Written by L. M. Alsana Alumnus
Falling in love makes you vulnerable, it is probably the most vulnerable thing you will ever do in your life to love someone and to allow them to love you in return, the real you, the good and bad and everything that falls in between. Eating disorders are incredibly isolating, I know mine was, I did not think anyone could understand the pain I felt or the sadness I had and I did not think anyone but my eating disorder could help me. That is a convenient story we tell ourselves to keep us sick, to keep us isolated. I never thought I would fall in love. I never thought someone would love me and thankfully I was wrong. I was 19 years old when I entered Alsana Treatment Center, the magical castle in the woods, as I like to call it. I took a medical leave of absence from my sophomore year at Syracuse University to enter treatment; this was not my first round. This time however I left school and my family and traveled half way across the country from New York to St. Louis in my final attempt at recovery; this was my “all in.” I spent Christmas, New Years, my birthday, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Passover in treatment. I spent 6 and half months at that castle in the woods, through inpatient, day, and outpatient treatment.
Being in Alsana is a humbling experience, being in any treatment is. I found it so humbling because to me it was rock bottom, something that always stuck with me while in recovery was a quote from J.K. Rowling “rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.” This is exactly what entering treatment and starting recovery was for me, a solid foundation to rebuild my life. I knew I had big dreams, I knew I wanted to help people and make a difference in the world, I wanted to be a mother and find that heart pounding love but I had no idea how to do any of that when I was in treatment. For many obvious reasons treatment focuses on the past, on what brought you to the point you are at today, on what keeps you sick. It does not often focus on the future, on what life will be like after all of this. The thing is though, your future does not live in your past and there will come a point when rehashing the pain is no longer what keeps you in recovery but rather living in real time, experiencing real life.
When I met my now husband I was in recovery, still in therapy, not using active behaviors, but I certainly had my slip ups. Ryan and I went on our first date a week after I graduated from Syracuse University, my graduation was also 2 years to the day exactly that I had “graduated” from Alsana. We had a perfectly wonderful and perfectly normal first date at an Applebee’s where I ordered what I was hungry for; I ate until I was full, and we talked for a few hours. While I still believe that you choose recovery every single day, at this point in my life it has become a second nature decision. Before I went to Alsana I had one last session with my therapist, the one who had wanted me to enter treatment, she asked me what I was most afraid of, I still do not think I could put into words what that felt like for me, I had tried so hard for so long to hold it all together, but to her I said my biggest fear was all the space that was going to be left in my brain. I felt like my eating disorder took up 90% of my brain and if it were gone what would I think about, what would I wonder about, what would I dream about. My biggest fear was all the reasons I had an eating disorder, all of the things I was running away from would fill that space.
In part I was right, while in treatment doing 12 hours a day of therapy; those are the things that filled that space, but almost 6 years after treatment that is no longer true. After I graduated college I knew I wanted to get my masters in social work but I did not have a complete life plan and I am a planner. After I met Ryan my life had a lot more direction. What I can tell you about the dreaded space in my head is that life fills it up, real life that has nothing to do with calorie counts, fear foods, purging, restricting, scales, triggers, flashbacks, or body memories. The life that I was building for myself and together with the first and only man I have ever loved. It took me a long time, 5 years of therapy after Alsana in fact, but I can say for certain that I am perfectly imperfect in recovery and my relationship is a significant reason for that. My husband is my opposite he is quiet and I am very talkative, he is calm and I am anxious, he has simple taste and mine is lavish, but we work perfectly together because what he is missing in himself I can fill in the space and the same for me.
Falling in love exposes your fears; it challenges you to expose yourself on a different level than with anyone else. Being intimate with someone is one of the most wonderful privileges you can ever have, a physical way to express your love and for someone in recovery it can be a very powerful way to reclaim your body. The best thing for my recovery was meeting my husband and that is because I learned through deep work with my therapist how to be truly honest with another person for the betterment of myself and I learned how wrong the ideas my eating disorder had put in my head were. There is something incredibly powerful in finding out that you do not need to take on life alone, to find out that sharing your life with someone else is the biggest step towards full recovery you will ever make. I say that because it challenges the very foundation of what makes an eating disorder live and breathe. I do not want to give the idea that meeting my husband saved me because he did not, or that you need a man or rather another person to feel whole or to fix you because you absolutely do not. What falling in love did for me was to prove that every thought I ever had when I was in my eating disorder, every twisted tale, every rabbit hole story of worth was wrong. Contrary to every belief I ever had it is not selfish to love yourself, to take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority.
I am approaching the 6th anniversary of beginning my treatment at Alsana, and here are my stats. I have graduated college; I have a career in medical nonprofit, I met the love of my life and we got married, and in a few weeks maybe by the time this blog is posted we will welcome our first child, a baby boy into the world. I also have not had active behaviors in almost 2 years. I had my last session with my therapist one week before I got married; she was someone who used to practice at Alsana and has since moved back to the east coast. I spent 5 years in that overstuffed chair in her office, and it took until the last 6 months of our work together for me to be completely authentic and honest. The biggest reason I stopped going to therapy was because I felt it was time for me to share myself with someone other than my therapist, it was time for my husband to be that person.
Six years later I am not the same person I was when I first drove down that windy road, afraid, anxious, and obsessed with my body, consumed with my past. Today I am still anxious; I am still pretty crazy, but for the first time I can say in a real healthy way. If you are reading this I hope it give you the courage to reach out and extend your circle, to put yourself out there to find that someone. The greatest privilege I have ever had in my life is to marry best friend, to get to spend our lives together. Recovery is an everyday decision, I am certainly self-actualized enough to know all of my eating disorder triggers and thoughts may not be in my past forever but for now for the woman I am today, the wife, the almost mom, the friend, the daughter, I am standing strong on both feet in my recovery and I wish for you the same. The peace of mind to go into the holidays without fear, to allow yourself to be vulnerable with another person, and most importantly to know that to love yourself is the best gift you can ever give yourself.
Warmest Wishes, L.M., Alsana Alumni[cta]Recovery is possible. You can be the inspiration that leads someone else to seeking recovery for their eating disorder. Share your story today.[/cta]