Finding Peace Through Activism: Marissa’s Green Recovery Story

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Happy weekend, friends! I’m here tonight with a new Green Recovery story. This one is from Marissa, who writes the blog Righteous Chickpea. You may have “met” Marissa when she wrote a guest post on Stop Chasing Skinny. If you haven’t met her yet, I hope you’ll enjoy her inspiring recovery story.

As you all know, veganism played a profound role in my own ED recovery; though one can never predict how life would be different under totally different circumstances, I can say with confidence that I am not certain I would have recovered had I not become vegan. I say this because I was very prone to relapses throughout my ED, and because conventional thinking about recovery never seemed to do me much good. Nor, for that matter, did conventional food. Veganism showed me food that was quite unlike the “healthy” fare I was used to, or the caloric, highly refined food I’d sometimes eaten to put on weight. It showed me aesthetically beautiful, nourishing, and wholesome dishes, created from colorful, varied plants. It allowed me to fall in love with food for the first time in my life.

Of course that might have happened if I had simply discovered a largely unprocessed, mostly plant-based diet, too. But veganism contributed to my recovery in ways that went beyond presenting me with delicious and healthy cuisine. It also instilled in me a sense of responsibility to the creatures I share the planet with; it helped me to connect with stores of compassion I didn’t actually know I had. It gave me a sense of purpose, and inspired me to help others—both animals who suffer for human consumption, and human beings who suffer from illness or disordered eating. In short, it pulled me out of the isolation of my ED, and taught me to direct my energy toward others, rather than constantly using it to fuel my obsession with thinness and fitness.

I think you’ll see many parallels between my experience with vegan activism/ED recovery and Marissa’s, below. I want to thank her for sharing her story so candidly, and at the end, I’d of course love to hear your impressions/thoughts.

Like many pre-teens, I went through an awkward transition from middle to high school. I had few close friends at the time, and struggled to fit in with my peers. I did not know where I belonged in my new community, so I shifted my focused inward, becoming increasingly depressed and anxious. I started to starve myself in the hopes that a slimmed-down appearance would help me feel better about myself and would enable me to find a place in the new crowd, but these behaviors only brought me deeper into my depression. I became obsessed with calories, exercise, and strict food schedules, and I realized soon after that my eating disorder was defining me and my life.

It has been thirteen years since I was first diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, and while that first episode was certainly the scariest and put me at the most medical risk, I have cycled in and out of disordered periods ever since. I have tried multiple forms of therapy, nutritional plans, in-patient and out-patient treatment modes, etc., but nothing has ever really ‘stuck’. I always thought I was doomed to suffer for life, but I have begun to feel a new hope for myself and my future.

Although it would seem likely that I’d discover vegetarianism and than veganism because of the restrictions they place on diets, it was not so for me: I had always been drawn to other creatures, and feel kinship with any non-human animal I encounter. Even when compulsively exercising, I’d take time out to stop and pet a new dog or stoop down to get kisses from a cuddly pup. I’ve always had companion animals, and I’ve always donated to causes supporting the rescue and rehabilitation of other beings. I decided in college to go vegetarian, and felt a weight (no pun intended) lifting from my shoulders. I was not eating animals, fear, or death, and it felt wonderful. My health stayed stable, and I provided my family with plenty of research regarding my decision and the nutritional aspects of this choice. When I later learned the truths about dairy and eggs, I immediately went vegan, and have now been so for about three years. I still see my treatment providers and a vegan-friendly nutritionist, and am feeling stronger all the time.

It was this final transition to veganism that gave me the most internal peace. There was nothing in my body that contributed to the suffering of any animal, and I could feel good about nurturing myself with these foods. My husband, who was vegetarian at the time, made the switch as well, and we were officially a vegan household (with the exception of our two rescue dogs). We also became more engaged in the activist scene in our community, and I felt like I had even more reasons to keep working towards full recovery. Protesting outside fast-food restaurants, visiting sanctuaries, leafletting and attending vegan potlucks aren’t options for someone too obsessed with their own diet and exercise routine, but these are what give me hope and fire to keep working. I also simply lack the strength when engaged with my eating disorder to be a good advocate for the animals, and because that was my ultimate reason for going vegan, I continuously remind myself of this mission when I feel tempted or triggered by the disorder. I want to represent strength, respect and hope for the animals, and I know i can only do that if I maintain personal wellness and reach a place of peace in my body and my mind. I do not have to forget my past, but it can inform the work I do for animals and drive me forward on this journey.

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Categories: Food and Healing

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  1. Isn’t it such an incredible feeling to be able to transcend our obsessions about our own image/health/weight/skewed self-worth and be able to make an action which directly and positively impacts the life of another creature? It begins such a beautiful cycle. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Marissa. <3

  2. Riss I am so proud of you! Such an empowering piece and I am so proud of your love and dedication to veganism and animals everywhere. It is really a special thing to have such a strong passion for something! Love you and thanks fr sharing this with me!

  3. Hello Marissa,
    You and your husband look like very sweet people, and I wish you all the best for the future in terms of your struggles with eating. Could I respectfully ask, why your doggies are/were not vegan? Dogs can and do thrive on a vegan diet, just to state that here for some who may not know.

    • Thank you for your comment, Susie. Regarding our dogs, it’s actually something we are learning more about. How are your dogs doing? What do they eat?

      • Hi Marissa,
        In my country we have a great dried dog food called Vegan Pet, which can be mixed in with veggies, rice, etc.
        Dogs are omnivores, not carnivores (unlike cats), so will be happy on most things; I have heard that until recently, the world’s oldest dog (a rescued border collie I think) was vegan, fed rice and veggies.
        Ani Phyo’s dog is raw vegan and the picture of health.
        Good luck with it!

  4. I can’t even begin I tell u how proud I am of my sister marissa! I also struggle with bulimia for appx 20 years now! Wow to type that is frightening! Anyway, I am doing well Married, had 2 children then went back to school. There IS life after an eating disorder, but u need to be patient, there are ALWAYS setbacks along this journey. I believe everything happens for a reason and “what doesn’t kill ya, makes u stronger!” never, never give up!!!! Xoxo

  5. Abby,
    I am sorry you are feeling like the eating disorder has so much power right now. It can do that when we are in times of transition, stress, confusion, etc..I know from experience. It is very hard to re-focus, and I too have many days where I question my motives, but re-focusing your energies and remembering what good you can do in the world as a strong, healthy, empowered vegan can be a motivating force. Sitting still has always been hard for me, too, so I encourage you to try and find some time for yourself to journal on your issues (yes, that means resting your body, but not your mind), get out some books on animal welfare/activism/rescue, or even just start your own blog or something of the sort. There is hope, and life will be much better for all of us once we find peace within ourselves and begin to believe in recovery. You are not alone.
    Thinking of you,

    • Hi Marissa,
      Thanks for the reply. Just to follow-up, I’ve had a blog for years, and yes–I use it for that purpose. I mostly use it as an escape from the serious thoughts that I have and keep things light, but there are times that I share those certain thoughts and motivations.

      Yet there are some things you can think yourself out of, and actions must be taken. It’s day-to-day, as you know. Thanks again for the post!

  6. Another great GR story, and I relate to both your intro Gena and the story itself. Although I am currently in a low phase with my own issues, I have recently made some serious changes and for the first time in years–due to veganism and some spiritual practice–I am hopeful and I am confident in true recovery.

    I’ll be posting about it soon, but it basically boils down to the fact that by living a life as a slave to my maladaptive behaviors–namely exercise and self-imposed food restrictions–instead of in line with my core beliefs. Like you, it’s been a decade of survival and abusing myself, retreating into intellectualizing everything and just being a quiet observer of life rather than taking action and living the life that I feel I want to lead. That means cutting the limiting beliefs that I’m always going to be sick, depressed and out of balance.

    To recover, I need to refocus that energy on things that I truly care about–not exercise, but vegan ethics, mindfulness, etc.–and while I need to make myself a priority, I also have to realize that my actions affect a much larger energy force. I’m now eating different things not only for myself, but because they are choices that respect the animals and the planet. I am now resting more because I want the mental strength to learn more and educate myself, to be mindful and exhibit peace to those that I meet. Sorry for the ramble, but you really hit on a lot here. Another great post. 😉

  7. Great post!
    I can really feel what she is saying.
    Directing all that internal energy outwards to make a difference in the world , even a tiny difference, shows love to the universe instead of negative vibes that were once used daily.

  8. I loved reading Marissa’s story and especially loved this:

    “It was this final transition to veganism that gave me the most internal peace. There was nothing in my body that contributed to the suffering of any animal, and I could feel good about nurturing myself with these foods.”

    Disordered eating can feel very stressful (personal experience) and finding something that encourages a feeling of inner peace is wonderful. So happy for you Marissa. And the animals are lucky to have you on their team 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Nikki. It has been (will always be) a long and difficult road, but veganism and animal activism are my passions, and they give me a reason a nurture myself and recover. I wish you the best.

    • That quote, too, really effected me. It is powerful how having the courage to care about yourself and about what you put in your body can do to the rest of your life.

      I, too, suffer from an ED. it doesn’t help that I have a thyroid problem either, but through a few weeks of research, I’ve seen that veganism can help better thyroid function. After 1 day of going vegan (nutritionally) I already feel really good about myself. I think that is the first step to recovery. Never in my life have I had a self-esteem, but after feeling the way I did today…I think I can recover too.

      • Lindsey,
        I believe that everyone with an eating disorder has the power within them to recover, and when you don’t feel strong enough to fight or don’t know where to turn, you can lean on others (including those in this community) to help you on that path. As a new vegan, you will find that this support is especially beneficial, and I encourage you to reach out whenever you feel confused or lost or even excited.
        Best wishes on your journey,