Recovery in Progress: Meghan’s Story
May 12, 2012

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Needless to say, I am abundantly grateful for your comments on my superhero smoothie post. Thank you, CR readers, for inspiring me every day.

I’m here today with a new Green Recovery post. This one is from Meghan, who writes the blog Happy Life: One Gal’s Plunge into the Present. Meghan has a long, long history with both anorexia and bulimia, and she has recently recovered from a serious relapse. Her blog chronicles her journey into self love, recovery, and plant-based eating. I adore Meghan’s courage and optimism in the face of the recovery process, and I appreciate her candor about how difficult recovery has been for her.

Recently, a reader mentioned that she finds the Green Recovery posts to be triggering, because they underscore the fact that she herself is having a hard time recovering, in spite of adopting a plant-based diet and trying very hard. To this reader, I want to say two things:

1) You should absolutely not read any Green Recovery posts if they trigger you! Please. Take the day off from CR, go take a sunlit walk, and do anything but allow yourself to feel poorly because of these posts. As a consumer of blogs, you must know what your boundaries are. I personally implore you not to check in if something threatens your peace of mind.

2) My first bout with disordered eating came when I was 11, going on 12. I did not consider myself “recovered” till my mid-twenties—25 or 26. Though my habits and health had improved a few years before that, it was only at that point that my way of thinking about food really shifted into something beautiful and positive, rather than guilt-laden and fearful.

This is nearly 15 years of an unhealthy, contentious relationship with food and my body. 15 years is a long time, but some people take longer still to recover. For some folks, it happens more quickly. Recovery is a continuum. Eating disorders are serious illnesses, and it is not easy to simply get better because you want to. No matter how long it takes you, no matter how many times you relapse, and no matter how hard you struggle, please do not feel angry or impatient with yourself. If it’s taking a long time, it’s because you’re up against a very powerful foe.

Be good to yourself. You have enough of a fight to contend with without feeling self-loathing because you don’t recover at some specific “rate.” Recovery is a long, winding road, and we all encounter twists, turns, and speed bumps (I had two relapses myself, not to mention many intermittent years of normal weight, but abnormal thoughts about food). I feel no shame or frustration with the fact that my recovery was long and slow; I also am always mindful that relapses can happen to the best of us, and so I treat my recovery with respect and care.

Treat yourself with respect and care, too. Even if you’re still experiencing an ED, that does not mean that you are not working towards a goal of wellness. Appreciate your own courage in trying to get well; in the end, the desire to recover is what makes you a hero in the first place.

And now, for some very similar thoughts about the difficulty of recovery and the importance of appreciating recovery as a fluid process, rather than a cut-and-dry before/after, I present the lovely Meghan.


I have lived with ED for many years. Since I was about 14 years old. ED is a terrible roommate, taking up much valuable space and precious time, and is an active force in dissolving delicate self love. As much as I have fought with ED, ED has also been a source of comfort and release, and has been very hard to let go of. I borrow use of the name ED from a dear friend, who also referred to the unwelcome sidekick in her life in the same way. ED is what I am choosing to call my Eating Disorder. I have suffered from bulimia and bouts of anorexia since my early teens. ED tormented me the worst in high school….and the result made for a fragile young girl sometimes of skin and bones, with not only a terrible relationship with food, but also very ungracious and raw interactions with my family, friends, and with my very own spirit.

Bulimia. That is a word that I used to be so ashamed of saying out loud. But now I use it with ease as it is a part of who I am, was, and will become. It has been a part of my life for so long, and it has taken me up until this point to realize that it is nothing to apologize for. It just is. I remember back when I was first “diagnosed” with my bulimia, it was a word that left waves of uncomfortable silence in its wake. At that time, my mother was desperate to find educational support and medical assistance, but resources were next to nil and for the most part people just didn’t talk about eating disorders. There was such a massive stigma associated with not only the word, but everything that came along with it. Eating disorders, especially bulimia, were considered gross, silly, shallow, and easy to cure. Not so. It can take a real personal bottoming out to act as that catalyst for change…

Flashback

January 25 2011 – ED had been with me for about 16 years on and off by this point, but only really surfaced to knock on my door at the worst of times. I had gotten pretty good and locking the door, latching the deadbolt, and ignoring his pleads for entry. But in January of that year, I was unable to keep him at bay…

I was having a really rough time moving on from my breakup with my ex-fiancé; my relationship issues had a strangle hold over me, and I was feeling not good enough, not smart enough, and just plain blue. I had just recently been discharged from my nine month bankruptcy, but was financially strapped and panicking. My father was not well, recently diagnoses with both Frontotemporal dementia and ALS, and my family was worried. I was starting my life over and felt really alone and completely out of control.

So ED showed up and kicked my ass. I relapsed. Bad. I ended up at the emergency room of St. Joe’s hospital in Toronto, on a morphine IV drip, with a 7 inch long spatula lodged in my esophagus. The pain was excruciating. I was in and out of consciousness. I was there for 24 hours, and after the procedure to remove the blockage, my heart rate was drastically low. My body was in trauma the nurses told me. I was stoned up, and felt like I was living a bad nightmare. The good doctors then pumped me full of electrolytes, fluids, and more pain relievers, and waited for me to rebuild my strength. After hours plugged into the heart rate monitors, a couple of ECGs (electrocardiograms), and some gentle words from my discharging ER doc, I was released.

This was the turning point. I could not, would not, ever, let ED take me down like that again. In all my years battling the disease, I had never gone so far as needing real medical assistance. Even when I hovered at my lowest weights, even as I ruined my tooth enamel through constant vomiting in high school, as my bones were grasping for all the nutrients they could sponge up from the little food I was keeping inside of me…..I had never let it get this bad.

And it will never happen again. Ever.

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I am 31 years old now, and do not consider myself fully recovered. I am living a recovered life. My disordered eating has been a part of my world for so long, that I sort of forget what it is like to have a one hundred percent healthy relationship with food. I have spent many years learning all I can about nutrition, have major passion for my time spent in the kitchen, and pride myself in the ability to choose the best fuel for my active body. I am very, and acutely aware of what I consume, and how it makes me feel both physically and mentally. I have long been into the science behind eating healthily, and to that end I have learned a few things that have helped sort out some personal digestive needs, and also what it takes to feel like my optimal self.

In 2009, I adopted a gluten free diet, spent a time eating “in the raw”, and am now thriving as a vegan. Since adopting my vegan way of eating, I have developed an even healthier relationship with food, more confidence in my consumption, and have a spring in my step that has been missing for years. My commitment to fully exploring a plant based diet is totally personal, and I do so for my pleasure, vitality, and overall health. I have been faced with many questions regarding my decision to move towards this “radical” or “extreme” way of eating, as many assume that it is not a healthy choice for those with an eating disordered history.

However, I am quick to defend that, yes, a vegan “diet” is very specific, and yes, there is a lot to think about when getting my nutrition in this way. But, I also know that folks in the vegan community tend to experience fewer bouts with extreme dieting, body image, or food issues. I love knowing that every morsel of food I put into my body is brimming with nutrients and goodness, and adore my time in the kitchen creating complex and delicious meals for myself and my loved ones. I love that now, when I have that satisfied feeling of fullness after dining, that my body recognizes that I am full of fuel, not just food. Right now, this is what is right for me, and I do not make myself crazy. Eating this way feels the most natural and healthy, and that is all that matters.

While my ultimate goal is to someday soon be able to say that I have fully kicked ED to the curb, I am at the same time very grateful to have finally banished most of my self-blame, self pity, and embarrassment about my bulimia. I would be lying if I said I that I never have ED-inspired thoughts at times when my anxiety peaks, my stress levels soar, or when my heart is aching. But, what is real and true, is that I also have quite a few tricks up my sleeve to combat those ideas, and have developed a slew of brilliant ways to cope, and to blot out those false perceptions before they can cause me any harm. I may not yet have sorted out all the root emotional causes for my ED, but the one thing I do know is that being vegan has changed my life in positive whys that I could never have imagined, and it will continue to be a solid tool in my life of recovery.

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I hope Meghan’s story makes clear that recovery is a process—an ongoing process that sometimes demands endless patience and energy. All we can do is our best: small strategies for coping and healing, honesty about our triggers and setbacks, and authentic efforts to keep going,e ven when it’s hard. You can’t push yourself to recover overnight, because no one can: EDs don’t happen overnight, and because they’re a part of us, they can’t just be excised out in a week or two. So give it time. But don’t lose faith that recovery is possible, and that you, too, can get there. And you will.

Thank you, Meghan, for speaking up. Everyone here in the CR community is supporting you, every step of the way!

xo

Categories: Food and Healing

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    29 Comments
  1. Thank You for this post, I’ve had an eating disorder for 19 years of my life and ‘am working through recovery at the age of 31. It was just this year that I did two very long and intense modules at a place called BridgePoint in Saskatchewan. It’s the highest rated, non-medical facility for treating eating disorders. They too teach us patience with ourselves and that you have to go through it to get through it. It really is a process which is a constant roller coaster. I am ALWAYS so grateful to hear of other women through their recovery process and not just the “I’m forever cured” scenario because I don’t believe it will ever be like that. I do see it’s always going to be a callenge… and one that I am grateful for my throat is still holding out on.

    Thank You, x0x

  2. Hello, I love these posts and the overall positive nature of the series!

    I personally haven’t struggled with eating disorders, but I like two other commenters have a young daughter and also wonder if there’s any preventative steps that I could take to help ensure that she maintains a healthy relationship with food. Sometimes I feel like my encouraging her to eat healthy and limit sugar intake seems restricting. As a parent, I occasionally feel like the whole world is working against me trying to feed my child bad foods at every turn. The other day she asked me why she couldn’t eat sugar since she wasn’t fat. It made me sad that she doesn’t understand that food is fuel and we should want to eat the best fuel possible. I guess that I just need to keep stressing that point.

  3. Thanks Meghan for sharing that! One thing I can’t help but note is how well her telling of her process explains the mind and dealings of ED sufferers and recoverers to a greater audience. I have found it difficult to explain to people who never went through it themselves, but Meghan does a really great job of expressing the “after” steps, the coping, simply and clearly. It’s very brave of her to tell her story and I am right beside her going through the same process. Many hugs Meghan!

  4. Your thoughts on recovery are inspiring. I am in recovery myself (this is relapse #2), and it has been a long road for me as well. If often feel badly since my first recovery was much shorter, but you’re right – there is no set time-frame. I really needed the encouragement today, so this was incredibly helpful – thank you!

    And thank you to Meghan for sharing her story. I too feel like I’m “living in recovery” and really have no recollection of “normal” thoughts towards food. You are inspiring!

  5. Your thoughts on recovery are inspiring. I am in recovery myself (this is relapse #2), and it has been a long road for me as well. If often feel badly since my first recovery was much shorter, but you’re right – there is no set time-frame. I really needed the encouragement today, so this was incredibly helpful – thank you!

    And thank you to Meghan for sharing her story. I too feel like I’m “living in recovery” and really have no recollection of “normal” thoughts towards food. You are inspiring!

  6. Meghan – you are a brave and beautiful woman. Thank you for sharing.

    I want to add my voice to veganbarista’s post. I am the vegan mom of 14 and 16 non-vegan daughters. Frequently they make very poor food choices like eating a whole bag of chips or drinking giant coffee drinks and other fast food. My 16 year old daughter sometimes seems to be restricting food and my 14 year old thinks she is fat. I want them to know food for what it is – fuel for our bodies. I want to steer them away from junk food and over eating but I don’t want it to seem as if I am some perfectionist mom who wants her daughters to look a certain way.

  7. After a solid year-and-a-half of following many vegan blogs and making the jump to a plant-based lifestyle myself, I’m finally “de-lurking” for the first time. Gena, I’m astounded at how eloquently you are able to write on such a consistent, time-crunched basis. Your recipes and thoughtful posts continue to propel me towards a healthier lifestyle. I struggled with varying severities of bulimia for a solid 5 years and really appreciate your Green Recovery series and your awareness of all stages of an ED recovery. And a big thank you to Meghan for reminding me that it may always be a recovery in progression, and that’s OK. Both of you are making a difference in people’s lives…keep it up.

  8. So, my question is: these eating disorders started SO YOUNG for you both: 12 and 14. As a hope-to-be-someday vegan mom, what are somethings that i can do to help my child have a healthy relationship with food/body image/self love? Are there any little things that either of you wished your parents would have taught/done for you? Are there any things they COULD have done? I have never struggled with an eating disorder, and frankly, i have a hard time truly identifying with these posts–but i want to!

    Any insight you might have would be so appreciated 🙂
    Brittany

  9. You look fabulous now! Glowing!!!! I find that the healthier I eat, I better I feel & the less I use food as something else. I cut out regular sugars & other stuff that was just “addictive”, like some processed junk foods, etc….
    So much easier to eat whole foods & as much as I want and not worry about weight, body, health, blah blah blah.
    So wonderful about the “food as fuel” part. So true. We are fuelling our bodies with “real food” and getting so many other benefits as well. Especially a more profound connection with the animals, the earth, how we grow our food.
    Great post!

  10. Though I’m well over a decade older than you, I relate to so much of your story, Meghan. I have experienced a 30+ year roller-coaster of a “recovery” which began as pre-teen anorexia, and morphed into other forms of restrictive or otherwise disordered eating/exercising occasionally in my later years. (I was one of those ED “pioneers” for whom proper whole-person treatment for ED’s had not yet been discovered/practiced by the psychiatric profession when I was first diagnosed back in the olden days.)

    Though for the most part, I have successfully managed the residual ED aspect of my identity very well through various stints of therapy and large doses of self-reflection and years of life experience, all of which have empowered me with the insight that I tap into when I need to turn off the voices that lurk within (to paraphrase Gena’s words) I am still surprisingly vulnerable during emotionally challenging times and periods of extreme uncertainty. I’ve experienced a few serious medical scares similar to yours, and each one has brought me greater clarity and strength.

    To you, dear Meghan, I say that adopting a green, nutrient rich diet is a huge act of self-love (and kindness toward all living creatures) and so that act alone is empowering and can be very helpful in managing your condition on a day to day basis. Yet, as you know, the genesis of ED’s have nothing to do with food. So, there’s no substitute for doing the inner work – especially talk therapy and regular practice of meditative and mindful activity.

    The concept of “full recovery” is nice and tidy, but the ugly truth is that it may be unrealistic for some of us and we may find ourselves in-process for many, many years or forever. And yet, if that turns out to be the case for you, that fact will not necessarily prevent you from living a full and rewarding life!

    All the best of health and much joy to you in the years ahead, Meghan…stay strong! xo

    Gena – This was an especially terrific framing of Meghan’s story.

    • Thank you, dear Karen.

      A post-bacc friend was recently surprised to hear me say that I “live with” my ED. To him, it sounded as though I was saying that I still actively suffer. I do not, but what I meant to say is that the tendencies and the predispositions that made it happen in the first place still reside someplace within me. I have learned to live my life happily with them, and to manage them when they are particularly powerful, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

      I am sure that some recovered people experience more of an absence of symptoms/tendencies, but that simply has not been my experience, and focusing on recovering as “no more ED thoughts, ever” was actually too much of a pressurized burden for me to handle as a person who was healing. As soon as I could make peace with the idea that the thoughts would appear sometimes, but that I could find ways to remain health-focused in spite of those moments, I felt and became much better.

      I am so glad that we have a space, this community, in which we can honestly speak about recovery as a continuum that includes moments of ongoing struggle or challenge.

      xo

  11. The posts always come at the most needed time for me. I am always so grateful for these. I’ve struggled for years with the word recovery because shouldn’t I be completely healed..no bad thoughts, no more food issues? It’s a process…maybe life long. Every day gets easier.

    Liv

    • Liv,

      See my comment to Karen, and her comment, below. Recovery is absolutely a continuum, and no, you need not hold yourself to the standard of “no bad thoughts, EVER” to feel that you are making progress. Good luck and keep reading!

      G

  12. I really loved your story Meghan, and your shout-out to the vegan community, which is so empowering. Thank you and Gena so much for sharing it with us all.

  13. A very touching and powerful story… I am impressed by Meghan’s bravery. Thank you Gena for this post and for the Green recovery series: in many ways, it is really inspiring.

  14. This is a great post! And a great reminder, i sometimes think and feel i am fully recovered and feel so strong, and then something stressful happens and these old thoughts and feelings come back and its so frustrating. My dad died a year ago and (i feel) that that gave me the little extra push i needed to really recover. So now when i feel my ed knocking at my door i think “he is watching! Wouldnt he be devastaded if he saw me (whatever mistreating myself im thinking of)?” i dont know if this is right or healthy, but it has helped me to see myself through his eyes, with love, compassion and complete acceptance.

    I love these series, thank you Gena and everyone who has shared their story. Its so brave, inspiring and helpful.

  15. Powerful post!

    I really liked your advice for those in recovery – I try to remind myself to protect my mind and only read what uplifts me. Fortunately I love these posts and personally don’t find them too triggering. Thanks for another great post.

  16. Wow – Meghan, thank you for this. That’s so scary you went to the ER – I’m glad they took care of you and perhaps this is what we need to hear more – that EDs can end up very, very serious.

    My dad had ALS….I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s diagnosis. If you ever have questions about it I could email you. Sending you good thoughts 🙂

  17. Thanks Meghan for sharing, and Gena for posting. Utmost respect for having the courage to share your story, to move on with your life, for being courageous. I’m reminded I’m not alone, and stories like this are great motivation to hang in there and keep pushing for recovering my life.

  18. Great sharing and Gena, thanks also for your words at the beginning. I admire the admission by Meghan that it doesn’t just ‘go away.’ I guess I’m over 20 years into it myself by now.

    Relationship breakups and financial stress are such triggering times. I’m sorry you had to have such a scare, but it sounds like that was a blessing in disguise.
    Sending you the best wishes for health and happiness.
    love
    Ela

  19. What a brave and wonderful story. And static the obvious somewhat you look SO much more gorgeous in the more recent picture than the hospital one. Sending love and good vibes xx

  20. this is such a great and powerful post. I truly appreciate Meghan’s openness and her will to share her story with the rest of the world. recovery is a long process and like she said it does not happen overnight. But stories like Meghan’s inspire lots of women who are in a similar situation- i am glad she has found her OWN way and is thriving with a vegan diet.
    Thank you Gena for sharing another great story!

  21. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Meghan! I can especially relate to the interest in the science behind nutrition during the recovery process, and realizing that a vegan diet is (delicious) fuel, not just food. I’m incredibly inspired by your ability to confront your bulimia as part of your recovery process. I hope you continue learning and sharing!

  22. This is incredibly powerful. I think the accentuation on the process is key. Life simply isn’t black and white or before and after. It’s a continuum and it’s challenging and we can simply be kind and gentle to ourselves and try to do the best we can with what we learn along the way. Brave post, Meghan. Thank you!