Freedom through Recovery
For 17 years, I did not believe that full recovery was possible. However, as I catch glimpses of it and gradually approach it, I have come to believe it is possible for everyone. For me, recovery is about freedom- freedom from the constant mind chatter, freedom from the compulsion to exercise, freedom from the mental calculator and the consequent self-evaluation followed by self-deprecation.
I am now 31, and my struggle with anorexia began when I was 12 and continued all throughout my adolescence and early 20s, at which point I chose to intensify my treatment. All throughout this (really until the past couple of years) I felt that I would never fully be free of this disorder despite weight restoration because I was tormented by ED thoughts regardless of weight. A couple of years ago, I reached a major milestone when I experienced eating freely, without planning it ahead of time and without constant thoughts. I was able to begin to listen to hunger signals. Intuitive eating came about through continual work with my dietitian and therapist, and it elicited an incredible sense of freedom-an inexplicable joy. However, I still continued to rigidly follow an exercise routine, and this eased my concerns surrounding food.
I recently completed my second marathon and was successful in training and fueling in a healthy way and meeting my time goal. The marathon was an accomplishment, and I am proud of it, but the greater accomplishment for me has been the post-race experience of letting go of the need to exercise compulsively. Going into this marathon, I planned that I would stop running as much afterward and would transition to the lower impact activities of yoga and swimming. In the past, the hardest part of a race was the tapering period prior to it and the break afterward. After every race I have ever done, I always felt anxious about reducing my exercise and determining how to compensate for it through reducing calories. For the first time ever, I have enjoyed an incredible sense of freedom and peace of mind following a race. I have taken days off and have done short swims and gone to yoga without constant worries of how I can fit in more exercise and what I should eliminate from my diet. I have chosen not to go running and still have had great days. This is shocking for me. It has actually been a lot easier than I imagined to let go. However, as my therapist, dietitian, and husband remind me, it is easy because of the years of work I have put in leading up to this. It is phenomenal to live without the chatter and anxiety about exercise and food.
I feel that I am approaching full recovery, and I can truly envision saying and feeling that I am fully recovered.
For the past 20 years, I could not remember or imagine life without my eating disorder. It felt so ingrained that it seemed it would always be there on my shoulder interjecting, albeit less frequently and more quietly as I went through recovery. Now I am experiencing a sense of inner peace that I never believed achievable. I write this to say that it is possible to recover regardless of how long or how intense the struggle has been. Recovery is excruciating at times and is long and up and down, but gradually the eating disorder fades in different areas of your life, and you experience bursts of freedom. You reach a sense of liberation that feels unimaginable, and then inexplicably you reach an even greater level of freedom. It gets better and better. What seemed impossible becomes your reality, and it is worth the fight.
Recovery is beautiful. It is spontaneity, freedom, joy, and love for yourself and others. It is presence and happiness. It is living your life to the fullest free of the mental chains that held you down. You feel truly alive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ERICA JOHNSTONE
My name is Erica Johnstone, and I live in Folsom, CA with my wonderful husband Tyler and our dog Oso. I have been in recovery from anorexia for over a decade. My own struggles propelled me to enter the field of psychotherapy. I graduated last Spring with a Masters in Counseling and am now an associate MFT working towards licensure. I work at a local high school providing individual and group therapy to students, and I love it. I hope to eventually work in private practice and specialize in eating disorders.