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 Jenn Friedman, a woman in recovery
I want to talk.
I want to talk but I don’t know what to say. I want to say something that sounds purposeful but I don’t want to force it. I want to say something that sounds smart but I don’t want to fake it. I want to say something that will reach the people reading but I don’t know what, in this moment, you’d like to hear. I want to say the right thing, hit on the perfect elemental blend, and in doing so share a sacred space with you on this page. But I don’t know how, and I don’t know where to start, and I don’t know how to weave it all together. What I am looking at it is a blank space and I don’t know how to fill it.
I wanted to recover.
I wanted to recover but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to recover purposefully but I didn’t want to force it. I wanted to recover intelligently but I didn’t want to fake it. I wanted to recover in a way that would let me connect with people but I didn’t know how they would receive me. I wanted to recover the right way, hit on the perfect elemental blend, and in doing so share a sacred community with others in this world. But I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know where to start, and I didn’t know how to weave it all together. What I was looking at was a blank space and I didn’t know how to fill it.
Without meaning to, I spoke. Without meaning to, I started a conversation. Without meaning to, there are more words on this page, and they have meaning that I didn’t initially intend to assign them.
Now I know where this is going. Now I see a parallel that couldn’t have existed had I never started – unsure as I was. Now I see that my words have meaning, and inspire engagement, and shed light on the heart of a process. Now I can direct it, because I know that important material exists, I know that I created it, and I know I have the power to continue. I choose to go on speaking.
Without instructing it, recovery allowed me to speak. Without intending to, my voice started conversations. Without even meaning to, I allowed the initial tiny steps to define the beginnings of my recovery path.
Then I realized where recovery was taking me. I noticed parallels in my eating disorder-related fears and my life-related fears that never would have clicked had I not taken those steps, trapped as I’d felt. I saw that my steps had meaning, ignited engagement, and shed light on the heart of my recovery. I began to direct my recovery, because I knew my initial steps were building something and leading somewhere, and the stronger I became, the more empowered I felt to drive my recovery forward. I chose to go on eating.
I chose to go on talking.
I chose to begin living.
Recovery is a declaration that you make again, and again, and again. Every moment – however consciously or subconsciously, you make a declaration to yourself to fight for what you don’t even always trust is possible. You fight, not even knowing it’s in the cards. You choose life in every day, every breath, every action, every word, without even knowing where it’s all leading. You make seemingly isolated pieces of progress, only to realize later that each part was connecting to the next. You feel terrifying feelings only to see later how the experience of these feelings provided the gateway to your healing.
You kick down doors only to expose a broader perspective than you could’ve ever dreamt possible. And you sample what’s on the other side because the part of you that wants to live cannot resist, persistent as the eating disorder might be. And you go back inside because it’s all just too much. But you don’t stay. Maybe you waver, maybe you sample, maybe you explore, maybe your knees buckle and shake, maybe you test out the air, maybe you dive in and scuffle back. But you continue to choose the way forward because 1) you’ve worked your way there, 2) you know there is SOMETHING, and 3) your hope exceeds your fear significantly enough to make it worth your while.
And when there, you realize that the beauty of life lies within its imperfections – not knowing how to start this piece and not being afraid to share that; not even really knowing how it’s going to end and typing on anyway. You find yourself in your imperfections. You grow in ways even the eating disorder couldn’t measure, and you do so without shame, constraint, or condition.
You do silly things and laugh at yourself. You smile with your friends over food that is neither here nor there. If the food is delicious, it is delicious with no strings attached. You go to the grocery store to make sure you have food in your house because it’s just what you do. You’ll be relieved to get your appetite back after a bout with the flu. You realize you are hungry and eat and it is a non-issue. You have nights out and laugh and love. You do what YOU want to do – not what the eating disorder would have you do. You have life adventures of great and tiny proportions. You find joy.
You have really crappy days. You feel confused, upset, insecure, scared, frustrated, infuriated, sad. “Isn’t it great,” you sarcastically say, “that recovery has granted me freedom to experience all this crap?”
But experiencing these feelings directly provides a gateway to truly and humbly and fully living – guided by your heart rather than an unwell brain, guided by your truth rather than the eating disorder’s dissociated, disjointed, and deceiving version of truth. Because the eating disorder isn’t your truth – it’s your mask. The kind of mask that was assembled with plaster and stuck to your face in the making. You’d think it was practically merged with your face because it takes its shape and hardens to form-fit its very contours. And when you try to take it off, it hurts and itches and you have to peel off pieces of plaster sticking to your skin, and when you finally get it all off, you’re red and raw.
That kind of mask.
That kind of truth.
And when you experience the negative feelings – because you are in recovery and are therefore, free, you are free to channel those feelings however you want! You are free to DIRECT and in turn TRANSFORM those feelings – honestly, with soul.
This is how I recovered. I took the reins on those feelings, sat with them, loved on them, learned from them, and transformed them in time, fully trusting to see them again. And when I do, I greet them, and sometimes I even try to thank them – because without them, I wouldn’t know the joy revealed by contrast.
The beauty of recovery is that it is whole. You can’t have only the “heads” part of a coin. “Heads” and “tails” are what make a coin a coin. Positive and negative feels are what make life life, and experiencing them fully is what makes life worth fully living.
You don’t have to know how to begin, but you can allow others to show you. You don’t have to know how to continue, but you can learn, and you can practice. You don’t have to strive for perfection, as this would be undoing the very nature of recovery.
You don’t have to know what to say, but say something. Say something because you’re there. Say something because your worth is worth asserting in this space. Say something because your voice is more powerful than you even know. Say something because you will be witnessed and understood by someone. Say something because there is a sentence, a paragraph, a book, a life in there depending on your verses to realize its true form.
Jenn Friedman will speak at our February Recovery Night in St. Paul, MN. She is a musician, author, and eating disorder recovery advocate who shares her messages of hope and healing through performing, reading, and speaking. Her book, Eating Disorders on the Wire: Music and Metaphor as Pathways to Recovery (H.T.F.K. Press), explores her own recovery process through metaphor while the accompanying album, On the Wire (Personal Bias Records), explores her recovery through music. You can learn more about Jenn here.