National Eating Disorders Association

Stories of Hope

My Recovery Narrative
By Tessa Finkelstein

I did not acknowledge that I had a “real” problem until about three months after everything all began. It was not the frequency of episodes, the high tolerance for volume, or the fatigue and dizziness that alarmed me. It was the realization that I could not stop, even when I wanted to. I felt bizarre and overwhelming waves of impulsivity. I could physically feel lumps of tension boiling in my chest, and sharp pulses of adrenaline coursing through my veins. My destructive thoughts became louder and louder. Soon they multiplied, overlapped and spoke backwards. I began to realize that I was losing control. I was losing control of my attempts to gain control. To some extent, I knew that my eating disorder made me unable to enjoy life. Of course, I also believed that there was nothing about life to enjoy (and if there really was, my eating disorder told me I certainly did not deserve to participate). I felt that I could not and would not stop on my own. With my family being distant and afraid, along with the absence of close friendship, I thought I needed my eating disorder. On occasion, I would go through episodes of wanting to recover. Ironically, these times were the worst. I would wake up in the morning feeling hopeful and determined, only to go to sleep in tears with frustration, devastation, and disappointment. I attempted to reduce my behavior use several times, but I could not muster up the will or courage to let go of my eating disorder. After a year of being completely consumed and not receiving adequate support, I had a breakdown. I sobbed to my mother, “I can’t stop. I can’t stop. I want to stop, but I can’t. I need help.” I realized that any state of being would be better without my eating disorder. Taking advantage of my vulnerability and rare moment of clarity, my mother made the necessary calls to find a treatment center that would help me. We made the drive up to Massachusetts less than a week later. I was terrified, going into treatment for the third time. I was even more terrified of returning to my life at home when I was done. I was admitted with a fake smile and a disingenuous enthusiasm, but my desire to receive and accept support was true. I wanted to get better; it was just a matter of allowing myself to. My experience was incredible to say the least. For the first time, I was whole-heatedly open and honest with my treatment team, allowing myself to be vulnerable and receptive of their support. I gave the responsibility of determining my nutritional needs to my dietician, without questioning or doubting her decisions. I accepted my psychiatrist’s suggestion to try medication and benefited from it. I developed a trusting and respectful relationship with my psychologist, whom I allowed myself to share my stream of consciousness, as well as experiences and feelings that I had never spoken about prior. The persistent, grinding, and challenging work that my psychologist and I did together was the most incredible part of my treatment. Her insightful, responsive, authentic character, in conjunction with her “transparent” approach, provided me with a sense of assurance, comfort, and confidence that I had never experienced with any former psychotherapist. Treatment gave me the opportunity to rediscover myself and challenge the obstacles that once held me in the depths of my eating disorder. I began to let myself feel a full spectrum of emotions, as well as learn new skills to cope with them. I identified my triggers and concentrated on their roots and origins. I reaped as much as I could from every group, absorbing feedback as well as offering it. I made an effort to repair my relationship with my family in a constructive manner, specifying my concerns and providing solutions. I began to reach out to my friends at home again, accepting their words of encouragement as genuine and well intentioned. I formed a bond with the community of girls on the unit, empathizing with each individual and giving as much support as I could. I learned to channel my introverted qualities, focusing wholly on my own recovery. I began to address some of my greatest fears, as well as formulate tactics to challenge them. I tested and gained a sense of independence, purpose and self-reliance through exploring and navigating the open world. I returned to participating in some of the activities that I love, such as writing, reading, and drawing (which my eating disorder did not allow me to enjoy). I started to get to know myself again. My story is not over. There is no happily ever after nor is there a tragic end. I am still living, breathing, and experiencing the story. I am on a journey – a trek. I am discovering more about myself every day. I am making attempts to be more vulnerable and allowing those who care, to support me. I am graciously accepting my life day by day, because that may be all I have. I am becoming more aware of the world and the role that I play in it. I am trying to be more compassionate and kind towards myself. Recovery may be exhausting, frustrating and even painful, but more than anything, it is invigorating, liberating, and amazing.

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