December 20th has been an important day in my recovery from the beginning. I started struggling with anorexia when I was 12 years old, after battling with low self esteem for years prior. After months of outpatient treatment with no progress, I was placed in a day treatment program for 4 months. I went into a hospital everyday for all my meals as well as accompanying therapy. I was able to regain weight in the restricted environment of a monitored program; however, I did not improve my mentality around eating and my body. After leaving that program, I promptly returned to my old ways of restricting; this time reaching the lowest point of my illness. As my first day of high school approached, I was not eating and barely even drinking water. This is when I was admitted into a pediatric ward, from which I was transferred to an inpatient program specifically directed at eating disorders. Again, I gained back the weight necessary, and though I did not address all of my disordered thinking, I had a more positive outlook by the time I was close to being discharged.
When December began, I had been living in the hospital for about three months and I could feel the weight of both my birthday and Christmas inching closer and closer. While I begged to be discharged before my 14th birthday, or even on that day, this didn’t happen. My psychiatrist believed it would be better to do it on a different day so that I wouldn’t associate my birthday with the hospital. Luckily, I was able to go on a pass over my birthday, so I was home, and just had to return to the hospital to go through the motions of official discharge. The day that was chosen was December 20th. This was the first time the date became a notable one in my life. It was the day I was finally going to get to go home and move forward with a life outside of the confines of a hospital ward.
The next year went relatively well; while I still struggled, I was maintaining my weight and tried not to indulge in my eating disorder behaviours. However, this didn’t last, and I slowly fell deeper and deeper into relapse. In grade 11, I found myself asking to go back to treatment because things were not going well and I knew it. This ultimately led to me being put into the most intensive treatment I’ve experienced for my eating disorder to date. I left my life at home in Canada, and was flown to Utah in the United States to a residential eating disorder program. I was there for 7 months with no ability to go home, even for a pass, due to insurance restrictions. I reached a healthy weight once more, and this time, I also improved my mental health. I changed from someone who went to treatment only to get out and fully engage in my eating disorder again, to someone who wanted recovery. I spent my 17th birthday in treatment, but it didn’t end up being as awful as I thought it would be, since the other girls made it special. I had progressed to a point where I was able to go home before Christmas, with December 20th being my discharge date once again. On December 20th, my mom arrived, not just to visit, but to take me back home to Canada with her. It was one of the happiest days of my life; I finally got to go home! And I was officially no longer sick, but in recovery. I was able to return to my life and actually learn how to live it.
One year after my discharge from residential treatment, I got this tattoo:
A lot of the time, I have people ask me what it means, and I generally just say that it’s personal. As I write this, I’m realizing I’ve never really explained it to many people other than my mom. So I’ll let you all in on my little secret, it means what it says: renewed. It’s a celebration of my recovery and my renewal. But you’re probably asking well why is there a dot in the middle? Well, the “ed” is separated by a dot because, as some of you may know, ED is the abbreviation for eating disorder. I felt it was subtle way to acknowledge, remember and honour my journey in recovery.
Today, it has been exactly 4 years since I left residential treatment, and I haven’t been in any form of treatment since. That’s not to say it’s been easy, because it hasn’t been at all. I still struggle with my anxiety, depression and eating disorder thoughts regularly, but I do my best to employ coping strategies to manage my moments of distress the best I can. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes I have to cancel plans because of my anxiety. Sometimes I stay in my room all day isolating myself because of my depression. Sometimes I stick to a safe food for a meal because anything else feels impossible. But, the point is, I don’t let these things stop me.
With my recent interest in fitness, it has definitely been hard to balance my nutrition and exercise – especially considering my mind has the tendency to be restrictive. About a month ago, I actually felt myself edging slowly into a relapse, and I was scared. I was scared because I didn’t want to stop it, I wanted it to happen. I didn’t take further action though, I pushed my thoughts aside and continued with the routine I had been maintaining so far in the school year. Luckily, that helped. I moved away from that relapse-focused mindset, and back to a recovery-focused one. It was hard, it was uncomfortable, and it still is. In no way have I found the perfect balance of exercise and nutrition, but I’m actively working on it. I’m doing my best, and this day serves as a reminder that I want my recovery anniversary to keep getting longer – I don’t want to derail it. I’m very excited for some time off from school this winter to regroup, relax and recharge going into 2018. And today, I’ll be celebrating, because 4 years in recovery is not something I should regret, or be embarrassed of, it’s something I should be incredibly proud of.