National Eating Disorders Association

Creativity Encourages Recovery

April Ballard

Hope…there is hope for recovery.

I know this. I want to share this message with the world. I spent years of my life held prisoner by the lies and intrusive thoughts of anorexia and bulimia. I no longer live in this place and I want you to know that there is hope for recovery. How, may you ask, is this possible? This is a question that only your journey to recovery will reveal to you. However, there are valuable tools that we all can share to uplift one another along our own journeys. 

Along my journey, I learned to look into the deepest parts of myself to begin to heal. I learned coping skills to help manage the feelings that would arise. Many of the tools I found turned out to be tools and creative outlets that I will continue to carry with me throughout my life. 

Photography is one of the many tools that I discovered during the early stages of my recovery. I was searching for a creative outlet that would allow me to not escape my feelings, but rather separate myself from the eating disorders and actually feel. I no longer wanted to numb my feelings. I no longer wanted to be defined by the eating disorder. After all, I was not my eating disorder.

I now know that I am a teacher, a writer, a loved one, a friend, and many other things in this world. I believe in kindness toward all beings. I have talent and compassion that I want to share with this world. I am not my eating disorder. 

During the early stages of recovery, I was not able to recognize this. So, as I said, I was searching for ways to separate myself from the eating disorder. I found that I really enjoyed being out in nature and  the grounded feeling of retreating to the outdoors. It was peaceful. It helped to quiet the intrusive thoughts of the eating disorder and the lies that it told me. 

I asked myself, how could I find a way to artistically express myself while being outdoors? It was then that photography came to me. I could be out in nature and take photographs of some of the amazing places that I would discover. I would photograph images that moved me and evoked emotions that I needed to feel. I would photograph images that allowed me to recognize the beauty of nature again and feel connected to the earth. 

So, I began to photograph images in nature. I began to retreat more and more often. Some days this meant only out into the front yard. That was ok, because the grass was green, the sky was blue, and I was learning to find the beauty and appreciation of nature again, while also beginning to search for this in myself. 

I needed to feel connected to the earth again. For that matter, I needed to feel connected to my body. I needed to know myself outside of the eating disorder. Photography was a creative outlet that allowed me to begin this journey. 

Oftentimes, I would venture outside during the early morning. I would wander to the forest, to the end of the street, a nearby field, or just to the front yard. It was not about the location so much as what the journey represented. I needed to feel grounded. I had spent so much time in a fog. I felt like life had been on pause. Nature reminded me that there was beauty in the world. The vibrant colors awakened me. Capturing these moments in a photograph had not only empowered me, but also made me feel like an artist. It gave me a creative direction and awakened me.  

I often spent hours on a photography journey. Other times it may have only been five minutes. It was not about the amount of time, but the connection to the earth and the feelings I found that were not a part of the eating disorder. These feelings allowed me to step into freedom and recovery. 

When I began photography as a way to recover from my eating disorder, I did not have an expensive camera. It was not about the cost of the camera. This was a journey I was embarking upon to look into myself; through this lens, I would learn, discover, recognize, and then begin to heal. 

I photographed flowers, trees, and dew drops on leaves among the many images that would strike me as meaningful and beautiful. I found that there was beauty among so many things and often found in the most unexpected of places. Each day held something new and inspirational. It was an unfolding and evolving creative outlet along my journey to recovery. 

There is hope. There is hope. There is hope. 

April Ballard is a teacher and eating disorder awareness and recovery advocate who has been in recovery from anorexia and bulimia for three years. April is the founder and coordinator of the Charleston, South Carolina NEDA Walk.