a post for 5 years || recovery

On the 13th of this month, I’ll be 5 years in recovery – a milestone that, in the moments leading up to that day, has me reflecting & so eager to write. I’m almost 5 years in recovery from an eating disorder that had me believing I wouldn’t even get to 1 year. The mere idea of being 5 years in recovery sends my emotions in all different directions, but mostly, it fills me with a kind of joy that I can’t quite articulate. Out of everything in life, I am most proud of this.

Everything that I am able to do today, I am able to do it because of recovery. That is what makes this such an important milestone in my life. That is why I can’t help but celebrate the 13 of every month, but especially, the 13th of February. The things I do today would not be possible without the health and strength that I have gained, both mentally and physically, in recovery, and that is something I know to never take for granted.

Nearing 5 years in recovery means that for 5 years now, I’ve been not only battling but overcoming a mental illness that had one goal, and that goal was basically to take control of my life until there was no life left to control. Its goal was to make me miserable, which, when I was in the very depths of the disorder, it did succeed at. It succeeded at destroying the joy that I am normally filled with. But it didn’t fully succeed. If that had been the case, I wouldn’t be here writing this post today. Praise & glory to God for that.

Every time I write or talk about this part of my life, my goal is to be as raw, honest, and vulnerable as I can be. Those are three things that I try to be each time I post on this blog or on my social media about recovery, because it’s important to me to show people who are still struggling, or people who are just beginning recovery, that recovery is not a perfect thing, by any means, but that it is possible. It’s important to me to let people know that you can recover and reach the goals and dreams that I know you all have. Is it still a little anxiety-provoking to share about something so personal on social media? Of course it is (I’m human!) But if we do not talk about it and normalize talking about it, the stigmas that exist surrounding mental illness will remain; people are less likely to seek help because of those stigmas, and they are more likely to feel alone. I for one do not want anybody who is struggling with an eating disorder, or any mental illness for that matter, to feel alone, because you most definitely are not.

I was diagnosed with my eating disorder back when I was a freshman in high school, and I remember it vividly, because I had had pneumonia prior to being diagnosed. I lost a good amount of weight because I was so sick from the pneumonia, and I didn’t end up gaining back thar weight the way that I should have after recovering from pneumonia. In addition to this, my eating didn’t go back to ‘normal’ after I no longer had the illness, so, those were the first indicators to my parents and doctor that something was not right with me. When I was in the depths of the disorder, I came close to being sent to North Carolina for inpatient treatment, but I ended up doing intensive outpatient treatment. The affects that the disorder had on my physical health, such as my blood pressure and heart rate, and having passed out in school, were all very clear indicators that inpatient or outpatient was needed, and it needed to be intense. I did this outpatient treatment for about 3 years – I had a dietitian who I saw every other week, my pediatrician (at the time) who I saw once a month, a psychologist I saw every week (after going through like, 5 of them before finding the right fit – don’t panic if the first once you see is not a good fit, it takes time). Along with my 3 doctors, I attended group therapy each week that I could. It was definitely an overwhelming amount of appointments for a high school student as I was, but all of it was essential, and I knew that, even on the days I wanted nothing more than to skip them. While I no longer see these doctors, they contributed so much to saving my health, and I am grateful, and will likely never stop expressing my gratitude to them. *Never, ever, ever feel ashamed for seeking professional help – they are amazing & can help save your life.

I was 15 years old when I was diagnosed. I’ll be 21 next weekend, and I am in a great place – a place I most definitely never in a million years pictured myself, but a place I’m so thankful to be in. I have so many people, including myself, to thank for that. I attend what is the most amazing university, have incredible friends, a loving & supportive family, a church I love to pieces (a lot of churches, actually – they all rock). I am so very happy.

I don’t struggle with anorexia anymore, but for the sake of this post being honest & vulnerable, some days, yes – I do have to work a little harder at recovery than other days, and I am learning that that is okay. This is a process; a journey. And no journey in life, whatever it may be, is perfect or smooth sailing all of the time. There will always be bumps and twists and turns, and we just have to keep trekking when we get knocked down or have setbacks.

A very important part of this post to me was to note, for those struggling, that even being years in recovery, it is still something you will find yourself thinking about and having to work at. While I do not suffer from the disorder itself anymore, some days, life happens and I have to actively remind myself of my recovery and be more intentional about staying healthy. Again, that is okay if you have to do that. It doesn’t make you weak or any less worthy of saying that you are in recovery. When you’re in recovery, you get to know yourself really well and you realize quickly what triggers there are out there for you, what you need to do when you find yourself in the face of them, and what outlets help you when you’re struggling. Those are skills & tools you’ll learn & take with you forever. I myself still work on this to this day. For example, stress still can be a really big trigger for me – it is easy for me to resort to not eating when I am stressed as a way to cope, but because stress is everywhere, I’ve had lots of practice using those tools I’ve gained in recovery as coping mechanisms – they are my outlets, and I highly recommend figuring out yours, because they help so, so much. With that, I’ve learned that the bad days, and sometimes, bad weeks, where you find yourself struggling and having to work a little harder at recovery, you are only made stronger by, because those days remind us that even when we struggle, we are still choosing health over the disease.

I like to say, it is one hell of a mental illness to fight. But I’ve found that I am one hell of gal for fighting it, and beating it. 😉

Recovery is a very beautiful & very difficult thing. But gosh am I thankful to be almost 5 years. I will most definitely be celebrating with a milkshake + my favorite meals (lol).

It’s cool – I actually love food. I love food, I love my body, & I altogether love my energetic little self. There was a point (many different points) in my life where I never thought I would ever be able to say those things and actually mean them. So that’s huge to be in that place I never thought I could be (anything’s possible, right?) If you know me, you know that I am obsessed with peanut butter m&ms and that you will never find me without a family size bag of them in my pantry. I also love chicken nuggets and eat them arguably more often than a 5 year old does. I love to see all of the things that my body is capable of doing. Every run & every hike – those hills I run and those mountains I climb. The sermons I write and preach. The blog posts I write, the exams I take, the homework I do, the food I eat, the drinks I drink, the friends I am able to go out & have fun with. All of those things sort of disappeared as I battled with anorexia.

But today, all of those things above are true in my life because of recovery. I am so proud & thankful, because I love doing all of those things. (Taking exams & doing homework, aside, of course).

To me, recovery is a lot of things. Recovery will be a lot of different things to different people. But one thing that is the same for every one is that recovery is worth it & YOU are worth recovery.

By writing about this journey of mine, my hope is that it lets people, even if it’s just one person, know that they are not alone; that they are not the only ones going through this, though they will most definitely feel as though they are at times. I want you, reading this today, to know that if you are struggling, I understand that feeling, as though you are alone. & I understand what you are going through right now. I want you to know that overcoming this disorder is possible, because I did it, and as cliche as it sounds, if I can, you can, too. If you, right now, are in the depths of an eating disorder, or if you are just now beginning recovery, it is possible to get to a place where you love your body and love food, and think about both of those things in healthy ways. It is possible to get to a place where you can look in the mirror and love the person staring back at you. It’s possible to get to a place where you’re not obsessed with your weight, the number of calories you eat, and to a place where you don’t have anxiety at the mere thought of eating. You, my friend, can do this. My prayer is that every man or woman reading this today who is struggling with a mental illness of any kind, will take that truth away from this post, if nothing else.

Finally, I couldn’t write this post without thanking the people in my life who may be reading this, and have played a role in supporting me these past 5 years, in recovery and in life. To those who have helped me get healthy, and have helped me remain healthy, you have no idea the impact that you have made. A huge to the moon & back thank you to my parents (because I know they’ll read this) for being by my side since day 1 of my life, but also since day 1 of my recovery. Thank you for putting up with me (lol), and loving me an annoyingly large (but sweet) amount, as parents should.

To my friends, whole family, my church(es), mentors, pastors, high school teachers, college professors,

Thank you for genuinely caring about me and my progress in recovery. Thank you for loving me even back when I could not have hated myself more. Thank you for always being there to listen to me, whether I was in need of someone to talk to or cry to. Thank you to the people who were there to hold me as I straight up ugly cried in their arms during the worst & darkest moments back towards the beginning of recovery; the moments where I thought that it was absolutely impossible to recover and be happy again. Thank you for sitting with me and being a calm presence, whether you understood what I was going through or not, whether you knew what to say to me or not. Your presence meant and continues to mean more to me than you know. Thank you for never once looking down on me for the disorder I was battling, and instead, loving me through it and remaining by my side through the pitfalls and triumphs, to this day. I could never do recovery, college, ministry, or life in general without you people who have constantly been behind & beside me. Also, quick shout out to the DCOM (even though the odds of them seeing this are slim). When I was in my certification interview for candidacy last month, my history with an eating disorder did come up as it was noted on my psych eval, so, we talked about that, and when I mentioned that I was going to be 5 years in recovery this month, every pastor & lay person in that room interviewing me said “wow, congratulations” and that meant everything to me. It was meaningful to me because pursuing ministry is one of the most important things in my heart, but also, because it reminded me of the fact that no church leader is perfect I am no exception; I don’t need to be perfect to be a church leader and neither does anybody else. It’s impossible. We all carry with us baggage and things to work on. That’s why we need God and his grace, amen? So, to end the post, of course a big thank you to God.

Thanks, God, for giving me every ounce of strength that I have needed to kick the crap out of anorexia. I love ya so much & promise to always dedicate my life to serving you with the little powerhouse of a body you’ve given me. This is part of my story and it’s not something I’ll ever choose to hide, rather, another tool I’m able to use to minister to my brothers & sisters in Christ.

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a note for 4 1/2 years. a note for those struggling.

On the 13th of every month, I have a little party (of one) because the 13th marks another month since the day I decided to begin this crazy, messy, difficult, beautiful, rewarding journey called recovery. Today just so happened to mark 4 1/2 years since that day, and I couldn’t let it pass by without writing a short and sweet blurb about it.

Anorexia was a disease that took hold of me and flipped things right upside down for me halfway through my freshman year of high school. This disease was one that had every intention of taking this sweet life away from me, but God and I had other plans, praise Him, for that. The fact that I said nope that’s not how my story is going to end, is something that I celebrate every single day, but the 13th is important to me because it’s a reminder. It’s a reminder of how far I’ve come since the day I was first diagnosed, along with the day I decided to begin recovery. It is because of my recovery that I am able to do every single thing that I am doing today, and it humbles me to remember each month that none of it would be possible without recovery and the strength I found in God to get to where I am today. I can hike mountains, go on runs, preach God’s Word, spend time with all of the people whom I love, all because of recovery. I will never let a day go by without acknowledging that. Life is hard sometimes, we all know that, but I live a great life surrounded by people I’ll never deserve, I have opportunities I am eternally grateful for, and a future that I could not be more excited for.

I remember one day my parents said to me, “Ashley, you can’t be a pastor and do all of the things required of you if you’re not healthy.”

Those words have always stuck with me to this day, and I think the reason that those words spoken to me stuck with me is because being the best, healthiest version of yourself is a daily task, and it is lifelong. We have to constantly be in tune with our bodies and actively work to take care of ourselves. You can’t do anything you love to do or anything that requires a lot of you if you are not healthy. That goes for any job, and any person. I know the last thing I would ever want was for my eating disorder to ruin my future, and now more than ever I can’t imagine my health preventing me from pursuing God’s call upon my life. Back when my eating disorder began to affect my vitals, I knew I had to change and recover before the illness succeeded at its task to take my life. I still work every day at a healthy lifestyle, just as I’m sure you do, too.

As I reflected on this awesome day of being 4 1/2 years in recovery, I’ve been thinking a lot about how important it is for everyone to know that things aren’t going to be perfect once you choose to recover or even when you do recover. You will still have insecurities every now and then. You will have to work hard, even harder, at maintaining your health. Recovery doesn’t mean that you are supposed to be this perfectly confident person every second of every day – you’re not going to be a perfect person at all. You’re still human. Lord knows I still struggle with things! I don’t have disordered thoughts towards eating anymore, I don’t hate my body, but to this day I still have things regarding my health that I’m working at. Personally, I really struggle to remain at a healthy weight, not because of an eating disorder, but because I have a super speedy metabolism and I’m an active gal. I’m small and I’ve always been small (that’s my parents doing # genes) but its always been hard for me to gain weight. A lot of people think that recovery, especially recovery from anorexia, means you gain a ton of weight, but 4 1/2 years into recovery, I am here still actively working to gain weight healthily and keep that weight on, because that’s just what’s healthier for me. But that is a challenge for me not because I don’t want to but because I’m still figuring out what my body needs in order to gain weight. (There is always more to figure out and learn and become better at!)

But with all of that being said, the main reason I wanted to write this was for those who are still struggling today with an eating disorder. If you are struggling, first and foremost I want you to know that I feel for you and I understand what you are going through. I understand how much you feel like giving up, and how much you think that you cannot recover and therefore its hopeless to even try. But I cannot express to you enough how much hope there is for you. I would never say that if I did not mean it, or if I hadn’t felt what it’s like to get out of the depths of one of these illnesses. Now that I am here, and I am able to enjoy this life that I have been given to live to the fullest, I can say with such confidence that it is worth every single difficult moment. It is worth all of the tears, the doctors appointments, the bad days, the breakdowns – Recovery is worth it. And believe it or not, there is so much pure beauty to be found in the process. It’s a long process, it’s a tough one, but it’s a possible one. You can do it.

Even knowing the hell that my eating disorder put me through, I still would never wish to not have gone through it. I’m sure I did wish that when I first jumped into recovery, or when I relapsed, but now that my head is risen above the waters following being in the depths of the disorder, I would never choose to go back and not go through it. To say the most cliche thing in the world, this whole entire journey has made me stronger, and I’m grateful. It’s a part of my testimony, and while the disorder itself is not part of who I am, the story that God has written through the struggle most certainly is. And in addition to that, I get to be here, writing this, to you all. I talk and write about this openly and honestly for this very reason – I have people of all ages message me all the time on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and this blog asking me questions, wanting suggestions or advice, or just saying my being open helped them know they’re not alone. That’s amazing to me, it leaves me in awe, and every ounce of glory goes to God for that because it is only by his strength that I made it through this, and furthermore, it’s only by his strength and courage I’m able to open about it and write to the world about something so personal. But I’m here for you all. The reason I chose to be open about this in the first place was with the hope and prayer that it could help other people struggling with similar things. You deserve to know that you’re not alone. So please, never feel as though you are in this alone. whether we’ve talked in person before or not, you can always reach out to me. I’m here for you because I know how helpful it is to talk to someone who gets it. I’m here for you because you’re my brother or my sister in Christ and I want you to know you can experience the joy of living a life free from your eating disorder.

Your life matters. Recovery is worth it. You can live a life that is not consumed by your eating disorder. Know that. Believe that. And know it’s going to be hard. It will never not be hard, but it will never not be worth it. You’re going to have days you feel awesome and motivated to recover, and you’ll have days you want to give up.

Don’t.

 

Get the facts and get informed

12 things people don’t understand about eating disorders

I saw this link on Pinterest a while ago and it’s something very near and dear to me, which is why I’m sharing it with you all.
People often jump to conclusions, judge, or make assumptions when it comes to eating disorders because they simply are not informed.
People don’t understand the depth of an eating disorder, which is why this link is so helpful, especially if you’re somebody who doesn’t know a thing about eating disorders.
It’s best to be informed, whether you have a friend or relative going through it or not, it’s good to be aware of the signs, symptoms, and ways to not be ignorant and/or unhelpful when it comes to these illnesses.
This link has 12 of the most common things that are misunderstood about eating disorders. Please take the time to read this short article. It’s helpful to be informed, because even if you don’t know how to help someone dealing with these type of issues, I can assure you that judging and making assumptions does nothing but make things worse.
So read this article above if you have time. If you’re in a hurry, I’ll sum it up for you:

Eating disorder are not:
-only about body image
-only an issue for teenagers
-“women disorders”
-punch lines/something to joke about
-only anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating
-easy to identify (THERE IS NO BODY SHAPE OR SIZE OR WEIGHT THAT DETERMINES WHETHER YOU HAVE AN EATING DISORDER OR NOT)
-something you can just “snap out of”
-issues to take lightly. (THEY ARE LIFE THREATENING AND DETRIMENTAL TO ONES HEALTH)
-impossible to recover from.

Recovery is very possible. It’s hard, but possible.

Thanks for taking the time to check out this post and I hope you continue to become more informed and aware of eating disorders and what you can do or say to help. They’re sadly a very common thing in this world today, so anything you and I can do to prevent them or help people who are suffering, could make a difference.
And if you’re personally struggling, there is help out there. Talk to me, email me, write me a message on my Contact and Connect page right here on my blog. There is both outpatient and inpatient treatment teams that are willing to work with you. You will get through this. You are strong. It’s not impossible. T

We have two options. Give up or fight.

We have two options, medically and emotionally. Either give up, or fight like hell.
No matter what you’re battling, whether it be depression, addiction, an eating disorder, cancer, even the flu or pneumonia, you must fight. Giving up should not even be an option that crosses your mind.
Fighting mental illness or physical illness is difficult but you can beat it, or else you wouldn’t have been given that battle to fight.
Through out our lives, we are given different obstacles and challenges we must face, but those things wouldn’t be called hurdles if there wasn’t a way to get over them.
You have all of the strength you need, you just have to find it because sometimes you have to dig deep for that strength, it’s not always ‘right there.’
Giving up doesn’t get you anywhere. If anything, you’ll feel worse when you give up because you’ll realize one day it was indeed a fight that you could’ve won.
Fighting makes you a warrior; you become stronger and wiser and you learn so much about yourself and about life.
You are not your disease, disorder, or illness. You are a human being who is not perfect, but who is strong and capable of much more than you give yourself credit for.
Don’t give up on yourself, because the moment you want to give up is usually the moment right before something extraordinary happens.