“So many pictures of you smiling on Facebook!”
“You seem so happy.”
I remember hearing these comments in the spring of 2015—so different from the comments I heard in the spring of 2012 about my physical weight gain (all made with the right intentions, but not quite helpful in eating disorder recovery).
The comments about my happiness–my smile–made me feel that friends and family were noticing who I was as a person, rather than my appearance, and that what I was doing through eating disorder recovery was working (and showing!).
Eating disorder recovery was a feeling, not a body size.
I recall how I felt that controlling food and running fast would make me the happiest I could ever be. So when these two identities/modes of happiness were taken away, I felt my world had crumbled. I didn’t know I could find something better–or that focusing on one sole identity wasn’t the answer to my overall (core) happiness.
One person at an eating disorder support group talked about how our eating disorders are a way to avoid something else in life. If we stay sick, we don’t have to live with the part of life we are avoiding. For me, if I stayed sick, I wouldn’t have to be “just Rachael.” I felt running fast and “controlling” of food would speak for me. I look back to my days in middle school when everyone knew me because I was a fast runner. It was my chance to shine, to make a mark, for others to acknowledge that I worked hard and achieved great things.
I held onto that.
It’s not a specific person or event that has made me feel the “core happiness” I often talk about today. And I say “core,” because it’s a happiness that resides deep within, even if I am sad about outside circumstances and life’s difficulties. It’s due to the strong relationship I have developed with myself through my trials and errors, the mistakes and failures, and what has come out of those experiences: growth and pride in myself for taking the chance even when I was afraid.
I took myself on many adventures as I recovered–embarking on little road trips or trying a job that scared me (plenty of mistakes to make and deal with). But I saw how that discomfort led me to so much happiness later.
It was a new kind of achievement; not something focused on numbers and obsession, but on trying something that scared me, trying something new, finding happiness in the effort rather than the outcome.
Eating disorder recovery is not easy, and I don’t pretend that it is. I acknowledge the struggle to deal with feelings of discomfort, grief, and the fear of the unknown. But if there’s one thing I took away from my own experience to give you hope in your recovery journey, it’s that finding your core happiness–happiness in who you are as a person through the experiences that are challenging and where you have to muster the bravery (which is not the absence of fear, but taking on something in spite of the fear), can help you see the most resilient, strongest part of yourself, and perhaps leave you with a new sense of pride.
For me, it finally didn’t have anything to do with eating or running. It has everything to do with the full you you may not have met yet.