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Lizzie, an expert by experience, recently co-hosted a group with our clients to discuss her recovery journey as part of our “Recovery in Action” series at Orri.
Today, she shares a letter to those who may be struggling. Thank you Lizzie!

Hi guys, I’m Lizzie and I suffered from an eating disorder for 6 long, painful years.

Lots of people talk about recovery and say they had a ‘lightbulb’ moment where things just clicked for them…. This definitely wasn’t the case for me. Instead, it was a (painstakingly) slow and gradual process, involving small realisations along the way which helped me to reframe my thinking. Here, I thought I’d share some quotes which helped me along the way:

Bad things happen for us, not to us. For so long I felt like a victim, that this disorder had just landed on me, that it was something awful, bad and painful that was happening to me. That made me feel powerless, out of control, and helpless. Now I’m recovered, I take the viewpoint that my ED happened for me. Through the process of recovery, I have learnt so much about myself, about my thought processes, emotions, childhood experiences, relationships, coping skills, setting boundaries, values, core beliefs, and so much more. This knowledge has served me in every aspect of my life, from friendships to studying to work life. My eating disorder happened for me, to give me a chance to look at myself and make changes, and teach me the invaluable life skill of being happy, comfortable and accepting myself. I’ve got so much more self-awareness that I can carry through my life so I can live according to my own values, rather than other peoples (and trust me, that makes you a LOT happier!). It may seem impossible but seeing the good things that ED recovery can teach you can really help in feeling less victimised.

“Do whatever makes you happy without judging yourself for it – it’s a brilliant way to find little joys in times of ultimate darkness, and build a good relationship with yourself. Your soul with thank you for it.”

Failure is an action, not an identity – ‘You’re a failure, why are you even alive?’ was a thought that circulated my mind constantly. Even if I hadn’t done anything, being a failure was how I defined myself and part of my identity. Then one day, my friend said this quote to me. And suddenly I realised….how can one person be a failure? Only our actions can fail us, and that doesn’t make us inherently bad, or stupid, or unlovable, or unworthy of life, especially if that action is eating a brownie. Even if you deem one of your actions to be a failure, that doesn’t mean YOU are. Learning to separate and label your actions, instead of yourself, can be really powerful in recovery.

Have some fun! Sound so obvious, but I thought recovery was a really miserable process, and because I’d eaten too much that day, I wasn’t allowed to have any fun. Instead I just had to sit, wallow and ruminate on my actions and make myself pay for it…an act of pure self-punishment which was a one-way road to misery. But let’s face it, recovery is miserable enough without making yourself even more miserable by denying yourself chance to have fun! Fun and enjoyment are a really good release and can help connect you to yourself outside of the disorder. Most people do something creative or build on previous hobbies…art, dance, drama, writing, yoga, baking… but me? I like to pretend I have my own carpool karaoke show….I get in my car, drive down country roads and sing as loud as I possibly can to the cheesiest pop songs and biggest ballads. Yes it’s lame, very out of tune, and very cringe, but it’s very me, makes me way too happy and releases any negative emotions I have. Do whatever makes you happy without judging yourself for it – it’s a brilliant way to find little joys in times of ultimate darkness, and build a good relationship with yourself. Your soul with thank you for it.

You don’t have to be perfect (I know, shocker). And actually, I’m SO much happier NOT being perfect. I always thought perfection = happiness. All my life I’ve been a perfectionist – perfect diet, body, clothes, outfits, friends, grades, you name it, it had to be perfect.  I just never felt good enough, I always felt like I had something to prove, and I’d only be liked if I was perfect in every area. But once I achieved something perfect, say getting 100% on an essay, I wouldn’t even stop to be happy, I’d just start thinking about the next thing I could be perfect in. The perfectionist treadmill just never ended. I was terrified of being average, of being ‘normal’. But I’ve come to realise that there’s no such thing as ‘average’ because everyone is so different. You are your own unique set of cells, qualities, experiences, memories, ambitions and skills. How could you ever be ‘average’ when you’re unique, thus having no one to compare against? I’ve found SO much peace in not striving for being perfect – it’s liberating, freeing and so much less pressure. Now I tell myself whatever I do is ‘good enough’ and if someone else doesn’t think so, that’s their problem, not mine!

“Showing up every day to fight and battle your way through disordered thoughts and painful emotions to kick the eating disorder out of your life… now that is an achievement.”

Starving yourself is not an achievement. Achievements get you places, but where does starving yourself get you? In reality (not in ED land), it makes you exhausted, cold, in pain, irritable, cold, withdrawn and losing more and more of your life, and where’s the achievement in that? (spoiler: there isn’t). It might seem like a short term high, but the next day you’ll just have to do more and more to get the same high. One therapist once said to me ‘nothing will make you feel as high as your ED’…but she was so wrong. The power and achievement I felt from starving myself is far, far surpassed by all my post-recovery achievements that are far more real, genuine and meaningful. Showing up every day to fight and battle your way through disordered thoughts and painful emotions to kick the eating disorder out of your life… now that is an achievement. Recovery will be one of the hardest, but best things you ever do, and probably one of your biggest achievements.

Think about it in a different way, imagine your ED thoughts are an annoying child begging for an overpriced toy in a toy store (the ED behaviours). When you say no and try and walk away from the toy, they shout, scream and have a tantrum. If the parent gives in and buys the child the toy, is that an achievement? Or if they stand firm, let the child have a tantrum, and then manage to calm them down and leave the shop without buying a toy, surely that’s more of an achievement for them?  Then the next time they visit the toy shop, the child might still whine about wanting a toy, but it won’t be as bad. And each time they go to the toy shop, the whining gets less and less. And slowly, over time, the child’s learnt not to even bother asking for the toy because he knows he won’t get it.

That’s the same with ED thoughts – if you let them have their tantrum over and over again, eventually they’ll give up and pipe down because they know they can’t have what they want. Just like parenting, standing your ground, having courage and strength, being consistent and patient are required in bucketloads, but that’s where the achievement and recovery lie, not in giving in.

I don’t miss my old body or life at all. Sure, in my early days I recovery I poured over old photos and missed my smaller body and life and control over food. But I’ve come to realise that people, myself included, tended to look back at disordered life through rose-tinted glasses, because the ED wants to lure you back to its old ways, convincing yourself you were happier then…but in reality, I wasn’t. I was just blinded by disorder. Now when I look back at the same photos, I just see how sad, exhausted, weak, frail and upset I look, and that’s what breaks my heart, not my body. I think of the weeks, years, memories and friendships lost due to obsessive ED rituals and behaviours. I see the true reality of the situation rather than the glamourized version I once felt. So if you are missing your old body, ask yourself do you really miss your old life, mindset, thoughts and feelings? Because I’m pretty sure the life experiences, (holidays, friendships, career highs) will make you far happier than that number on the scale will.

“It’s not just about eating food, gaining weight, or being discharged from treatment. It’s about re-framing your thoughts, creating new behaviour patterns, developing self-awareness and ultimately, creating a healthy relationship with yourself, your body, and food.”

I’ve gained SO much more that can’t be measured on a scale. I could sit here for here for hours and write everything I’ve gained, but highlights included my personality back, my interests, hobbies, my love of cheesy pop music, laughing spontaneously at things, happiness, freedom, opportunities, experiences, improved friendships, relationships, self awareness, acceptance and so much more. Yes your weight can be measured on a scale, but that weight is not your worth, and doesn’t have to define you. I choose to NOT measure myself in numbers – because that doesn’t measure the things that matter. I weigh being a daughter, a best friend, an aunty, a lover of carpool karaoke, a student, a lover of brunch, a traveller, a hospital worker, my hysterical laughing fits where I sound like a horse, perfume obsession, and so many more joyous things. You CAN choose how you define yourself, and if you’re going to choose anything, let it be the things that hold the most meaning to you and bring you the most joy.

Following on from that, think of all the woman you admire and I bet you don’t admire them for those diets or their dress size. And I bet you don’t love them for their bodies, because that is what they, or you, define them by. My role model is Michelle Obama (seriously, what a woman!) and I admire her for her courage, bravery, ambition, compassion, vision and so much more. I could not care less what she ate on the day of her speeches, or what her BMI was when she was studying at Harvard, or how big/small her thighs look in (any) dress. Because IT. DOES. NOT. MATTER. I hate to break it to you but people don’t like or admire you because your dress size or how flat your stomach is, they like you for your personality, qualities, and values, and so much more. Other people don’t care about your size anywhere near as much as you do. I doubt you judge other people on their size, so why would they judge you? ((And if someone does judge you on your size, that’s a reflection on them not you, and they clearly have work to do on their own morals and values, which is their problem not yours)). The bigger you are, the more of you you bring to the table, and the most admirable thing you can be in life is yourself.

Recovery is damn hard, no denying that one, but it is possible, and it is worth it. It’s not just about eating food, gaining weight, or being discharged from treatment. It’s about re-framing your thoughts, creating new behaviour patterns, developing self-awareness and ultimately, creating a healthy relationship with yourself, your body, and food.

You’re not alone, thousands of others are fighting with you everyday. Always remember, you are stronger than you think, and braver than you believe. If you’ve got the determination and strength to fight an eating disorder, you’ve got the strength and determination to do ANYTHING in life. And then the world really is your oyster, and recovery your key to happiness. Keep going warrior, you’ll be there before you know it.

Love Liz x

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