‘Adulting’ was something I was in no hurry to experience. You might consider me a late starter, and it would be true. Mid 30s, and I am playing catch-up. When your teenage years and twenties are robbed by an eating disorder, you feel bereft of what others may have enjoyed. I ‘maxed out’ being a child far beyond when most did, living in a kind of ‘Peter Pan’ world where I never grew up. So, when I was referred to as a ‘woman’ this week, it still sounded strange to me. Recovery from an eating disorder means leaving your child-self behind, and everything that comes with it. Apart from the physical changes your body goes through, it also means being responsible for yourself, your life, and others. It means feeling stressed, anxious, worried about money, and ‘bogged down’ with too much ‘stuff.’ Remaining a child in an anorexic body, where you are cared for, can be hard to leave when the adult world seems so frightening.
But when you hit 28 and all your friends are getting married, having babies, leaving the city, and moving on, anorexia doesn’t seem so attractive. Recovery from an eating disorder is, of course, not as simple as a feeling pissed that a few of your friends are leaving town – jeez, I wish it were. But there does need to be something bigger than your eating disorder to encourage you to leave your safety net.
One of the fundamental reasons why the treatment I received in the US worked (when nothing else had) was because I was shown what life without my eating disorder could look like. My therapist had recovered from an eating disorder. When she left at the end of the day, she drove through the mountains via the beach, home to her boyfriend and dog. She wasn’t afraid of being an adult or a woman – she positively embraced both. In a treatment centre, time can seem to stand still, and the days and weeks went by, I wanted what she had. I was done with the sad, miserable life I had left in London, and I realised that if I didn’t face my eating disorder head-on, I was never going have a life of any meaning…and I wanted one.
Now in recovery, and despite the pressures of my everyday life, I can honestly say that living life as an adult, and not a child, has exceeded all my expectations. I am present physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I no longer feel so angry or resentful. I’m able to set boundaries and articulate my feelings. I am equally at peace on my own and with others. My life has become full of opportunity and hope. I am a richer human being and, above all, I am a whole lot nicer to be around.
Treatment needs to inspire patients, and you need to know why it’s worth recovering. I often quote the founder of my treatment centre, Carolyn Costin, who said “Recovery is not about what you are recovering from, it’s about what you are recovering to.” The pull to stay in my eating disorder was so strong. I needed to realise how much I was losing out on in life to realise how much I could gain in recovery. For me, I needed this insight, combined with a nurturing environment to ‘hold me’ while I ate the food and dealt with all my inner demons.
My message is simple, really. Peter Pan is a great character, but ONLY in fiction. Life as an adult woman is good, often great, and sometimes just plain damn hard. But for sure, I wouldn’t swap it for my anorexic child, the lost, sad soul who wanted to hide from everyone and everything. If you are suffering, go seek out whatever it is that makes you ‘tick’ – make that your reason to fight back. Make that your reason to become the whole worthy person you deserve to be. Leave your Peter Pan where he belongs – in ‘Never Never Land.’