How I started and have continued my eating disorder recovery journey

Isabel writes about her not-so-straightforward eating disorder recovery and how choosing to recover is a daily process.

Written by Isabel Schulte-Austum


It’s nice to be able to look back now on the start of my recovery journey and see how much has changed. Part of me is sad thinking about how long and drawn out the path ahead of me would be. Another part is glad that the worst is behind me and another part is proud of how far I’ve come. I may not be at the top of the metaphorical mountain, but I can still enjoy the view from where I am, and I certainly have a long distance behind me. 

I can vividly remember the day I committed to recovery. It was in the November of my Leaving Cert year. I was studying for christmas exams, the mocks and CAO applications lurking just around the corner. 6th year is a tough year for anyone, and I think that’s why my attempts to ask for help and talk to those around me didn’t get me very far. 

I was given good advice by the chaplain: snap a rubber band around your wrist if you want to self-harm and ask your friends to write down a list of qualities you have. But it was like putting a few droplets of water on a fire. It wasn’t going to stop it from burning. I found it hard to put into words what I was experiencing and after having been dismissed once I no longer had the courage to keep asking for help. That being said, it didn’t stop me from starting my recovery journey and it was actually what pushed me to recover, realising I was going to have to do it for myself and that I deserved to live a better life. 

The first step in my eating disorder recovery journey

For me the first step to committing to recovery was realising there was something seriously wrong, something that having a good sleep routine, seeing friends and exercising wasn’t going to solve. Even though those around me weren’t taking my eating disorder seriously, I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to. 

My eating disorder had taken over my life and as the months passed, I began to recognise everything I was no longer able to do. That first lightbulb moment of everything I was missing out on came hand in hand with the realisation that following my eating disorder was a roadblock. It wasn’t making me happier, I didn’t feel better about myself, and I wasn’t more confident or less anxious. In fact, it was taking over my life and destroying it at the same time. 

As I thought about the future, and what I wanted to do once I left school, it became obvious that with my eating disorder that wouldn’t happen. I wanted to study abroad and enjoy the last few months of sixth year with my friends, go to 18th birthday parties and get my driving licence. Being wrapped up in an eating disorder was going to take all those opportunities from me. I felt too close to the end of school to throw away everything I had worked so hard for academically. Having the finish line and a new start in sight were big motivators to turn the page and start to recover. 

Learning how to manage my eating disorder

Knowing why I was recovering was essential for me. Change is so hard and as uncomfortable as my eating disorder was, it was familiar and protected me from feeling certain emotions. As I started to let go of controlling food, I had to find new coping mechanisms and change lots of my beliefs about myself. I learned to be patient and kind to myself, and that I had value and worth. 

I found a community on social media of other people who were recovering. Seeing others recover made me believe that it was possible for me too. It also made me feel less lonely in the process. I saw that I wasn’t the only one, that we faced shared battles and could encourage and lift each other up. Having that virtual support network made all the difference. I had somewhere to go on bad days for support and reassurance. I had a place to share my victories and the good days. I could get advice from people who were further along in their journey than I was. 

The detours on my recovery journey have made me stronger

I’ve heard it said many times before that recovery isn’t straightforward. Sometimes things can go well for a long time, then circumstances change and it feels like you are back to square one. But a slip-up doesn’t mean all progress is lost. As you move forwards, you grow and you learn and it gets easier to get up and keep going. 

At the time I thought of recovery as a sort of goalpost, but now I’m less sure. I think it’s a journey that is never really over, there is no finishing line. There will always be tricky moments, but you learn to better deal with them in time even if they never go away. Sometimes, you can fall away from the recovery path, but that detour can help you come back even stronger and more determined to keep following the path to recovery. The only way out is through and committing to recovery is so much better than any alternative. 

Choosing mental health recovery every day

Since that day in November, I’ve had to pick recovery a lot more times. It’s not a once-off decision. I wake up every day and choose to walk that path. I’ve taken lots of detours and each time I’ve decided to come back because I firmly believe that recovery is worth it and can give me a far fuller and bigger life than destroying myself ever could. 

Since that day in November, I’ve lived abroad, finished my degree, been to concerts, to Disneyland, gotten a job I love, made incredible new friends, gone on holidays with friends, found a church family, gone to parties, laughed until I cried and started to discover who I am outside of an eating disorder. 

I’ve also spent more hours than I’d like to count sitting in doctor’s offices, going to appointments at mental health services, stuck in hospital and thinking I can’t make it. Recovery isn’t all roses, but that doesn’t mean taking the first step and committing to recovery isn’t worth it. It’s hard, it’s scary, it doesn’t always feel worth it, and sometimes it feels wrong to leave the pain that is familiar but knowing why you’re doing it and believing in a better future makes it all worthwhile.

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