This is one person's story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
By Carla Bellino, a former The Emily Program client and woman in recovery.
I am now 23 years old. I’m graduating in December from Baldwin Wallace University with my bachelor’s degree in psychology. But what if I told you that I don’t really have concrete plans after I graduate? I certainly have an end goal in mind, and I know what I want my career to be. But I’m not entirely sure what the road looks like to get there. The thing is, I stopped making concrete plans a while ago because I’ve learned that they rarely work out the way you think they will.
I probably stopped planning every detail of my life the day I went to the doctor and was immediately hospitalized for malnourishment. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I had to drop school and drop work and dedicate my life to treatment. How do you plan for that? You don’t. It just happens, and you’re forced to adjust.
I was about to enroll as a junior at Cleveland State University and I had been working part time for 3 years. I had to immediately drop the classes I was signed up for and take a medical leave from work. From then on, my life was devoted to treatment, which was the darkest time in my life. I kept journals, and when I go back to read them, I’m in disbelief over the person I used to be. I was so depressed and negative all the time. I didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t know who I wanted to be. I didn’t think I deserved good things and happiness…at least, that’s what my eating disorder told me.
I spent two months in residential treatment trying to discover the person inside of this eating disorder. I also worked hard to separate my eating disordered thoughts from my real thoughts in order to give myself a separate identity from my eating disorder. A lot of time went by as I focused on bettering myself. In small doses, I chose to step back into the real world. During outpatient treatment, I started to socialize more and go out with friends more, which led to me decide to go back to work so I would have spending money and another distracting time-killer. More time went by as I progressed even more and finally graduated from treatment.
I then decided to dip my toes back into school. I scheduled 2 classes at Tri-C to finish my associate’s degree, having absolutely no idea what I would do with it or where I would go from there. I just knew that I wanted to get back to school, and so I did. Midway through the semester, Baldwin Wallace made a visit at Tri-C and I just so happened to stop and talk with one of the staff members there. I became extremely intrigued with their psychology program, but I never thought it was possible for me to be able to enroll there. I knew it was expensive, and I didn’t think I had what it took. I didn’t let those obstacles stop me, though. After touring the school, something made me feel extra inspired, motivated, and determined. I knew I belonged there. Now, I’m finally a senior. I finally feel worthy of good things. I finally know who I am.
In the past 2 years of my life, almost every decision I made was because it was right in the moment. That’s not to say every decision I’ve made in the past 2 years have been good ones. It’s still hard; that’s life. But now, I just have “ideas” for the future. I genuinely know what I want, but I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to get there. I just keep myself in check by remaining motivated and inspired and keeping myself in an environment that pushes and challenges me so that I keep striving ahead. This way, even if I’m not sure where I’m going, at least I know I’m going forward. I try not to look too far back or too far ahead, I just live in the moment. This is one of the very many lessons I’ve learned along my journey: don’t stress out about making plans for the future.