Pets are the best. Playful, sweet, cuddly, outdoor explorers. Sitting with my cavalier and petting her fur was like a relaxing meditation. As I withdrew into my eating disorder, my relationships changed with friends, family, and even my beloved family pet. My dog was often on the receiving end of my anorexia-driven behavior, and it hurt our connection.
First I used my dog as a convenient excuse for compulsive exercise. But our neighborhood strolls weren’t taxing enough to satisfy my anorexia, so I started leaving the dog at home in favor of long-winded cardio all alone.
Eating disorder signs can easily go undetected. Especially because behaviors around food and body thrive in secret. While my runs may have been paraded as a healthy habit, neglecting my own dog’s exercise needs was a subtle sign of my selfish eating disorder.
I even pushed my own obsessions about calories onto the dog’s diet, arguing with my brother at feeding times. Rightfully, my brother rolled his eyes and carried on feeding her the recommended serving.
Our dog stopped coming to me for treats, exercise, toys, or food. But her silence spoke volumes about how distant I had become towards everyone. My eating disorder left me hollow, unable to feel, show, receive or give love to anybody, including myself.
That didn’t bother me. I was in the anorexia high—an illusion that it alone created my worth. When in reality, my worth was within me all along, and it is that intangible worth that kept my family, friends, and even my dog anxiously waiting for me to see through the anorexia fog.
Recovery taught me to never take my pet, my sweet dog for granted. As my physical health improved, I came home from college to my dog leaping into my arms, licking my face all over. I laughed. A rarity during the worst years of my illness.
Reconnecting with my dog was one of those heightened, wonderful, and shocking emotional moments post numb eating disorder haze. Those of us in recovery know that early healing experience of vivid colors and feelings.
Honestly, I don’t know if my dog’s reaction to me was any different than usual, or if my emotions were waking up after the long fog. But my sweet dog was there, loving me, totally unconcerned about my wild early recovery bloat and big t-shirt phase.
Her behavior was the ultimate sign I was doing the right thing in healing. From there, I devoted extra time to belly rubs, of course. I also took over feeding her and found it remarkably cathartic to see her get excited about every meal. She always ate the same kibble, at the same time, tail wagging. She was a true food role model. Selfishly, it was wonderful for my healing to be responsible for feeding someone else. I felt no self-consciousness about my body or my eating when I was with her.
Ultimately, my dog was one of my most helpful and supportive recovery advocates. Her treats even made a good ice breaker for teaching my family about diet culture. The brand we bought had “guilt-free” printed on the label, which we all laughed about and agreed was ridiculous. Why would a pet feel guilty about its treats?
Caring for my dog on a regular basis, and then through her own health issues kept me committed to recovery. I’m grateful to her for the sweet simplicity of our emotional connection and unconditional love. Pets are wonderful, and they come with free hugs. To anyone going through recovery, grab your fur baby and hold them close. They are rooting for you, and they want you to keep going.