01/24/2011 08:39 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

PBS' 'This Emotional Life': When It Comes to Eating Disorder Recovery, Avoid the Endless 'Whys'

Instead of constantly asking why things have happened in my life, I've come to the conclusion that the best way to find out is to gradually admit that I may never know.

As I remember a time when I stared down at my damaged body, trying to peer into my imprecise mind and rationalize what I had once perceived to be so "strong," a tear slides down my face. I thought I had failed. I thought I was nothing. How did I end up like this? I constantly question, "Why is this happening to me?"

Suddenly, almost against everything I was feeling and thinking at the time, I remembered that I had been given not just a second chance but a third. How in the world could I complain so much? My thought process has been completely off...

The subject that followed the vain question of why God or the world was always allowing things to happen to me was, "Why have I survived while so many others don't?"

I remember the phone call I received while I was in treatment. I was relaxing before supper while chatting with some peers when the phone rang. "He's gone." That's all I remember coming from the other end of the line.

I dropped the phone, astounded and confused; I ran down the hallway and collapsed to the floor. I cried, cried like I never have before in my life. Why him? Why not me? I'm the one with all of the physical ailments as a consequence of my illness. My body is the one so damaged. "I know that I haven't had things in the right perspective because of this stupid sickness... so why wasn't it me?"

I used to (many others still do) think an addiction to exercise or an eating disorder is black and white and that the answer to this "why" or "how" is simple. Start eating, stop exercising and everything will be fine. Everyone knows this should work for recovery, right?

While it's true that the decision making or thought processes do function in the "black and white" realm when you are really sick, the solution doesn't come that easily. What we'll come to learn is that any illness or struggle or "why" you are facing today is a whole new experience, an entirely different one than you have ever encountered before. It's hard to comprehend the reasons why something is happening, but we are able to come to the conclusion that there's a plan for us through it, and we have to hold onto that hope.

To have a disease that is invisible to the outside world yet almost completely deafening on the inside is extremely challenging. But to have insight to one's own personal strength is eternally rewarding, and it's something I may never have learned had it not been put to the test. The upside to not knowing the answer to every struggle is the option to re-evaluate what's important in your life and appreciate the blessing of waking up each day, even if you haven't figured out why.

We need to focus on how our minds can wrap around the "whys" of the world and how we move forward. Let me give you a correlation. When you compress a plastic ketchup bottle, what happens and what comes out? The plastic bottle is distorted, a fountain of condiment lands on an unfortunate bystander, and red ketchup is what comes out (I hope). The point of this correlation is to point out that it's what's inside of you that counts.

If I asked you what happens when you are compressed (left questioning something) in your life, how do you react? What would come out of you? Depression? Anger? Resentment? The will to survive? A strong urge to reach others? All the things listed are more than likely to be there; it just takes difficulty or the "whys" of the world to bring them out. Once you see what's really within, you can begin to work on your approach to not knowing and accept how to deal with it.

I suppose facing and dealing with questions we don't know the answer to is just one of the many facts of life. Questions of all forms can be examined from different standpoints; some questions are very simple, and some you may never know the answer to. It all depends on your will to investigate possibilities and, in the event that you cannot come to a conclusion on one, what you hope you can take from it. While questions are part of our everyday lives and can manage to make or break someone in any given context, it depends on how strong the individual is to "weather the storm." As long as you can fight to keep exploring various possibilities within life's questions, hopefully you can grow from whatever experiences you've had and appreciate what lies ahead, even if you don't know what that holds.

After I returned home from treatment, I really thought about life and its meaning. I didn't (and still don't) understand why I lost my friend so young or why I lost some great moments to my illness; but I hope that not knowing a seemingly endless list of "whys" will help reveal who I really am. Optimistically, I wish the same for you, too.

As I've started speaking out about my illness, life, experiences and struggles, it has forced me to think about how eager we all are to give advice. Maybe I should replace that and say how eager I am, at times, to give advice even when people don't ask for it. Do I really know what I am talking about? Am I making a difference? Do I really believe I'm sensible enough to share my story, thoughts and insights? By doing that, it may help someone, but does it really suggest that they'll find their way to the best possible ending in their journey?

Some of you may be thinking, "You can think positively all you want, but you will find that every day is a struggle." True. But recognize that you need to take small steps to recover, and that if you recover too quickly, you may sink back.

Fortunately, I think I've found that through this particular "why" in my life, I'm supposed to be doing everything I can to make it possible for someone else to have hope, reach out and be themselves. Reward has not been, and never will be, the point of my finding; the importance is to use the lessons of my life's "whys" to help others (and myself) focus on the future.

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