Walk the Path, Embrace the Journey

At some point during my anorexic years, I had a moment of clarity when I decided to make an appointment with the campus health clinic. This was a huge step for me – a temporary pause in the dysfunction that had become my life. I recognized that I had a serious problem – the evidence was becoming undeniable. I was well on my way to losing 1/3 of my body weight and had become amenorrheic. I had unusual aches and pains and intestinal distress. I exercised obsessively, ate sporadically (mostly pseudo-foods void of any nutrition), carefully cultivated compulsive habits, and avoided any meaningful social interactions in fear that my “weirdness” would be found out.

 

I vaguely remember the doctor that met with me. She was a petite woman with short brown hair, and I recall her being kind and attentive. I didn’t tell her much about the behaviors I’d been perfecting, but told her I was feeling a little stressed out and had lost some weight and could she please prescribe something to get my cycle started again. She gave me a pamphlet about counseling services available to students, but though I accepted it, I knew that was not a route I was prepared to take. I was okay with needing some medical intervention (easy enough to explain to my parents when the bill reached them…”I got sick…”), but sadly my stubborn pride would not consider therapeutic care as a viable option. That was far too vulnerable, way too much to try to explain. And more than that, it was one more step. I decided I preferred more of the same over risking the unknown. Before leaving, I told her I wasn’t sure how to gain some weight back. I still remember her recommendation: “Just have a milk shake before bed every night.”

 

JUST.

 

Sometimes I hate that word. It implies this thing is so easy, so obvious – why haven’t you done this already? Counseling was not really part of her training, and she was offering a somewhat sensible answer to my inquiry – at least from a conventional medical point of view. But it wasn’t what I needed. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to gain weight. The problem was that I didn’t know how to work through the psychological mess and allow myself to do it. I dismissed her advice immediately and went on my way with a prescription in hand. It was the first and last time I sought any kind of professional help for my eating disorders.

 

When I think back to that day, and that advice, I feel a sense of empathy with people who have identified their own health struggle, have taken that HUGE step to get some assistance, and leave an office, a clinic, even a friend’s home feeling even more bewildered and discouraged than before they sought the help. Recovery can be such a long, exhausting process, and when you expend precious time, energy, and bravery trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps only to be misinformed or poorly advised, it can be enough to call it quits. Well-meaning people offer simplistic answers and tidy plans of action. But a paradigm shift is neither simple nor tidy. Quite the opposite, really – it is complex and very, very messy. However, it is not impossible.

 

If you know (that you know that you know) that it’s time for a change in your eating, exercise, or other lifestyle behaviors, I need to tell you up front that there is some hard work ahead. There is no short cut or easy button. But as someone who has walked, and continues to walk this road to recovery (recovery of my good life), I can tell you that the time and effort, sweat and tears…all of it is worth it. Because YOU ARE WORTH IT. Your story matters. Your struggles matter. And your transformation matters.