Anyone who has been through the eating disorder recovery process will tell you it is not easy. Eating Disorders (EDs) are complex bio-psycho-social illnesses and, as such, the treatment and recovery process can often be more difficult than anticipated. It’s not uncommon for struggling individuals (and their support people) to hold on to a wish that removing one specific trigger will offer a quick fix or a shortcut to recovery. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand for ED recovery. Changes to daily routines, altering hobbies or taking time off from triggering activities are sometimes part of the recovery process but these things must be accompanied by additional hard work, specialized therapy and a deeper understanding of oneself and the role that the ED plays in ones life.
When author and recovery advocate Johanna S. Kandel was speaking here at CED in February 2011, she talked about this struggle as it related to her own ballet career and her identity as a dancer. Now recovered after 10 years of struggling with periods of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, Johanna remembers thinking that removing ballet from her life would also remove the ED.
In the clip, Johanna shares so bravely about a story which so many others can relate to – being in a very scary place for a long time, feeling like there isn’t much to cling to other than the ED. The longer one identifies solely with their ED, the harder it can be to envision oneself without it. Fortunately, while there is no magic wand, there are skilled treatment professionals, evidence-based therapies, ongoing support groups and various treatment options for those who are struggling with all types of eating disorders. It is never too late to hope. It is never too late to seek treatment and to begin the journey to recovery.
Do you find yourself hoping one change will erase the ED from your life? Does it prevent or delay you from seeking meaningful help? If you find yourself feeling like your eating disorder is your only identify, try this exercise: Draw a picture of a sun with many different rays of light coming out. On each ray, write down an important role that you play in life or important elements of who you are. For example:
Daughter, College Student, Nanny/Babysitter, aspiring Writer, Employee, Colleague, Tutor, Sister…
Brother, Friend, Fiance, Son, Employee, Hospital Volunteer, Uncle, Artist, Band Member, Pet Owner…
Early on in recovery, the eating disorder may have an important place around your sun as well. As Johanna mentioned in the clip, it can often feel like the ED becomes your only identity. Reminding yourself that you are so much more than your ED can help to make it a little bit easier to loosen your grip on the ED. Gradually, through treatment, the ED becomes a less important part of who you are, and you can spend more time focusing on the true rays of light in your life.
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This was the second of several recovery blogs inspired by the February 2011 presentation by Johanna Kandel at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Follow CED on Facebook to stay tuned as we continue to post additional recovery-focused blogs and video clips . Johanna shares more about her own recovery journey in her highly influential book, Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder, and continues to support others through her role as the Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, a non-profit organization based in Florida. You can learn more about Johanna and her incredible book in these previous blogs as well: