“I am free. Completely free. I cannot believe it. I did it!” Those were the thoughts running through my mind after I successfully stopped abusing laxatives. I was thrilled, proud, over the moon, but I was also terrified.
And while it was true, I was freer, a part of myself still held on to my eating disorder and my addiction. After all, we shared a close attachment for 14 years. Although it will take more time to completely let go, the differences between the life with anorexia nervosa and the life in recovery are enormous.
A typical day, a year ago, was dictated by the voice in my head. I had to follow orders or disaster would arise. Today, I am the only one doing the talking and the acting. A year ago, my life was a sea of hopeless desperation. I was carrying around feelings of absolute failure. I was constantly counting calories and agonized over the impending daily workouts.
Today, I am full of energy and enthusiasm. I can focus all of my attention on being creative, and I don’t completely obsess over food anymore. I spend my days having fun and enjoying what I am doing and, with that, I am experiencing a level of freedom I have never known before. And on top of that, I have grown as a human being in ways I could have never imagined. I began to love myself for the very first time. I acknowledged my weaknesses and embraced my flaws. But I also regained trust in my many abilities. Today, life is exciting, and the future looks amazing and full of opportunities.
Achieving this stage was not easy. In fact, it was more difficult than maintaining my eating disorder for so many years. However, it was one of the most rewarding processes of my life. With each day, I grew and transformed a bit more, and I learned many invaluable things about myself. I formed a relationship with myself, instead of deepening the one I had with my eating disorder. I learned that it is OK to concentrate on myself from time to time and that it is important to take care of myself and my body.
A body that looks so different now than it did a year ago. A body that finally looks like a women’s body instead of a child’s. At first, it was not easy coming to terms with the fact that I had to gain weight, and I needed a few months to adjust to my new body. But over time, I accepted it and even began to love my curves. I am a woman now, so why can’t my body show that? It has been more than a year now since I initially committed to recovery, and sometimes I cannot believe how far I have come. However, since I am a human being, I sometimes slip and fall, and so setbacks are inevitable. A recent world trip was a reminder that my base is still a bit fragile.
My husband and I recently went on a trip to Australia and Bali. It was a chance of a lifetime, and I was beyond excited to travel to places I had always dreamed of.
I have always loved to travel. It was one of my earliest passions. My parents made sure that we would see the world from an early age on. We would travel around Europe when I was little, seeing France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany (of course), Spain and so many more countries. Even during those early trips, the scale was always with me. I couldn’t leave it at home. I had to be in control. This created many arguments with my parents, many tears were shed because I had gained weight, many vacations were ruined.
When I was 13 years old, my father arranged for me to be able to stay at a friend’s house in Chicago. This was the first time that I would travel to the U.S., and I was traveling alone. I enjoyed myself a lot, but the voice in my head was constantly berating me for eating too much, for gaining too much weight and for not deserving to have fun.
I would travel around the world even when my illness was the worst. I would enjoy myself and be excited about exploring new places, but I was never truly free.
When I traveled to L.A. last November, everything was different. I did not fear going out to dinner with my friends. I did not feel guilty over drinking a mocha. I was able to just be in the moment. So, I thought that I was ready to go on a longer trip.
The first few days at the other end of the world were fabulous. Arriving in Sydney after being in the air for almost 24 hours was amazing. Being able to walk around in shirts in late November was a welcome change. We settled in fairly quickly, met friends, did some sightseeing and enjoyed each other’s company. I ate regularly, not even feeling overwhelmed by having to choose from a menu.
However, after flying to Melbourne for a couple of days, I started restricting again, dark thoughts arose of not being allowed to eat breakfast or lunch. Then I would binge at dinner. This vicious circle accompanied me during the rest of the trip. I felt bad again, cried often, feeling trapped in my own body again. My thoughts were torturing me. I tried to be brave and not ruin everything for my husband. We were able to have many wonderful moments, and we saw so many incredible sights (the Sydney Opera being one of them), but my dark passenger was always there.
In Bali, I was constantly going back and forth between wanting to eat and wanting to stop. I wanted to enjoy the special delicatessen of Bali, wanted to try to delicious cakes they served during high tea every afternoon. But could I deal with gaining weight? Would I lose control? I decided to try it. It was a chance I would not have again for a while, so I had to use it.
It wasn’t easy. I was restless, hardly able to appreciate the beauty around us. I felt discouraged, wishing I could be totally free. But I pushed through these feelings and tried to make the best of the situation.
We saw a lot of the island, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. My husband and I both fell in love with the people and the peaceful spirit of this little island.
Am I sad that I couldn’t totally let go? Yes. Would I change anything about the trip? Yes. I would not go away from home for such a long time this early on in recovery. I would prepare myself better, would make meal plans and detailed coping plans. However, I am beyond grateful for having learned another lesson, and I am sure that I will be able to implement many of the things I learned on future vacations.
Life is a journey and so is recovery. Learning lessons is part of the deal. Some are larger, some are smaller, but they are all important. The way to health is not always fun, and I have taken many detours, but overall, I am proud of where I am today, and I am excited for the next part of this trip.
Anne-Sophie Reinhardt is a blogger, podcaster and digital entrepreneur. After struggling from Anorexia Nervosa for 14 years, she recovered and is now helping others who are trying to do the same. If you would like to engage with Anne-Sophie beyond her blog, she offers 1:1 consulting! Just send her an e-mail.