This is the quote that took my eating disorder’s plan of destroying me and my life and put a spotlight on what would become my saving grace. My ability to not only recover, but thrive.
Sickness grows in the dark.
When I finally accepted my treatment team’s recommendation to go to a more intense level of care for anorexia, I didn’t want anyone to know. I made up excuses and was vague with those around me. The shame of needing help grew with every lie, every avoidance.
I am a 9th grade teacher. In February, I knew I would be gone for the rest of the school year for treatment. I told my students I was taking a leave of absence, and that was it. You’d think that would be enough, right? Nope. The rumors quickly flew around the high school of 3,400 kids…
The students decided that I was getting plastic surgery. Bless them. They are kids- and it is human nature to want explanation.
I realized that it was not only curiosity that was fueling the rumors about me going off the grid; it was genuine concern. Well, with permission from my higher ups, I told my students the truth. I was going to an inpatient treatment center to recover from a debilitating eating disorder I’d struggled with for 16 years.
Not the answer that they had expected. Breast augmentation was much more fun to talk about. However, the freedom that confession brought me was the beginning of me allowing my ED to take a back seat to the truth – that eating disorders are a mental illness that need to be addressed. For many people, the shame and stigma of needing help to recover must be demolished.
Here’s the benefits of being open about your ED
1. Give up worrying about what people “think” is going on
Let’s be honest- regardless if it is 9th grade students, your best friend, or your boss, people are going to create their own perceptions on why you are MIA either physically or mentally during your time of healing.
I watched so many women stress and torture themselves over “people finding out” about them being in treatment or even having a disorder in the first place. One woman that suffered from debilitating anorexia sat in front of our group in tears and said, “My friends have no idea I struggle!” My heart broke for her.
ED tells us so many lies, and one of them is that we are fooling those around us… News flash!!!! We are not as sneaky as ED tells us we are.
I watched this same woman allow her best friend to come visit her a few weeks into treatment. The torture and torment that has wrecked her for years just melted away as she finally had the freedom to be who she was in that moment with one of the most important people in her life.
Recovering from an eating disorder requires a strong support system. Allowing those around you to know what you are going through gives them a chance to support and love you.
2. Allow friends and family to give you space to recover
Since people in my life knew what I was going through, they were sensitive to my need for space, privacy, and time to heal when I got home from treatment. Even my best friends and family were able to understand when I didn’t answer the phone. Or when didn’t go out to dinner with the crew, or stayed out of church for a bit after treatment.
I needed time and space, and because of my honesty, people gave me those two gifts with no questions asked.
Best of all, for my sensitive and venerable state of my physical need to gain weight- no one commented on my obvious body change in a shocked or negative way. I got a lot of “you look so good” (which was hard at first) and “I am proud of you” (which was always encouraging). If I had not be honest, I would have gotten many more comments about my (needed) weight gain.
3. Enable you to help others along the way
By being open, I have been able to help break the stigma connected with eating disorders. When I was at my worst, people looked up to my “healthy habits”. My clean eating, my exercise discipline, and my thin frame were all coveted and praised by society and peers alike.
Little did they know I was living a personal hell.
A hell painted in a corner of ritual, rules, and routine that was slowly killing me. By coming out of my superficial, untruthful bubble, I was able to fully advocate for all people who are trapped in the societal view of health. One of my favorite sayings is, “healthy is relative”.
Owning my struggle has allowed me to fully be free of the oppressive chains that my disorder held me in. I now can be me, the true me, and help others along the way.
That is one of the biggest blessings that accepting and embracing help and recovery has brought me.
4. Help you fully love yourself
It may sound wild, but giving up the shame of my need for help allowed me to fully love myself. I was able to devote my time to recovery, not the cover up. I was able to create the safe bubble I needed and have time to focus on healing.
Now I can share my story and allow a dark time in my life to help shine a light to others.
Being open in recovery allows your true self space to exist. The true self that is perfectly and wonderfully made. You are worth knowing.
Let your light shine through truth, Warrior!
I never leave comments but your story really spoke to me. I used to live in Atlanta and I struggled all through high school and just told people vague excuses when I had to leave multiple times for residential treatment. I am actually in treatment right now and it is hard that so many important people in my life don’t know. I am encouraged to tell them now.
Hope- I am so glad you are continuing to fight for your freedom from ED. I can only speak from my experience, but being open has allowed me to be proud of how far I have come, not feel ashamed of where I once was. Reach out anytime- and keep fighting!
This is an amazing story! I love the thought of sunshine being the best disinfectant. I also wonder how many students you may be helping when they hear your story.
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