by Erica Johnstone
In the spirit of giving thanks, I am experiencing immense gratitude for the freedom that I have gained in my mind. I cannot even begin to express the pure joy and relief that stem from this newfound freedom from my eating disordered thoughts. For as long as I can remember prior to the last few months, I had preoccupying thoughts regarding food and exercise. They were so natural that I could not imagine living without them.
Each day I thought about what I would be eating and when and if I needed to change my meal because of an atypical meal later in the day and if I needed to exercise more in order to account for the food I would be eating and on and on and on.
It was exhausting, and I did not believe I would ever be free of it. I figured that I was far healthier and happier than I ever had been, so I could not imagine further improvement. However, in the past 6 months I have reached a stage of intuitive eating that is freeing my mind from this incessant chatter. This was particularly clear to me last month on a trip to Apple Hill, which is an area comprised of many apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and food tasting rooms. We have visited every year, and I usually plan out if I will allow myself to eat something there or not and if I can exercise before and if I will be eating differently later in the day etc. This year, I did not exercise before, and as my husband and I arrived, I experienced a rush of freedom I had not felt before. I realized that I had not consciously restricted prior to arriving and I had not preplanned eating there or the later meals of the day. I realized that my mind was far quieter than normal. I could choose to eat something there or not based on hunger and if I felt like it. I did not have to plan it out and compensate either way. I felt free.
I wanted to shout to the world, “Oh my god, this is incredible!” I can do and eat whatever I want, and I am not thinking about it or planning around it. I felt an indescribable freedom and joy. I could actually enjoy the present moment with my husband without worrying about other aspects of the day. I felt a deep sense of gratitude. I thought of telling others about this exuberance and did tell my husband, but I realized that most people without eating disorders who are healthy live this way all the time! It is so strange to consider this. Having constant preoccupying thoughts would be as foreign to them as this freedom was to me.
I recognize that those with eating disorders and other mental illnesses can relate to this constant mental chatter, and I want to express to everyone suffering that it is possible to be free of these demons. This experience generated in me an overwhelming sense of gratitude for recovery and freedom from anorexia. I am still progressing through recovery, but the gains at this stage are bountiful. Recovery is painstakingly long and arduous and painful and it has spanned over 15 years for me, but there comes a time when the windows fly open, and you can feel the sunshine on your face, and you feel pure happiness.
These moments may be few and far between initially, but they increase in frequency to the point that they outshine the cruel thoughts that once dominated your mind. I am grateful beyond words for the freedom, joy, and love that recovery has enabled me to access many years into the process. I am in awe of the wondrous vibrancy, excitement, and happiness in life when one is free to truly experience it. Recovery is truly worth it.