The World Turned Upside Down
by Leah Ilana
It was a monumental event—I was turning twenty-five years old. Two years ago, I had been closer to death than to life, spending eleven of my twenty-five years with anorexia nervosa. I am five months into somewhat of a rough recovery. It’s the furthest in recovery I have ever come. I also live and breathe theatre, Hamilton in particular. I could not be standing here today without the power of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton. So this is my love letter, my thank you to Lin-Manuel Miranda, for giving me my life back. And here is my two cents worth on recovery.
Disclaimer: I don’t feel like a recovery expert, and I know what worked for me and my disorder may not work for anyone else.
But, I have made strides far from the hysterical, starving girl I was, and I have learned a thing or two along the way. These are my truths, take them or leave them as they are:
Truth #1: Recovery does not end at the hospital
While it’s true maintaining a healthy weight is key and your body and mind can’t function properly when you’re engaging in anorexic behaviors, it’s not enough to just go through treatment. It’s not what you see in all the movies where the protagonist (usually a white, straight female) hits “rock bottom”, is hospitalized, and promptly sees the light, ‘thank you Jesus, amen, I will eat like a normal person now,’ and the work is over. I had no Jesus (unless you count being a Hamilton fangirl), still can’t eat like a normal person yet, and the work is far from over.
I was blessed that I was able to go into a hospital and get properly weight-restored. I thought that would be the hardest part of recovery, being in a hospital and being forced to contend with three meals and three snacks a day. I was dead wrong. Hard as I struggled in the hospital, going out into the world and living by the values I was supposed to embody in recovery was infinitely harder. I promptly got out of the hospital, and did no such thing. It was too much, living a real life. I collapsed in on myself, and had to find a way out, mining through the dark without a headlamp.
Truth #2: You will need a push into recovery
Don’t feel ashamed if you need external rewards or if you don’t feel good about recovery at first—that’s normal.
Being “ready” for recovery is some bullshit. I was not “ready” for recovery when I recovered. I had to be bribed into it. I was broke and struggling and I longed for the Hamilton book (the “Hamiltome”), because I had resigned myself to the idea that I would actually never see the show. If I made it three months eating all my meals, maintaining my weight, and not purging, my mother would buy me the book. It was the hardest three months of my life, but I did it.
Truth #3: What fuels your disorder can fuel your recovery
I have a mind geared towards passion and obsession. Those traits thrived in my constant obsession about food and calories and exercise and the number on the scale. Eating disorders are isolating and all consuming, and dear god if you don’t step away from the mirror, you will be stuck in that horrible time suck of counting your bones forever. I’ve been there, and lost my passions along the way. So I threw myself, body and soul, into Hamilton. Hamilton, for some inexplicable reason, reached me through the haze of anorexia and grabbed me by the heart and would not let go. Hamilton soothed me and my anxiety—and eating disorders are very much about anxiety—and maladaptive coping skills.
Throw yourself into something that is not your eating disorder. Anything. It doesn’t matter what it is. There is something to love that’s stronger than your demons.
Truth #4: Relapses will happen, and you have to learn to forgive yourself for them
I’m still working on this one too. After nearly five months of recovery, I am starting to relapse right now. I don’t want to relapse anymore. I want to get better. But eating disorders are an addiction at their core, and it’s so easy to slip back into behaviors. A slip can turn into so much more very easily, which is precisely what is happening to me right now.
A relapse is not a failure. It does not mean you’ll never get better. It means you’re still working tirelessly towards one goal—recovery—but might need some extra love and help along the way. Guilt and shame go hand in hand with relapse, but I urge anyone who is struggling with a relapse to forgive themselves for that. You are not lesser because you’re having a hard time grasping recovery. Falling is part of the learning process. Forgiveness is not dismissal, however. Be honest with yourself when you’re engaging in behaviors. Don’t let that slide. Be gentle with yourself, but also be firm and recognize when you need to change your behaviors or thought patterns.
Truth #5: Recovery is agonizing, but your life is worth more than death at the hands of an ED
So many people speak of recovery as this accomplishment that you can have, full of motivational poster phrases. Real recovery is a mess of fear and getting trapped and finding your way through the dark. Real recovery is a process that does, I’ll admit, take a great portion of my day. Recovery also allowed me to see Hamilton, the show that saved my life, and meet some of the cast, and share my recovery story with them. It’s allowing me to create a life I love. Your life is worth more than your eating disorder, and if you have nothing to cling to in those difficult moments, cling to that. Cling to your inherent worth as a human being. And, like Alexander Hamilton before you, don’t throw away your shot.
If you need help with an eating disorder, visit: NEDA