Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.


According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IVR, there are three eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, although treatment professionals recognize Binge Eating Disorder or Compulsive Overeating as an additional eating disorder.

These definitions fail us in so many ways, as most of you understand.  They prevent us from getting appropriate help (thanks insurance companies!), they create stereotypes, and, for a lot of us, become something we cling to and staunchly defend, ie, “I am an anorexic, not a bulimic.”  To me, these definitions don’t mean that much.  There is no “pure anorexia” (or bulimia, etc.).  Everyone experiences an eating disorder in a unique manner, even with the similar symptoms.

And the DSM-IVR, for all its hallowed status, doesn’t define recovery.  Everyone comes to recovery in their own time, in their own way.  Recovery is not something you can force on someone. There are no pills to take, no surefire treatments to undergo.  You have to want it.  There is no one treatment modality that works for everyone. 

Recovery will look different for different people.  My recovery may not be your recovery.  The path I took to get to where I am today may not work for you.   

Here are my definitions, for my life:

I was anorexic when I was actively engaging in eating disordered behaviors and symptoms.  I was also still anorexic when I was managing my symptoms but still identified myself as an anorexic.  When it was still in the back of my head as a potential escape route.  I was actively anorexic while I was in treatment, while I was following the rules and biding my time until I could get out and go back to my safety net.  I was actively anorexic when I kept my weight above admission criteria and lied to my treatment team about how well I was doing.  

I was in recovery when I started letting go of the illness. When I started working on the real, underlying issues behind the behaviors.  This was a grey period, when I still wanted the illness but also wanted life and couldn’t decide which way I was ultimately going to go.  This was a time of great fear, because letting go of the illness meant letting go of everything I knew and stepping into a new world.  I was in recovery when I was managing behaviors and fighting like hell not to relapse, but I still had in the back of my mind the idea that if things got too hard, I could always go back to the easy way.  I was in recovery when I was at a healthy weight but was struggling every day to do so.  

I considered myself recovered when I completely gave up the anorexic identity.  When I realized I could not fully live with even one little shred of my mind holding onto anorexia as a possibility. When I realized that there was nothing that could ever convince me to go back.  When I realized that life, real life, with all of its pains and heartbreaks and setbacks, was more real than any day with eating disorder.  The desire to use symptoms disappeared.  The desire for such an easy escape was gone.  

The only way I have known how to describe it is like I let my skin fall away from me and then stepped away.  I was left raw and vulnerable, but for the first time, I was real.


July 9, 2009 - Posted by | Eating Disorders | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I love this post, honestly. Your definitions are so true and relevant! I honestly love the part that says: “I could not fully live with even one little shred of my mind holding onto anorexia as a possibility.” I am working hard to overcome this aspect right now and according to your definitions I am “in recovery.” I am doing the best I can, but somehow it is still in the back of my mind as an “if all else fails” plan. I hate that.
    I know that a life with anorexia is no life at all. Period. I need to learn to let go of this mindset! I can literally feel myself letting go of it for a few minutes as I convince myself, but the second I let my guard down and don’t focus every fiber of my being on that thought, the anorexic mindset comes flooding back. “It’s okay, at least you can be skinny.” That is total crap.
    Okay, sorry for rambling in your comments. 🙂 I just wanted to say that you are a stunning writer and your ideas are so relevant! Keep on writing, and I am always here if you want to chat or anything! 🙂

    Comment by Okie | July 9, 2009 | Reply

    • Okie,
      You say that by my definitions you are “in recovery.” These are the terms I use to define where I was at at certain times in my life. There is nothing wrong with being where you are; in fact, it is a necessary step to letting go. You have to contemplate it before doing it.
      And don’t be afraid to come up with your own definitions!

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 9, 2009 | Reply

      • Thanks for your support! 🙂

        Comment by Okie | July 10, 2009

  2. I’ve never appreciated the DSM-IV definitions of eating disorders. They’re way too narrow.
    I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head though with yours. You say we can write our own definitions, but I think yours are a good starting point from which to tweak it to match everyone’s individual journey.
    Too bad we can’t rewrite the DSM-IV with new and relevent definitions.

    Comment by Andi | July 16, 2009 | Reply

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