'Leaning In' - 2016 Reunion Testimonial
Posted on May 14, 2018
When I arrived at Renfrew Philadelphia for the 2016 reunion, it seemed both familiar and foreign. It was a place that I needed at a certain time and have since outgrown. I felt slightly out of place, but in the best possible way.
During the welcoming remarks we learned about some of Renfrew's recent changes. As a psychology graduate student who reads research about evidence-based treatments, I was pleased that Renfrew had incorporated the Unified Treatment Model into its programming. From my first admission at in 1997 to my last in 2001, I had seen Renfrew undergo many changes; it is encouraging to watch Renfrew continue to adapt and grow.
Later in the day, I participated in art therapy. Our task was to illustrate our paths through our eating disorders and recovery and to depict where we currently were. Renfrew helped me to connect with my emotions and to express myself in ways which didn't involve self-harm. This, however, was the first time I created artwork at Renfrew which had an overall hopeful tone. In the process, I was prompted to reflect on experiences from which I now feel distant. I could honor my journey while reaffirming that my mentality is completely different than it was when I first entered treatment nearly 20 years ago.
Both the morning and afternoon speakers discussed having had ambivalence about recovery. I remember that ambivalence well. I remember the ambivalence turning into fear and the fear turning into hopelessness. Recovery can seem impossible to imagine. For many of us, our eating disorders helped us manage emotions and situations we feared could destroy us. We spent our time in treatment planning for recovery, sometimes not even knowing if we wanted it. Yet much of recovery is about what we do when things don't go as planned. For this reason, it is essential that we practice healthy coping mechanisms when not in crisis. We must cultivate relationships and nurture passions so that when we feel weaker they are already stronger. Both alumnae highlighted the importance of using skills we learned at Renfrew and of bringing positive forces into our lives.
In attending the reunion it struck me that "leaning in" involves more than simply tolerating discomfort; sometimes it means embracing discomfort. Our struggles are what make us vulnerable and what urge us to challenge our beliefs about who we are and want to be. They are what make us real and raw and leave us open for connection with others.
It is frightening to recover from an eating disorder, and we might wonder what will be left of us without it. Eating disorders involve loss, and giving up an eating disorder is another form of loss. We lose the false comfort, the shield which separates us from both pain and growth. So when we shed the eating disorder, yes, we lose something, but we do not lose a piece of ourselves; instead, we gain a piece of ourselves and become more of who we really are.
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