"Nobody gets to live life backward. Look ahead, that is where your future lies."
Current and tragic events in our society have recently catapulted a campaign to fight stigma and stereotypes in reference to hate crimes against the gay community. While I frequently encourage my audiences to hold true to their opinions and assert their right to express them, anywhere, anytime they wish, I directly point out how that opinion doesn't validate any personal agenda to hinder someone's life experience because that person's views may differ from their own.
If there is anything that I take from this current movement, it is the ability to make a similar statement, just to a very different audience: eating/exercise disorder sufferers, body image strugglers and family members of victims, it does, in fact, get better.
Contrary to the grim messages that are perpetuated by eating disorder statistics, messages and unfortunate stories, you can absolutely turn your life around. In fact, I feel that most accounts of recovery are brushed aside in a society that worships negative headlines, juicy gossip and the idolization of the "perfect" person.
It's interesting to me how stigmas and false beliefs surrounding eating disorders, body image, gay issues, self-esteem and mental illness are all so similar. People are often ashamed, hurt and afraid of being labeled "the eating disorder person," "the person with a mental illness," "the gay guy/girl," or simply "crazy." It's barriers like these that really keep individuals stuck in the state of fear, less likely to move towards a more healing way of thinking.
Personally, realizing tat each day is a victory, in some sense, and holding to the smallest of victories, is an obvious barrier. I had the opportunity to speak to nearly 400 students recently, and although I feel that I'm still struggling with a mixture of issues, even on that day, I couldn't help but notice the look and tears in a particular girl's eyes. Now, I'm unsure if the cause was something I said, a personal realization for her or something else. Regardless, it reminded me that even the smallest of victories, accomplishments or successes can bring about some of the largest joys, motivations and opportunities for change in our lives.
Think about it: for the last 13 months (four years, actually), I never knew I'd be able to look forward to a meal or time with other people. I never knew that I'd be able to exercise without being compulsive or even being able to chew certain brands of gum. Sounds silly, right? Well, patience has been pivotal to that, and patience has never been my virtue.
The waiting game in recovery has been the worst part in my "journey back." The waiting and not knowing if my life would get better has been incredibly hard. During my six months of residential treatment, I still think about "the day" I noticed that recovery had started to root itself and I made the decision to get better. Not so fast, Troy. The truth is, there wasn't and has never been a defining "day" that I know things are better. There is a point at which recovery becomes a choice, knowledge of your enemy and choosing to not back down. It's something I have to tell myself over and over and over again. Recovery is terrifying, and at one point I had been so beat-up by the eating disorder mentality that I didn't think I would make it through.
However, I have since arrived at a "day" where I've realized recovery was almost a default. Eating wasn't daunting; it wasn't an effort to drag myself out of the gym. My life was mine and mine alone and I had a life that truthfully had nothing to do with my eating disorder. It has taken a long time for me to realize that this "getting better" isn't going away, and even though I find it difficult to accept that I'm not "recovered" yet, I know enough to focus more on the very fact that I am still alive, making progress and hopefully influencing others in the process.
Don't give up on recovery. When you feel like you want to, remember why you've held on for so long. It does get better, the fight does become less burdensome and you do have successful outcomes and positive people to motivate you as you move forward.
This Emotional Life is a two-year campaign to foster awareness, connections and solutions around emotional wellness. Join our community at www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife.
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