I left treatment with my boxing gloves on. I had worked so hard to get to the place where I could function in the world without an eating disorder. Every fiber of my being and my whole way of thinking changed while in treatment. But when I reintroduced myself to the world, it hadn’t changed. Not one bit.
I was shocked. Everyone I spoke to seemed to bring up food, body, and weight dissatisfaction. I was enraged. I couldn’t even walk down the street without being triggered by a passerby’s conversation or an unrealistic advertisement.
This new awareness of how weight and appearance centered our society is made me sad. Shutting out this constant noise from the world was going to take work.
For those of us who have had the privilege of formal treatment of any kind, re-introducing yourself to the outside world is a challenge. You’ve just learned so much about yourself, your feelings, and your demons in intense therapy and group sessions. It becomes hard to remember that not everyone has had the emotional work and training you have.
When I first left treatment, I remember diagnosing EVERYONE I came in contact with… “Oh my gosh, she definitely has anorexia.” “She is disordered for sure; look how she eats her food!” “He will never admit it, but I KNOW that he is struggling with an eating disorder.”
Somehow, my egotistical side felt superior to those around me. My emotional maturity had been heightened due to eight months of intense treatment, yet that ego was rooted in fear… Let me explain.
If you have ever held a new-to-the-world baby and petted its sweet head, you may have noticed a soft spot on the top of their skull. This is the place that their bones have not yet fully fused together yet. A person who is newly introduced to society after receiving treatment can be compared to this vulnerable newborn.
Our brains are exposed. Our weaknesses are visible. And our hearts are unsure. All these factors leave us susceptible to feeling attacked, alone, or scared. It’s not that we are seeking out ridiculing others, weʻre just trying to protect the soft spot thatʻs been uncovered and exposed during our recovery journey.
The good news is, this soft spot heals. We can slowly but surely feel secure and protected in our own body and mind no matter what is going on around us. It just takes time.
“Does she look sick to you?”
I recently had a fellow warrior that is new to recovery text me a picture of a distant family member with the caption, “Does she look sick to you?”
I had to smile.
Just like her, I remember analyzing everyone in my path to justify my feelings of insecurity and uneasiness in my new body and lifestyle. But doing this only exhausted and isolated me. My response when I came right out of recovery would have been, “Oh heck yes! Sheʻs certainly struggling with anorexia.”
But now that my soft spot is 99% closed, I replied with, “She looks unbalanced. Aren’t you thankful to be regaining balance in your own life?” Do you see that mindset change?
To the one…
Now, I want to speak to two different groups of people:
First, to the friends and loved ones of those who are newly healing from an eating disorder:
Have patience. Weʻre on the defense because weʻre trying to learn boundaries, heal open wounds, and live and thrive in a world not meant for those who suffer from an eating disorder. Give us time.
We may need space. We may need comfort. And we probably need a lot of love. But the fact of the matter is that we have just been through hell – and survived. We don’t mean to burn you, but the fire in us is so hot, it is hard to stop the flames coming from within.
Second, to the ones with healing soft spots:
It is okay to feel exposed and insecure in your recovery process. It is normal and it will pass.
For the time being, safeguard your life. Unfollow people on social media who trigger you – even if theyʻre family. Allow yourself time to heal and build up immunity to the world before you dive head first into your old social scenes.
Remember, not everyone has an eating disorder. And even if they do, that life is not for you anymore. Stay strong in all that you’ve learned. Know that slips are inevitable, so keep in contact with your team.
And never be afraid to ask for help. There’s no timeline for any part of your recovery. Just keep fighting, warrior.