Do you consider yourself fully recovered?
Is Marjorie cancer free?
These are two questions I am asked almost on a daily basis.
As I sit here today on my five year recovery anniversary, I’m suddenly hit with how similar the questions are and the commonalities between cancer and eating disorders. They are both cruel and relentless diseases. They take lives too young and have greatly impacted my life and my family’s.
Today marks five years in recovery for me. Five years since I walked through the doors of the Carolina House. Five years of searching for the answer to that question – Am I fully recovered?
Eating disorder recovery is difficult to define because it is unique to each individual. My recovery looks different than yours and yours is different than mine. There isn’t a standard protocol or visible finish line that marks you recovered, which can be frustrating as a patient. I remember begging for my doctor or therapist to come in and say, “Well, McCall, everything looks great. You are officially recovered.” Unfortunately (and fortunately), no one came in and labeled me recovered.
One afternoon in treatment, I was sitting across from Christy on the tiny blue couch that had become my safe place. I was having a difficult time not only accepting the severity of my eating disorder, but the fact that it was not my fault.
Christy repeated (and repeated and repeated) to me that I did not choose to have an eating disorder. She then said that eating disorders are no different than any other illness, like diabetes or cancer.
I looked up and laughed through my frustrated tears. “Seriously, I do not have cancer. Let’s not be dramatic here. There is no way eating disorders are like cancer.”
Well, go figure, Christy was right…again. But it would be nearly five years and a cancer diagnosis later until I came to fully understand the notion.
When you initially receive the cancer diagnosis, there is shock, grief and unimaginable heartache. Over time, you learn more about the disease and the grueling treatment protocol. Your new routine is difficult to adjust to, both emotionally and physically. You feel like there will never be life again without cancer, that you will never return home, and that you will never see the light at the end of the tunnel. But overtime, God willing, the cancer cells die off and the chemo treatments end. You begin to fall into a new routine of monthly scans, then yearly scans and so forth.
My daughter’s oncology appointments and scans are now part of our monthly routine and everyday life. We no longer talk about her cancer every day. I no longer cry every time I enter the oncology clinic. It has all become our new normal.
Eating disorder recovery is so very similar. It is painfully difficult, especially after the initially diagnosis. You and your family search for answers, for understanding and for treatment. You feel lost and isolated in the dark. You think you will never be recovered, you will never be discharged from treatment and that there will never be life after an eating disorder. But there is…and it is freaking beautiful.
Marjorie did not choose to have cancer and I certainly did not choose to have an eating disorder. But we both chose (okay I chose for Marjorie) to receive treatment to keep pushing forward, doing whatever necessary to heal.
There is life after cancer, after eating disorders, after any hardship life throws our way. There. IS. LIFE. We march on. We perservere. We survive until one day we are back up and thriving again.
Today, I am eating disorder free. I no longer live with debilitating thoughts and the cruel eating disorder voice in my head, but I also live everyday taking very good care of myself. I hold myself to a different set of lifestyle standards than others. Stepping on a scale, going on a diet, skipping a meal are all off limits for me. And frankly, I am so glad that they are.
So while, yes, I consider myself fully recovered, I will always and forever be working towards recovery because recovery, to me, is self-discovery. I never want to stop working on myself, putting myself out there and taking leaps of faith. Recovery has been the biggest leap of faith I ever took and the rewards have been immeasurable.
One day Marjorie will be completely cancer free, but she will always have to be vigilant to go to oncology appointments and listen to her body. Cancer will always be a part of her story, but it will not define her.
Similarly, my eating disorder will always and forever be a part of my story, but it will not define me. I made (and will always make) a conscious decision not to let life’s difficulties define me.
We all have a story to tell and hardships to thrive through. It is not a matter of ‘If’, but ‘When’ we will be dealt a shitty card. We can let those cards define us or we can choose hope, hang on to faith and ride the waves of grieve, sadness and heartache knowing that one day, yes one day, life will return and there will be light again. But it is a choice that only we can make.
Five years. Five years of recovery. Fight years of struggle and strength, of rainbows and hurricane force storms. Five years of a beautifully imperfect balance in learning to walk this path called life.
Whether you are fighting to recover from an eating disorder or in the midst of watching a loved one fight cancer, choose hope. Choose recovery and life. Choose to spend your days loving others and most of all loving yourself.
I made that choice and took that huge leap of faith five years ago today and I am so glad I did.