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Stories of Recovery

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Liz Gulsvig

Eating disorders are deceitful, paranoiac beasts. They burrow deep, settling comfortably into parts of you that are dark and obscure, parts you'd rather keep surreptitious. But they bleed out. They become fundamental. They steer.

I became anorexic around 12 years old. It started as a willful diet based in a self-hatred and disgust so deep, I simply couldn't stop. After a traumatic experience at 14, it tightened. After a short stint at treatment, I went to college and became bulimic. I leaned on drugs and alcohol for escape until I became a full-blown addict. Traumatic experiences lined my days, still and needy, plants on a windowsill. I ignored them, let them wilt and creep, limbs reaching. Eventually, I would end up living in my car while I finished graduate school. How I finished is still a mystery to me: all of those heavy, laborious texts and bright-eyed prodigies eagerly interrupting each other while I bathed myself in the cafeteria bathroom sink, picking limp cigarette butts out of the ashtrays. But I did it, even got clean, and married someone incredible.

I entered Renfrew a few years after trying to do it myself, toying with orthorexia and exercise bulimia, doing that dance. I spent nearly a year in PHP and IOP programs at Renfrew and graduated somewhere between points A and B. I can't always throw a wrench in my behavior, but I think I get it. Using the UT model I learned to analyze each little thread, tugging until I provoked the sleepy source, marveling at the complicated web. I learned odd tricks in the strange art of self-compassion. And I had people, all around me, backing me up.

Settling into life has its roadblocks. I didn't graduate a shining star, a perfect model of recovery. I try my best. I apply what I learned, as uncomfortable as it may be. I let the flavor of imperfection settle around me: the slips and the fits, the flails and fails, the nakedness. Sometimes I emerge a calm, collected thing: the moon. Other times I'm pure violence, tripping over my own spit and guts, all animal. It's okay. Recovery for me isn't always about eradication - sometimes it's just distance. As I learned in UT, the art of creating room between things is a key skill. Renfrew helped me tease apart these knots so I could gain some of this room, put space between myself and my thoughts, actions, feelings. This is no small thing.

This, my friends, is astronomical.

Bio: Liz Gulsvig attended The Renfrew Center of Dallas from April to November 2015. She is currently working as a copywriter after receiving her BA and MA in English. Liz writes poetry and keeps a blog about recovery called Eye Still Brave.