06/25/2010 02:43 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Birthday to Remember: Beating Eating and Exercise Disorders

"It was really hard for me. Although I liked the fact that I was losing weight, I hated who I was. I thought that by losing weight, the weight signified the bad experiences and emotional hurts in my life and I could exchange that with artificial good things instead: my physical appearance, attention, expectations, approval, achievements, etc." -- Three years of my eating disordered thinking.

Birthdays tend to leave me thinking about life's progress; where I've been, where I'm going and (even though I hate to admit it) what I feel I should have done differently along the way. Remember, the "should have's, would have's and could have's" are always a waste of time.
Just as eating/exercise disorder victims focus on the mirror as a measure of worth -- "If I weigh this much or have this much muscle, then I'll be able to accomplish x,y and z" -- we, as a society, focus on our life stages, too. Early twenties? We should be out having the greatest time of our lives. Late twenties? We should be settling down. Early thirties? We should have it all figured out. Forty? Fifty? Sixty? I'm sure there are milestones here, too; I'm just not ready to think about them, yet. I'm taking this operation day by day, dude.

It's true that I use my birthday to measure my life out. I mean, it's almost too convenient not to do so. But as much as the thoughts are there this year, I have somewhat of a confession to make: I don't know if I'm where I want to be. But a year ago, things were drastically different and I couldn't have imagined the changes that have taken place in my life.

So, I've added in a "new" birthday of sorts this year. This birthday, in late June, is a milestone beyond comprehension. There are a number of reasons why I'm completely stoked about this day in particular. Most of it boils down to the fact that I can mark the day when I decided to live authentically and to set aside a lot of the denial and depression, and start facing the pain buried down so deep.

However, that doesn't mean that I can just set aside some of the realities that I've faced. This year, the reality that brings the biggest smile to my face, is this: this will be the first birthday in four years since an exercise/eating disorder behavior was not, in some way, stealing joy from my life. I may be stressed to near limits and still have lapses from time to time, but I definitely am "in recovery" this year and think it's incredibly worth hanging on to.

I've heard it said that not living with regret is one of the best presents you can give yourself. I feel that statement can include birthday presents, too. I believe the Lord always provides you with choices in life -- either choose to stay stuck in your circumstances or reach out and focus on what opportunities lie ahead. There's always a road ahead of you and both healing and recovery can be its pavement. Go forward with a smile, perseverance and never, ever turn back.

I've been at work these past few weeks and I've had several projects waiting to be completed on my desk. "Ring, ring," it's perfectionism calling. Everything has to be done right, ahead of schedule and completely, 100 percent error-free. With a big sigh, I said to myself "I need a break, I've been working hard and this inane thought process is making me crazy." I realized my eating disorder has been trying to pull me down and visions of my recovery journey instantly come into play.

When I began the recovery process 10 months ago, I was working so hard. I was going to my appointments, eating my meal plan, working through feelings, practicing my recovery tools, going to social events and much more. It was (and still is) exhausting. I was (and am at times) tired and felt (feel) overworked by the sometimes "snail's pace" recovery process. Recovery seems so hard and, more often than not, I feel like being "recovered" is out of the question and being "in recovery" is where I'm meant to stay. It seems much easier to go back to old ways of thinking so I can allow myself that false "comfort zone."

What I have to remember is that staying with my eating disorder does not bring peace to any portion of my life. Needless to say, after four long, painstaking, reoccurring and unrelenting disordered years of ill-thoughts we need to remember: If we find ourselves tired from following recovery, no matter how much it hurts, we cannot take breaks; we must work harder and push through. Taking a break and choosing old behaviors, even once, won't ease our pain or be "good enough." "Slips" keep us in our eating disorder's grip and hold us back from true potential. Our true potential is always clouded by our eating disorders. We must separate ourselves from those thought processes and most importantly, become stronger than our eating disorder.

There are no breaks in choosing our life and we must always press on. Feelings can come up when we least expect them, that's life. Acknowledge those life experiences, accept them and then do your best to let go. Don't use various life occurrences as an excuse not to care for yourself. Continue to follow your recovery and practice self care. Doing so will give us strength and confidence. I thank God and recovery for allowing (and pushing) me to face painful guilt, shame and fear of other people's thoughts, and work through them. Even though we have been sick, recovery allows us to see how great our personalities are, what great family members we are and how we contribute so much more to life than our physical presence. Follow your recovery; it will never let you down!

I can't help but smile when I think of the number 24 today. I know I will be filled with so much gratitude for all of the blessings in my life, even when struggles surface. I'll look around at my family, take that moment with them and own what being "in recovery" has offered to my life. There I'll be, with my two year-old nephew, enjoying another milestone in my life without anxiety. Cake covered faces, "cheesy" smiles and memories I'll take with me. It'll be wholesome happiness I'll never forget.

For those of us who've experienced, or are experiencing struggles, remember this phrase:
"Eating disorders always take and the choice of recovery always gives."