#Knowb4Stage4: Truth, Lies and Choices

Allison Epstein is the managing editor at Adios Barbie, a body-image blogger at The Body Pacifist, a fiction writer and Renaissance drama enthusiast. She writes about eating disorders, the media and feminism. Allison has a degree in English, creative writing and French from the University of Michigan, and works as a marketing copywriter during the day. Check out her out at her website Adios Barbie , on Facebook and on Twitter.

The truth about eating disorders is masked in layers of misconceptions and stereotypes. Mainstream narratives love the idea that eating disorders are choices. That young women (and young straight white cis women exclusively, because no one else gets eating disorders, right?) use them as diets so they can look like supermodels, and they’re too uninformed or self-absorbed to know their behavior is unhealthy. All eating disorders are restrictive, and you can tell who has one just by looking at them.

And if we have a skewed view of the disorders themselves, our recovery picture might be even worse. In this narrative, treatment starts when the person is forcibly checked into an inpatient facility because it’s immediately medically necessary, and not a moment before. And in that facility, some magical switch is flipped. You check a box that says “recovered,” and all of a sudden you see the world differently. “Oh,” you think, “of course. How silly of me. I shouldn’t have an eating disorder. Let me go on with my life.”

Thing is, the real story is different.

There’s nothing glamorous about an eating disorder. Treatment at the last minute is reactive, ill-informed and dangerous. And even when the process begins in earlier stages, it’s not easy. There’s no success on the eating disorder train except jumping off it, and hoping you roll when you hit the ground.

Of course recovery is possible, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s not something you have. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.

Even for me, in what I’m calling late-stage recovery, it’s still in the back of my mind — almost every single day. I’m still figuring out how to move through this world in a body that doesn’t always feel like mine, in a body that takes up a sometimes-terrifying amount of space.

Keeping your disorder in mind doesn’t have to equal a tangible, put-your-finger-on-it relapse. It can be as simple as avoiding the scale, not because you know it doesn’t reflect your self-worth, but because you’re afraid of what it might say. It can look like sitting in front of the gym for 15 minutes because you really do not want to go inside, but today is Thursday and Thursday is your gym day. You must do what you do on Thursdays or you will have failed the Thursday test. It can look like sitting on your couch or in the car or at your desk at work and actively hating your body.

It can, and does, look like all these things.

And every day we challenge these thoughts. Every time we congratulate ourselves on making it this far, that’s another step on the road.

First thoughts don’t matter. Your flashes of “I hate my body” or “I don’t deserve to eat this” are impulsive. You can’t control what flies into your head.

What you can control is what you think next.

What matters is if you question what that voice tells you.

What matters is if you curse out the body hate, and tell yourself, “That’s not true. My body is a grade-A wonderland, thank you very much.”

What matters is that you keep going.

And what matters is that you know it’s possible.

The first step toward a daily recovery practice is admitting that the road is there, and you can walk it. It doesn’t have to be inpatient. You don’t have to be “sick enough” to recover. You can start today. You can start by telling a therapist, or a trusted friend, or parents or siblings or a journal or your cat. You can sketch out your own path and find activities and passions to fill the time your disorder took.

But recovery shouldn’t be something shied away from because you might not be “deserving” of help, or because your journey might not be “perfect.” Eating disorders aren’t monolithic. Don’t compare your story to mine, or anyone else’s. If you think you could benefit from help, ask for it. And above all, know that there’s no such thing as a perfect recovery. It’s a messy, emotional, beautiful, soul-searching process.

Eating disorders aren’t something you choose. But you can choose recovery. And you can keep choosing it, every day, every step, every second.