Did you experience any health problems as a result of your eating disorder?
I was diagnosed with osteopenia at one point and was put on a prescription-strength calcium supplement and was able to restore a lot of my bone density. All of my molars have had work done on them, including pulling one that was just beyond repair. I have no idea how many nights I spent in the emergency room getting IV treatments for electrolyte imbalances.
I have no doubt that the anorexia affected my heart, although we do know that the SCA was not caused by the eating disorder but by the cardiomyopathy. While I was actively engaging in the eating disorder, my immune system was also shot and I got sick quite often. And my thyroid eventually stopped working and I’m on medication for that now.
What insights have you taken away from your struggles and recovery?
My recovery has taught me that hope is never lost. It may sound cheesy, but I’ve seen some girls I never thought would have recovered go on to lead full lives and start families of their own. At the same time, I learned that our lives are held together by the slenderest of threads and each day spent with an eating disorder is one day closer to death. I’ve lost over ten friends to these illnesses, and the heartbreak never gets any easier.
What can family members do to help a loved one with an eating disorder?
I think the first thing that they can do is ask how they can help. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. The problem isn’t going to go away just because you don’t mention it. Participate in family therapy—really participate, not just sit there and nod every once in a while—and be honest with the person who is struggling with an eating disorder about how his or her illness is affecting your own life. And know your limits.
What resources (books, websites) do you recommend for individuals struggling with an eating disorder?
The only website I feel comfortable recommending is Something Fishy (www.something-fishy.org) because it is extremely pro-recovery oriented and the moderators are extremely active. If you have an eating disorder, I don’t think you need to read any memoirs. You know what it’s like, and so few memoirs actually talk about recovery. They talk about the hellish years that made them want to get better and then leave the reader with a trite, “Then I entered treatment and worked toward recovery” type of summary as an ending. Too many people read eating disorder books for tips and tricks. Not helpful.
What does recovery mean to you?
Recovery means freedom. I can go out to dinner with friends, I can eat ice cream without guilt, I can wear clothes that fit rather than clothes than hide my shape, and I don’t have to lie to anyone anymore about where I ate or what I ate. Rather than viewing my body with a lens of hate, I now have an appreciation for what my body can do for me.
What are some misconceptions about eating disorders?
That only teenage females have them and that only people who are underweight have eating disorders. I’ve been in treatment with people of all shapes and sizes and both genders and have seen people as young as ten on an eating disorder unit and as old as 60. No one is safe based solely on demographics.
Anything else you’d like readers to know about eating disorders or your story?
I think sometimes you have to be more assertive in treatment when you are older. Do not keep silent because you think you are “too old” to have an eating disorder. There’s no age limit to these illnesses. In the beginning, I couldn’t recover for me. I did it for my nephew. Find that one person or reason who means the world to you and cling to it with everything you’ve got. Eventually, you will be able to do it for yourself and you will discover just how worthy you are.
Thank you so much, Alexis, for sharing your story and insights! I hope you found Alexis’s wise words hopeful, because there’s always, always hope!
P.S., Check out my guest post over at HealthyGirl.org on the best body image tips. Also, I’ve decided that each day I publish a post, I’m going to link to a favorite post of mine. Today, I want to share with you a post on body image and joy from Stephanie at Radical Hateloss. The post is so positive, inspiring and just a must-read overall. Happy reading, and happy weekend!