By Mia Elwood, LCSW, formerly captured by anorexia and bulimia – now freed thanks to the support of many people and blessings.
Hello, my name is Mia. I used to have anorexia, and then bulimia. That chapter in my life ended Feb 10, 1993. I am now Mia Elwood, LCSW (licensed clinical social worker). I am a wife and a mother. I am happy. I am fulfilled. I am not consumed by food, my body or my weight. I am the owner and director of Healthy Futures, a treatment center in Arizona and community of support for those suffering from an eating disorder. Healthy Futures also supports me, a professional, in my continued recovery. I figure what better way to support my recovery than to base my family’s livelihood on it?
I believe support is the cornerstone of recovery from an eating disorder. Looking back with more than 15 years of recovery under my belt allows the perspective to answer the question so often asked of me, “What was it that helped you recover?”
About a year ago I sat down with a trusted colleague and friend to examine our beliefs that fuel our careers. Why do we do what we do? We were then asked to put this into a belief statement.
This took quite some time to discover, but in the end, my answer is, “With support, recovery is possible.”
Support is the key word. When I looked at when I recovered, it occurred to me that it was the culmination of accepting into my life support from my now husband, then my boyfriend and fiancé, from those around me who had always been around me (that I didn’t notice as I was fixated on ED instead), and some insight and skills that I was unable to see and learn previously. It was my actual risking to feel supported that was now there (before life was gray and numb as the eating disorder avoided feeling anything at all).
ED (referring to “the eating disorder”) despises support; it says, “You don’t need support. You don’t need those people, that medicine, that advice, that encouragement.” ED says, “You are weak if you can’t do it by yourself.” ED says, “Don’t trust, just listen to me. I have it all under control. They just want to make you fat.”
Accepting support with a willing heart and a wise mind is the antidote to ED. So how do you do this? Let’s take a look:
System of Support (SOS!) – You need to create a safety net of people, skills, groups or institutions, and internal and external resources that collectively say, “We have your back.” It doesn’t depend on one person or one family, as we are all human and will not be able to assist every time. As you risk feeling, speaking your mind, taking active steps in recovery, you have a system that takes the sting out of falling. You will fall, but that’s when your SOS team says, “What did you learn? Get back up. Here, let me help.”
Understanding – This means accepting your own, and others’ nonjudgmental validation of your feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Even in your own craziness, someone (and that someone can be you, as well as another) says, “I get it. You are not alone. That makes sense.” AND, they hold you as you risk changing. The message is “I accept you as you are AND I know you can change for the better.”
Perseverance – This is being there for the short or long haul – whatever is required. According to the Encarta Dictionary, perseverance is a noun and means a determined continuation with something, steady and continued action or belief, usually over a long period and especially despite difficulties or setbacks. Recovery is a challenge with great reward. Being there for yourself and allowing others to do the same with you is required for success in the long run, despite shame-inducing experiences in the short run (where the eating disorder would tell you to quit, hide, run, or make it the other person’s fault). It means even if you did not cause your own pain or circumstance, you accept responsibility to solve the problem nonetheless.
Prayer is code for asking for support from somewhere with more wisdom than you. This can be praying to God, to the universe, or allowing a collective wisdom of all those who have gone before you and have succeeded at this recovery thing. The road has already been paved for you; you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, it already exists. Reach out for it. Avoid reaching out to ED. It has already failed you. ED is NOT wiser than you!
Opportunity – When it knocks, answer the door. Take advantage of opportunities to socialize, connect with healthy people, to learn skills, to practice self care, to notice what you can do and what you have done that is productive and effective for your recovery. This is the opposite of what ED says. ED persuades you to stay home, saying, “Don’t answer the door. The world outside the cage of the eating disorder can’t be trusted.” See the last letter in support, T for Trust.
Rest – Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the world according to the Bible. Work, rest, work, rest, rinse, repeat. White knuckling it and just getting it done by “gunning it” works only in the short term. Without rest, you will only burn out and quit. Just remember to rest in between. Allow your support network, your SOS team to rest as well. This makes recovery doable.
Trust your Treatment Team – Trust the process, trust yourself as a person who can fail and learn from it, and eventually succeed. Trust your support system. If they don’t earn it over time, try to add new elements of support. Change it up. As new parts of your recovery show up, add and delete things that no longer work. Your treatment team is there for you, make sure you have one. Don’t be a Lone Ranger when it comes to recovery. Professionals are trained to work as a team (physician, therapist, and dietitian). They know more than ED. Do what works. Trust recovery. It works.