Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

do we need pictures as proof?

Recently, on social media, there is an article that, while not viral, is rather popular.  It’s a bunch of before and after photos.  The before being when the individual was at his/her sickest with an eating disorder, and the after being when the individual is recovered.  Underneath each pair of photos is a brief paragraph about their recovery.

I have some problems with this article, because while it has been posted by those in recovery or striving for recovery, it has also been posted prominently in the pro-ana and pro-mia sites.  Because the before photos portray extremely thin individuals, and while the article is meant to focus on those individuals’ recoveries, too many individuals are using the before photos as proof that they can indeed lose that much weight and still live.  This is extremely dangerous thinking.  Death does not depend on weight.

One thing the article suggests to an uneducated reader is that an eating disorder is not serious unless you look like one of these before shots.  The article also suggests that these individuals are anorexic or purging-anorexics, giving bulimics and binge eaters false hope that they are out of danger.  But, as I stated in a previous post, I have lost many friends to eating disorders–and most of these friends died at low weights, but not the extremes detailed in the article, and most of them were purging.

This article, by focusing on people at an extremely low weight, tells readers that they don’t have an eating disorder or need help unless they, too, are at that low weight.  In actuality, the earlier you intervene in an eating disorder, the higher the rate of recovery.  Waiting until the end is near is waiting until the crisis is at its strongest and requires much more intervention and support, both on a physical and mental level.

The short little paragraphs stating that the individual is recovered worry me.  The focus is on how sick the individual was, and then he or she had a revelation and decided to get better.  If only it worked like that for the vast majority of those struggling with eating disorders.  My revelation?  It came on Christmas morning, when my brother brought my little toddler nephew to the hospital to see me.  I realized that I did not want my nephew to grow up visiting me in hospitals.  I decided if I could not get better for me, I would get better for him.  And with that decision, I began eating 100% and lost all urges to purge and reclaimed my positive body image as I was gaining weight.  (please note heavy sarcasm)

It didn’t work quite like that.  I was inpatient for another month, and then in their partial hospitalization program for six weeks.  And then I would be hospitalized again a year-and-a-half later.  And then it would be another couple years until I had convinced myself that I would not relapse again, that life was indeed better than an eating disorder.  I remained in therapy and got to discuss all those body image issues I had tried to hide/ignore, I continued working with my family physician to ensure I was, indeed, physically healthy.  Now?  Seven years after that?  Now I can say I am 100% secure in my recovery and am comfortable in my own skin and I know that I will never relapse.

Yes, it is nice to read an article that describes improvement.  We need to hear more of these stories.  But we also need to hear the truth, that recovery is possible and worth it, but it takes a lot of work.  And do we need these before shots to get that message across?  Why not highlight the small steps individuals take in their recovery journey?  When I was sick, people said, “You can choose to get better,” but no one told me how to do that, so I truly did feel that I was up against an impossible task.

And a lot of this occurred for me before the social media frenzy, and before academic research made use of the internet.  I was lucky to meet a professor, one who had lost his daughter to bulimia, who introduced me to someone who had recovered from her eating disorder and was doing advocacy work.  My weight wasn’t that big of a deal to her, but my behaviors were, and how these behaviors were affecting my physical health and creating mental pain were.

Another important issue this article deftly avoids is that eating disorders are mental illnesses.  They don’t just affect your physical body; they are expressions of internal pain and horror that need to be acknowledged and addressed.  I didn’t wake up one day and decide, “Hey, being an anorexic sounds like a great idea!”  But choosing recovery was a phenomenal idea.

Now?  There’s the National Eating Disorder Association and the Eating Disorders Coalition and Families Empowered & Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders.   These three sites give success stories.  These three sites give details about finding treatment.  These sites give the statistics.  And there are many other recovery-oriented sites that offer support and encouragement.  Grace On The Moon offers forums for discussion and support–that are moderated to ensure they are recovery-focused.

*note:  I did not link to the original article, because even though it has a one-line warning statement, I really do fear that the graphic pictures will be more harmful than helpful.*

October 10, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. So I’m going to comment on all your posts apparently, sorry!

    I am just so grateful for what you said, because I’ve had these thoughts so many times. Thank you for not posting the link, after 9 years of treatment my recovery is still not rock solid enough for articles like that to not create at least some ED thoughts.

    I wonder about the people who’s stories are featured in the article. Was it a recovery focused experience or was it some way playing into the competition our EDs push us to have with who’s sicker. What happens if they relapse later on? What consequences would it have for them to be willing to seek treatment or admit things had reoccurred?

    Comment by Amanda | October 10, 2014 | Reply

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