Today, I’m honored to share my interview with a student and former patient of The Renfrew Center.
Below, in part one of our Q&A, she recounts what sparked her eating disorder, how she found treatment and what helped her recover. It is an inspiring story, and I’m so grateful for her words.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part two. If you’d like to share your story of recovery, please email me at mtartakovsky at gmail dot com.
Also, you can check out more stories here.
Q: How and when did your eating disorder start?
A: I am uncertain that I can identify the exact course of the development of my eating disorder, but if I had to say, it started with an innocent diet. Anorexia quickly surfaced and dieting became restriction. I would say that many factors contributed to this manifestation of anorexia. It was most likely due to the child sexual abuse that occurred around the same time that I, at first, chose not to disclose with others.
I had also been devastated over a career-ending injury. At the time, softball was who I was and what I did, so I was almost suffering an identity crisis as it disappeared. Other things that contributed to my eating disorder were particular traits that are beginning to be considered as endophenotypes – cognitive rigidity, etc.
In addition to these, I also had a genetic predisposition to developing an eating disorder. My eating disorder began around age 16-17.
Q: What motivated you to seek treatment?
A: I was tired; I knew I was sick, and I was motivated not to die of anorexia.
Q: Eating disorders are tremendously treatable. But the key is to find the right treatment. How did you go about seeking services?
A: I sought inpatient treatment several times to help with the re-feeding process. I then continued with outpatient treatment. I called many clinicians and searched until I found the right ones for me. I pulled together a treatment team that worked to make my eating disorder ineffective – this should be the goal.
My disorder served several purposes. It mostly existed to protect me and help me avoid aversive emotion. My treatment team forcefully encouraged me to confront my demons and rarely pumped the brakes; even when I was symptomatic. This was the key to helping me get better.
My eating disorder became ineffective because I was feeling my feelings due to my team’s relentless focus on the core issues. They were hard on me. But eventually I got to a point where I was sick of feeling my feelings and starving. I realized restricting wouldn’t help me avoid the feelings forever, so I began to eat and continued to do the work.
I agree that finding a qualified treatment team with adequate knowledge about eating disorders is the best thing one can do for him/herself. Also, it is incredibly important that one finds a team of clinicians that they feel they could work well with.
This doesn’t mean that the patient must love the clinician/dietician. Actually, I’d argue that it is better that the patient doesn’t. Finding clinicians who are skilled and that push hard is the best way to go.
Q: What helped you recover?
A: My treatment team who helped make my eating disorder ineffective and consistently showing up for treatment. When I say consistently, I mean every week for years – no breaks.
Steadfast support from loved ones. God.
Identifying what was important to me. When you are able to identify something that is more important to you than your eating disorder – which took me years, might I add – you are able to choose that over your maladaptive behavior.
Eating disorders get in the way of living a valued and purposeful life. So you are confronted every day, all the time, with a choice: the choice to choose life and your values, or the choice to choose restriction. I chose restriction 1,000,000 times before, but today, I choose life.
Q: What have been the toughest parts of seeking recovery? How did you get through them?
A: Great question. The toughest parts of recovery are not what one might think. Many would argue that the re-feeding, weight stabilization, eating-normalization process – the physical pieces – are the most challenging. That was challenging, but not nearly as challenging as confronting what lies beneath an eating disorder.
Being honest with oneself is scary. Disordered eating doesn’t manifest for no reason. There are painful issues that reside beneath disordered eating behaviors, and confronting those issues are terrifying. Discussing my demons in totality and with honesty has and still remains the most difficult part of recovery.
How do you get through them? Hmm, lots of funny T.V. sitcoms, piano, encouraging people, and good music. Just kidding.
In addition to those things, trust and awareness help you endure these moments. An established awareness of the world around me was really helpful. Eating disorders are all-consuming and severely self-focused. Developing an awareness that there are things, people, and a life that existed outside of weight, shape, and my deepest issues was really helpful through those difficult times.
Trusting that the grass is greener on the other side is not easy, and seems extremely abstract, but it is true. The grass is so incredibly green. Sometimes it just takes a hike to get there and sitting through the anxiety to arrive at a better destination. But every step of the hike makes the grass a little greener; every bit of anxiety makes you appreciate the joys of life that much more.
Winners of Mara’s Book!
Thanks so much for everyone’s thoughtful comments on cultivating self-love. So the two winners of Mara’s beautiful e-book, Body Loving Homework, are: Amy & Miriam, who left the following comments:
Amy: “Today I will remind myself that I am not defined by the shape or size of my body. I am so much more than that.”
Miriam: “I’m cultivating self-love by writing (it’s my favorite thing to do), reading (my second-favorite), and cooking (it’s good for my body).“
I’ll be emailing you both with the e-book. Thanks, again!