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 Clare Louise Harmon. Clare is the author of The Thingbody (Instar Books, 2015) and If Wishes Were Horses the Poor Would Ride (Finishing Line Press, 2016). She currently lives in New Orleans with her rescue dog, Tink.
It’s been a minute since I’ve written for The Emily Program so allow me a sentence or two to introduce myself. Hi, I’m Clare. I’m a poet (largely) and playwright (trying to be) and make my daily bread as a grant writer in New Orleans. I spent a year at The Emily Program in IOP, IDP, and various groups before I moved to Louisiana in 2013. I am 30 years old and hold an MFA in Creative Writing; I am a rape survivor, fiercely dedicated to my recovery, and excited to share my story. Hi. Nice to meet you.
The opportunity to write for you all (y’all in New Orleans speak) again arrived at the perfect time.
In the three years since I left The Emily Program, I advocated for recovery as a skill-based practice; a state-of-being that lives in praxis more than thought. Eat 100% of your meal plan; exercise within limits agreed upon by your doctors and dietician; avoid body-checking behavior. The list goes on. “Don’t think, do.” When I first moved to New Orleans, I focused on action, trusting that belief would follow in its wake. And until recently, I truly thought this was the recovery endgame: belief the organic fruition of action. I, somewhat arrogantly, believed I was “cured,” that the constant body-shaming, self-hating chatter in my head would abate naturally. I believed that the work of recovery ended when “acute” became “functional” and PTSD symptoms came and when once or twice a month.
This of course, is not to discount the skill-based work I did, that we all must do, as one of the first steps in recovery. My experience tells me that one cannot believe recovery before physically embodying it. Nonetheless, I write to you today as a symbolic renewal of my recovery practice and as a reminder that we all can recover, fully, deeply. I write to you as a reminder that recovery is an ongoing process available to anyone who desires access to it and that it is okay to ask for extra help when you need it.
Two weeks ago, my new therapist (the first I had seen on a regular basis since leaving The Emily Program) suggested that my action-based recovery could be fortified. I balked and recited a litany of personal and professional accomplishments. “If my eating disorder was still at severity level [X], then how could I have accomplished [Y]?” The remaining minutes of the hour were spent in contention. I refused to believe that a more whole recovery was available to me. More than this, I refused to believe that it was necessary.
I left my session indignant. I cancelled all my upcoming appointments, walked two blocks to my favorite café, ordered lunch, and considered the if/then words that had recently tumbled from my lips. I spent the next week considering whether or not to reschedule my appointments and go back. But it didn’t take long for me to recognize my error. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it one thousand times, Recovery is a process. Shortly after this realization, I got back on my therapist’s schedule and have been going ever since.
Look, I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I’m good at a job I love, that I’m one half of a functional and loving relationship, that I can go to my favorite café, order lunch, and think nothing of it. But I am also learning that, while these things are beautiful, they are just the beginning of life in recovery, a life I know is filled with an infinite richness.
When I say that the opportunity to write to you all came at the perfect time, I’m dead serious. Only days after rescheduling my appointments, I was asked to share this space again. To put it simply, because I’ve already exceeded my recommended word count, I’ll just say the following. I’m totally thrilled to be here once more—safe, held, supported—and I look forward to sharing my “Recovery 2.0” with you. A reminder that we all can and deserve to be well.