Most of us have heard this before: recovery is not a linear process.
As I graduated from treatment in November 2017, I kept that message in mind. My outpatient team and my family continue to remind me that I don’t have to seek perfection in my recovery; ups and downs are to be expected. In my early months of recovery, as I adjusted back to the “real world” with less structure and less clinical support, I typically took two steps forward and one step—sometimes three steps—back.
While I knew that those ups and downs came with the territory, it was hard to constantly be in a state of inner conflict: fighting my eating disorder while simultaneously missing it; not feeling like I was really in recovery, while also not feeling like I was still sick; stuck in limbo.
Then, on March 25, 2018, I spoke at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Walk in Washington, DC. As I stood before a crowd of people speaking my truth, sharing my story, and even crying up on stage, I felt something that has made my motivation for recovery higher than it’s ever been: empowered.
I felt empowered as I owned my struggle. I felt empowered as I vulnerably shed tears in front of hundreds of strangers. I felt empowered as those incredibly kind strangers embraced me and thanked me for sharing my story. I felt empowered because on that day, for the first time I believed that I truly was in recovery, not forever doomed to be teetering between health and illness.
Speaking at the NEDA Walk was a milestone for me. It was the beginning of a new chapter. Recovery starts at a different moment for each of us. For some, it’s when they begin seeking treatment. For some, it’s when they leave treatment. For others, it may be one particular meal, or one specific moment of joy. For me, I feel like my recovery truly started when I spoke at the NEDA Walk.
After I used my voice so publicly, the conflict in my brain no longer seemed as loud. Speaking my truth was what the recovery-oriented part of me needed in order to quiet my eating disorder’s voice. Sharing my story in such a public way made me recognize the power of my story.
Throughout my life, I had been terrified of public speaking. I feared saying the wrong thing, or even worse, being so overcome by anxiety that my mind would go blank and I’d just freeze. But since speaking at the NEDA Walk, using my voice is something I look forward to, because each time I speak up, my recovery becomes even stronger.
For many years, my eating disorder thrived in secrecy. Today, my recovery is thriving as I speak my truth. Recovery may not be linear, but I know that in order to keep moving forward in the right direction, using my voice is critical. I know that my vulnerability, my openness, and my voice—all of our voices—are truly powerful, and our stories really do deserve to be told.
Shalini lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC with her husband, Scott, and rambunctious German Shepherd, Maddie. She works for a nonprofit that focuses on substance use disorder policy. In her free time, she enjoys baking, attempting mindfulness, stomping on crunchy leaves, and spending time with her supportive, loving, and hilarious family.