Finding Strength Through Eating Disorder Recovery: Darlene’s Story
I have this really distinct childhood memory of asking my Mom how I could get rid of my ‘baby fat.’ I remember lifting up my shirt, revealing my 5-year old belly, and feeling an immense desire to make it go away.
If I’m being honest, that’s probably when my eating disorder began.
As I grew up, certain biological and environmental factors definitely motivated those eating disorder tendencies to stick around. I was an active child and played lots of sports but became competitive in sports like dance and cheerleading. Wanting to feel a sense of belonging within the culture of these aesthetically-focused activities, I felt an immense pressure to keep my body ‘small.’ This pressure became even more all-consuming when I was put on meds to treat depression that made me gain weight. I felt overwhelmed and found that certain eating behaviors helped me to lose weight AND numb out uncomfortable emotions that I wasn’t ready to face.
My Eating Disorder Knows All My Vulnerabilities
Since then, I’ve been in a tug-of-war with my eating disorder – a worthy opponent who knows all of my vulnerabilities and is not afraid to exploit them to get what it wants. For 16 years, I let my eating disorder win. I let it take over as I became a spectator of my own life – paralyzed with the fear of gaining weight and unable to do anything about it. Instead of prioritizing my own health, I was laser-focused on remaining the smallest in the room.
I was 32 by the time I finally sought more intensive care for my eating disorder. It came as a last ditch effort after my outpatient dietitian told me that I need more support than she could offer. She was worried for me and recommended I seek higher level of care at Walden Behavioral Care.
Eating Disorder Treatment
I entered Walden’s residential eating disorders program but didn’t feel particularly motivated to make any kind of real changes in my life. I still didn’t feel like what I was doing was unhealthy or problematic.
That all changed during one particularly difficult group meal. My eating disorder was giving me a hard time while I was working on finishing a supplemental shake. Another patient saw me struggling and put her hand on mine. She said, “Drink it. One day, when you’re healthy and you have healthy children, you will be glad you did.”
It’s interesting how, after so many years of struggle, one moment could have such a profound impact on the trajectory of my recovery. But it did. I had always dreamed of being a mother and the thought that what I was doing to my body could get in the way of that terrified me. “It’s time to let this go,” I finally said to myself. “It’s time to fight.”
And that’s exactly what I did.
At Walden I learned how to be vulnerable and to trust the people who wanted to help me. I learned that it’s okay to ask for support. Most importantly, I was encouraged to explore opportunities to reconnect my mind and body. We practiced mindful yoga and as I began nourishing my body appropriately, I developed a deep appreciation for how amazing the human body is.
Yoga and Eating Disorder Recovery
After discharging from Walden, I continued my yoga practice – not because I ‘had to’ and not to change my size or shape – but because I wanted to and because it brought me joy. Yoga opened my heart and helped me to feel in a way I hadn’t allowed myself to do in a long time. Taking care of my mind and body allowed me to get into difficult poses that never would have been possible while I was sick. Most profoundly though, taking care of my mind and body allowed me to conceive, carry and deliver two wonderful, healthy boys. Through them, and for them, I find strength every day in my own recovery.
I recently finished my first Heart-and-Soul-athon; a charity event that combines running, cycling and yoga in a way that focuses on the experience rather than the calories burned. I chose to participate to show my boys how amazing our bodies are when you take care of them properly. It was also important to me to raise money to support clients at Walden who couldn’t afford the specialized care that I was lucky enough to access.
The Heart-and-Soul-athon was truly a beautiful experience; not just because I was thankful that my body was healthy enough to take part, but because I was able to be present for it. I noticed my body, took breaks when I needed to and fueled it appropriately for the extra activity.
When I saw my boys at the finish line, I cried. “Mommy, you’re so strong,” they said. And now, firmly in recovery, I can finally agree. “Yes babies, Mommy is strong.”