Posted on March 26, 2018
In January 2014, at 5 a.m. on a frozen Tuesday, my fiancé and I drove a rented car from New York City to Philadelphia, where I would be entering residential treatment at the Renfrew Center. By then, I had already spent seven weeks in Renfrew's NYC day program, but it had become clear that I needed more help. At 25, I'd spent nearly half of my life with an eating disorder—anorexia—and other mental health issues. I'd grown up with it, and it had grown and morphed along with me.
The primary function of my eating disorder had been to regulate difficult emotions that I'd never learned to manage. Starving physiologically dampened the intensity of these emotions and psychologically gave me the illusion of control. At Renfrew, re-learning basic self-care such as nourishing my body and managing my emotions was profoundly disorienting. And like many eating disorder sufferers, I often doubted whether I even had an eating disorder, and thus whether I deserved treatment. I was not "thin enough," I told myself, and my symptoms weren't "bad enough." Doubt was ever present, and I had no idea where this road to a supposed recovery was leading. Recovery from what, exactly? And recovering to what?
However, on that January morning, as I braced for what would be a six-week residential stay, followed by many months more of day treatment, IOP, and outpatient care, there was only one clear next step: go to Philadelphia and give that first week a legitimate chance. Recovery, as I have experienced it these last three years, is precisely that: taking the next right step, every time. The distance from one step to the next rarely feels like forward movement, but over time these single steps become miles. Few moments in my life have been as grace-filled as the ones in which I catch a glimpse of my progress: A scale that no longer frightens me. A disappointment that doesn't send me down the vortex of depression. A slice of cake on my wedding day.
When I took that first step of entering treatment at Renfrew, I didn't know what recovery was or whether I fully wanted it. I simply knew that I didn't want to stand where I was any longer. And before I could even articulate what recovery was, I realized I was doing it: Living, one step at a time.