Today, in the last part of our interview, author Shani Raviv shares more insights about her recovery from anorexia, including how critical it is to follow your meal plan.
Shani is the author of the award-winning book Being Ana: A Memoir of Anorexia Nervosa. In it, she writes about her 10-year struggle with anorexia, drugs, alcohol and exercise. She writes about trying to figure out exactly who she is — without anorexia, which had consumed her life for so long.
It’s amazing — and often difficult — to read the harrowing things Shani experienced. But it’s another powerful story — fortunately, one of very many — that reminds us that full recovery is possible, even after enduring countless dark moments.
It might not feel like it when you’re in the depths of your eating disorder, when you’re starting treatment or, some days, really at any point in your treatment.
But one step at a time, as you immerse yourself in your treatment, you’ll get better. Stories like Shani’s remind us that this is absolutely true.
I’m grateful to Shani for sharing her story (and really her heart) here on Weightless.
Q: What else helped you recover from your eating disorder?
A: It’s ironic that I forgot to mention this because this is the very cornerstone of recovery: A meal plan constructed by a nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders is crucial.
A meal plan is like a menu of food items that is specifically tailored to the individual’s necessary caloric intake to increase her weight and maintain a healthy weight.
This is the very first step in recovery, even before therapy, and without it recovery cannot progress. I touch on this in a previous answer where I mention that I have met many anorexics-in-recovery who are still “trying” to follow their meal plan.
There is no such thing as “trying” here. It reminds me of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) which is very absolute in their approach because if an alcoholic-in-recovery drinks (even one sip on only one day), it’s considered a relapse.
Similarly, I judge the criteria for recovery from Anorexia in an equally serious way. Following a meal plan means eating all your meals, all the calories, every day, no matter what.
That’s the true key to getting well because no person can function optimally with a starved mind. Neurological research shows ways in which the brain is gravely adversely affected by starvation and this is true whether or not it’s involuntary like in famine or self-afflicted like in eating disorders.
So, that’s the very concrete, tangible side of recovery that is like the blueprint for physical and mental health.
The more illusive side to recovery, which is far more personal, does not follow a plan of any sort and is guided only by one’s personal search for something greater than oneself ––a spiritual quest.
I know they emphasize this a lot in AA and I share the sense that without turning to something greater than oneself (it doesn’t have to be God nor religion) it just has to be meaningful, recovery can feel devoid of spirit.
I personally had a spiritual epiphany that awakened me instantly out of my “catatonic” numb anorexic state and made me realize there is a higher purpose, a universal divine, a satisfaction in a search for meaning.
What it did was allow me for the first time to feel gratitude for my body, my life. And slowly, I started to want more of this … spirit.
At this point I was also given a book by Herman Hesse titled “Siddhartha.” It’s the story of the Buddha and how he became enlightened. His journey resonated so strongly with my own and I realized I am not alone in my suffering. It was very comforting, for the first time to feel this. This is one of the main reasons I wrote my book. You are never alone.
Q: What do you do today that helps you sustain your full recovery?
A: I don’t feel I need to work to sustain my recovery because as I said in the previous answer to the previous question, I no longer consider myself in recovery. It’s been 12 years since I started recovery and I feel I’ve learnt enough in that time and grown enough for healthy habits and positive reinforcement to simply be a way of life now rather than a goal or a task.
It’s like when you practice something often enough that it becomes second nature. Living a healthy life is now second nature to me. I couldn’t imagine it being otherwise.
The person I was in my book feels like someone else to me now. The life I lived feels like someone else’s. I have written the book and hope that it reaches people and that it can help facilitate their recovery or their loved one’s recovery.
I guess having written it and having it to offer others helps me fulfill a sense of purpose, of contribution to society.
Being a mother, however, is the most fulfilling ‘job’ of all and this gives me the greatest purpose in my life and sustains me as a whole human being, especially as a woman.
Q: What insights have you taken away from your struggles and recovery?
A: That with enough will, support, hard work and time anything is possible, we can transform our own lives. We can turn all that immense negative energy into something positive to create a life we feel is worth living.
Having gone through all that it also made me a stronger person, knowing that I survived it and am more resilient because of it.
It also led me to turn to spirituality and to dedicate time to self-study and introspection, which is so often overlooked and denied in modern society where people are too busy earning money and climbing in their careers.
Q: What would you like family and friends to know about supporting a loved one with an eating disorder?
A: Give them time, show them love, don’t talk about calories or weight, remain neutral. Know that they are in pain otherwise they wouldn’t be self-destructing.
Have faith in them that things will change. Stand back and don’t judge. Don’t make them feel like their behavior is criminal. Never stop loving them for who they are. Separate the person from the dis-ease.
Let them know recovery is absolutely possible, real and within reach. Unfortunately, however, Anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric illness so not all sufferers survive. This is the sad reality of this disorder.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
A: A famous Rabbi Nachman once said, “If you believe you can spoil, then believe you can repair.” It’s the yin and the yang. The polarity. It’s what makes us human and it’s a motto that helped me recover.
However, there is no quick fix to recovering from Anorexia. It’s a commitment. It means dedicating an equal amount of time to healing and soul searching and delving into all the ugly stuff that got you sick in the first place.
It means using all that energy that went into starving and fighting to survive and surrender and let go and eat healthy and treat yourself with respect and dignity. It’s hard work and it’s painful and it’s frightening.
Yet not a day goes by that I am not grateful that I am on the other side. Everyone’s stuff is different, though, and some people have gone through immense pain in their lives such as incest or death in the family, which thankfully has not been my experience.
But it’s all relative. No two people experience even the same hurt in the same way. Although, on the other hand, pain is pain no matter what the cause. It’s about whether you are willing to tolerate the ugliness that emerges when you start healing––the shame, the fears, the loneliness, the betrayal, the dread––in order to move through it.
I’m a black and white person, which has and hasn’t served me. In this regard, though, it means that once I made up my mind to want to be well, there was no turning back.
It’s as though I suddenly flipped the switch and was on a new road, another tangent, yes the unknown, yes full of fear but also eager to know what this new life would hold.
I’ll sign off with a quote from Anais Nin that I used as the epigraph in the opening pages of my book, “The day came that the risk it took to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
That day for me came after nine years of living in Anorexia’s tight bud. It has taken another decade for me to blossom.
More About Shani Raviv:
Shani Raviv is a writer, writing teacher and author of the award-winning indie book being Ana: a memoir of anorexia nervosa. Shani worked as a freelance journalist/columnist in South Africa before moving to the U.S. where she now lives with her husband and son in the Bay Area. She is available to do readings/talks for being Ana. Please contact her through her website: www.shaniraviv.com