10 years ago I stood at the finish line of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. My family and I had gone to cheer on a dear friend who had overcome insurmountable odds to finish a half marathon. She had completed a hospital stay and begun the process of recovering from an eating disorder. I thought she was amazing - and that the feat she had accomplished was impossible on so many levels.
I had met her almost a year before, during that hospital stay. We had become fast friends among the 25 or so women who came and went through the Toronto General Hospital eating disorders treatment program during my tenure there. She was, and remains, a hero to me, and cheering her in that day gave me hope that there were amazing things ahead for me to accomplish too.
Anorexia Nervosa boasts the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, losing 4% from physical complications and more from suicide. Only 1/3 of all individuals who suffer access treatment, and less than .10% of those are successful. Bulimia Nervosa is statistically not far behind, with 3.8% mortality.
The outlook for receiving treatment is bleak, and the chance of recovery is slim. Add to that the social stigma associated with admitting to the disease and you have a recipe for not seeking help.
With my husband's help, support and encouragement I agreed to check in to an intensive Eating Disorders Recovery Program at Toronto General Hospital. I had suffered from Anorexia for almost 20 yrs by then, and it had morphed into and branched out to bulimia-binging and purging, laxative and diuretic abuse, over exercising, 200 calorie per day eating regimens, cutting and several other forms of self injury. I was very ill, and I'm afraid that not many had a tonne of hope that I could, after 20 years of habitual self abuse, kick this disease to the curb.
Don't kid yourself. It is a disease. It is pervasive and destructive, a cancer of the mind, and a destroyer of the soul. And like many diseases there are treatments, and often cures.
Those who thought I couldn't, made the silly mistake of underestimating me. I said yes to treatment. I said yes to doctors and therapists. I said yes to every meal they brought me, although every part of me said I wasn't worth it and was rebelling against the treatment program. My body was in agony. My mind was a battlefield. And my heart was starting to be free. I said yes to therapy. I said yes to clinical trials. I said yes to drinks with calories.
It was the worst, most traumatic, most painful (physically and emotionally) period of my life to that point, but on October 18th ten years ago, I walked out of Toronto General Hospital day program and into the journey of recovery. Against all the odds, as a grown adult, I had reached the point of the process that most are unable to even aspire to: HOPE.
Recovery from anything is never a one and done deal. It's a series of good decisions that nurture your confidence and build evidence for successful decisions in the future. Recovery is saying yes to every meal. Recovery is believing you are good enough and worthy of waking up tomorrow, even when the whole world is telling you differently, or waking up anyway and getting on with things despite agreeing with the whole world.
Recovery is falling down and laying there,trying to see the world a little differently before you get back up. Just so you know better what to do if you fall down again.
Recovery isn't never wanting to stick your fingers down your throat, it's enjoying the extra scoop of ice cream with your kids despite it.
Recovery isn't never battling anxiety or depression ever again, it's choosing the right weapons to bring to the fight. I run, to keep me balanced and give me confidence and happiness. I attend regular therapy sessions. I journal. I colour and knit. I eat healthily. I check in with my doctor often. I work at being ready always. Just in case.
Recovery isn't having to do everything on your own. It's being strong when you can, and accepting help when you can't.
Recovery is beautiful, bittersweet and impossibly possible.
It turns out this October 18th I will, coincidentally, be running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I'll cross that finish line myself, and I cannot fail to see the symbolism in this.
I am not a survivor. I am alive. Despite the odds. Despite the doubt and severity of my illness. I am the face of recovery, and it is a strong face, a determined face, and a hopeful face.
I will cross that finish line on Sunday the way I walked out of the hospital ten years ago. With a big smile, some fear and loads of pride.
Because who knows what the next steps will bring? And really? Who cares. I am alive. And that's always a step in the right direction.
Find Your CORE.