To all who struggle with an eating disorder: an open letter about recovery.

Recovery is not just about the food.

OK, it is a little bit.


Image via iStock.

It’s about the late-night pizza runs with your partner, the bonding over pancakes and omelets, and recounting the night before with your friends.

It’s about sharing a spoon and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s over a movie, or buying chocolate at the gas station just because you feel like it. It’s about trying something new when you’re out to dinner because you feel adventurous and you aren’t worried about the fat or calories.

Recovery is about donuts and chips and all the things you used to cringe about in your disorder.

Image via iStock.

It’s about noticing that your body is hungry, and even though you’re feeling tired, busy, or emotional, you grab something quick and easy so you don’t feel hunger pains like you used to. It’s nourishing your body not because you need to, but because you want to. It’s about loving food again.

But really, it’s also not just about the food.

Recovery is about being free from the bondage of rules and numbers and rituals. It’s letting go of things that aren’t just right. It’s taking a nap on the couch when the dishes aren’t done and the house isn’t clean and you haven’t gone to the gym yet because a nap is what you need. It’s actually resting when you are sick. It’s shedding your old beliefs about yourself and creating a new future.

It’s standing up for yourself.

Recovery is safety and control. Not the safety of dormancy and controlling of numbers like you used to.

It’s safety in knowing that no matter what happens in life, you will be OK. It’s safety in knowing who you are and being proud of it.

It’s not the illusion of control that you had when you were counting calories or losing weight. It’s knowing that without those behaviors, you are the one in the driver’s seat. The disorder doesn’t control you anymore.

It’s making choices that are healthy for you because for once, you are actually in control.

Recovery is taking risks and making mistakes. It’s vulnerability. It’s laughing too loud at a joke that wasn’t that funny to begin with. It’s honesty. It’s crying in front of your partner and getting a hug instead of running to the other room and burying your face in a pillow.

Recovery is experiencing life.

Image via iStock.

It’s going to more places than just work or home. It’s making coffee plans with someone you never really knew before. It’s taking your dog on a different route for her walk because sometimes routine is boring. It’s traveling, even though you’re usually a homebody. It’s riding a rollercoaster so fast that you lose your breath. It’s finding a new hobby because now you have the time to.

It’s finally “leaving the nest.”

Recovery is standing on your own and being OK with it.

It’s looking back at your time in treatment and being grateful for all the people you met and things you learned. It’s knowing that for now, that part of your life is over. It’s learning how to be there for yourself. It’s the fear and anxiety that comes when you become more independent and stray away from your outpatient team, but the pride that comes with feeling like you don’t need to see them as much as you used to.

Recovery is welcoming all emotions and committing to growth. It’s honoring the human experience and vowing to live in the present moment. It’s experiencing all of your emotions, even if they are uncomfortable. It’s being rational.

Recovery is a process, and it’s messy.

It’s waking up every day with a commitment to do the best you can, and letting go of expectations. It’s being patient and trusting that wherever you are in this moment is exactly where you are meant to be. It’s seeing recovery as a journey and not a nuisance. It’s not wishing you were further along or somewhere else — it’s meeting yourself where you are.

It’s looking back at the past and being able to say, “Wow, I may not be where I want to be yet, but I sure have grown.”

Image via iStock.

Sometimes, it’s also relapse and slips and intermittent hospital stays for “tune-ups.” It is not contingent on where you are financially or physically. It’s not one event, but rather a series of happenings over time. It’s admitting that you are one human being — one of many human beings — who are just living their lives the best they can.

Recovery can be book deals and song-writing and motivational speaking to massive crowds, or it can be a quiet confidence that you carry with you every day. You can tell people you are in recovery and be proud of it, or you can move on as if the disorder never existed.

That’s the amazing thing about recovery: There are no rules.

Recovery is choosing to no longer be a victim, saying enough is enough, and doing the work, over and over and over, until it feels natural. Recovery is not unattainable, but don’t be confused: Recovery is not something given to us. It’s not passive in the least. It is brave. It is hard. It is worth it.

To all who struggle with an eating disorder, there is a whole other world out there waiting for you. Please, come visit.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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