Eating Disorder Recovery: Why You Have to Do it For Yourself


“I can’t! I can’t do it!” I cry out as I reactively cover my ‘ugly cry’ face with my hands. I’m in treatment, again and I’m sitting across my primary therapist and dietician at dinner. Trying to eat restaurant night with two eating disorder professionals is hard enough, but when they are also confronting me, or rather, my negative beliefs about myself, anxiety kicks in big time. Seemingly to read my mind, my therapist tells me, “Jean, you need to do this for yourself. You can do this. Take can’t out of your vocabulary.” But, all I can focus on is the shame that brings within me. In my head, I hear, “you’re not enough. Look how pathetic you are that people have to tell you such childish things like ‘you’re enough and that you can…can do what?’ You’re a loser. Don’t they know that!! They are just validating the pathetic thing you are.” I cry harder. On some level, I know they care and that they are trying to help, but against that enormous demon in my head, their comfort feels so far away.  

My dietician encourages the healthy part of me with “I don’t want to hear CAN’T. You CAN. You CAN do this. Just do it.” But, I think, you don’t understand. Neither one of you really understands that I don’t deserve recovery. And, if I don’t believe I deserve recovery, then I really CAN’T do it. She softly, gently, but firmly reminds me, the REAL ME, that I have to do it for myself. My anxiety skyrockets. What does that even mean?! Don’t you know that it’s ME that doesn’t matter? I don’t MATTER! My eating disorder is what matters. Don’t you get that?! Do it for myself? Who is that anyway? If I don’t have an identity except through my struggle with my eating disorder, how the hell am I supposed to do that?

I could admit, at least, that I wanted more than my eating disorder. I WANTED. What a strange concept for my disordered mind. To WANT. TO WANT MORE. But HOW….Maybe with a wish. A wish for what I want.

There’s a new song out by the Goo Goo Dolls ‘So Alive’. It goes “You can make it on a wish if you want to. You can make it on a wish if you want to. But, you can’t ever live if you’re so afraid to die.”

Time, healing and a LOT of work have turned that wish into learning that it’s ok for me to WANT. That it’s ok to WANT recovery and most important I WANT recovery…here we go…wait for it….just for MYSELF!!!! It’s MORE than OK, it’s necessary.  

No one else can do it for me and ultimately, I cannot do it for anyone else.

I have to do it for myself. I have to do it for the little girl inside me. She needs ME to be there for her. She needs to know that I’ll listen to her and she can trust me to do what’s best for her.

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Today, I listened to my little Jeanie, not my therapist, not my dietician, and most certainly not the “I CANT’S” from the eating disorder. I listened to her and her only. Little Jeanie wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with goldfish crackers, raisins, and juice for lunch. So, guess what—I gave it to her. Just as any good mother would. Little Jeanie knows what she wants. She is trusting me and I don’t want to let her down. I need her too. She is my life force, my intuition– my inner child. We are working together now. She needs to know that I will take care of her so that she feels safe being the silly, creative, loving little Jeanie she is. And, I get to enjoy her too. From “I can’t” to “I can” to “I AM” doing IT for myself.

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  1. says: Marie

    These struggles reminded me so much of my own during anorexia. About the struggle against yourself, as defined by the eating disorder. About not knowing who you might be without it. Thankfully, after much time and slowly changing my mindset, I was able to shift that negative, limiting thinking and came to BELIEVE that I wanted to get better and believed that I could get better, too. Thank you for sharing this <3

  2. says: Ingrid Middleton

    Yes.. As someone in my 40’s I so get this! Beautifully put. For those of us who are therapists and still working on recovery- hearing that there’s no timetable is a godsend… Thank you!

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