Core Happiness in Eating Disorder Recovery

“Hey Smiley!”

“So many pictures of you smiling on Facebook!”

“You seem so happy.”

I remember hearing these comments in the spring of 2015. They were different from the comments I heard in the spring of 2012 about my physical weight gain (comments made with the right intentions, but not 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 or running performances, and that what I was doing through eating disorder recovery was working (and showing!).

Eating disorder recovery was a feeling, not a body size.

One Happiness?

I recall how I felt that controlling food and running fast would make me the happiest I could ever be. So when these two main sources of happiness were taken away, I felt like my world had crumbled. I didn’t know I could find something better, or that focusing on one main source of happiness 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 any semblance of popularity came from how fast I could run. It was my chance to shine and for others to acknowledge that I worked hard and achieved great things.

I held onto that.

Core Happiness

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 mistakes and failures, and realizing I can handle them. And from those experiences, I’ve experienced growth and pride in myself for taking chances even when I was afraid.

I took myself on many adventures as I recovered. It started with little road trips or trying a job that scared me. I didn’t realize how much running and focusing on food seemed to stunt my growth (physically and mentally!). Exploring experiences outside of my comfort zone was a new kind of achievement. It wasn’t about focusing on numbers. It was about trying something that scared me, trying something new, and finding happiness in the effort rather than the outcome.

Eating disorder recovery is not easy. It’s a struggle to deal with feelings of discomfort, grief, and the fear of the unknown. And if we are lacking adequate mental health resources, it makes this journey even tougher. But if there’s one thing I took away from my experience to give you hope in your recovery journey, it’s how valuable it is to find core happiness. As I worked with a therapist and dietitian, I started taking steps toward trying new challenging experiences. I had to muster the bravery (which is not the absence of fear, but taking on something in spite of the fear) to help me see the most resilient, strongest part of myself. When I saw that, I realized I could rely on ME. Perhaps this can leave you with a new sense of pride, too.