An Eater’s Agreement

Posted by on Oct 19, 2014

Yesterday I turned 26. Being a pretty sentimental person, birthdays for me are always cause for reflection — I take stock of the last year, of the last decade, and of my life up to this point.

I thought about where I was and what I was doing one year ago on my 25th birthday, just two months away from starting down the road to recovery (although I didn’t know that yet). I remember being on the train to Pennsylvania to visit my mother. I was reading the final pages of Carolyn Costin’s book 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder. At the end of the book were examples from something Carolyn called an eater’s agreement, which clients write as they are about to leave Monte Nido and take their recoveries into their own hands. I remember being amazed that women who had the same problems as me were actually able to make agreements like these. It would have amazed me even more to know then that a year later I would be sitting among women as brave as those in this book, making an agreement of my own.

an eater's agreementBeing in this program has given me a renewed sense of hope. Although I had come very far in my recovery over the last year, when I arrived at Monte Nido I had reached a plateau. I was going through the motions — able to do some “recovery” behaviors, but not others; not regressing, but also not thriving. I was beginning to fear that what everyone had told me about recovery was true: that my eating disorder would be forever with me, and that I would live the rest of my life merely “managing” my illness, constantly vigilant, always at-the-ready to reenter the battle.

But at Monte Nido, I heard a different story. I was told for the first time that full recovery is possible. And I was told this not just from clinicians who had witnessed clients’ recoveries, but from the very clients who had triumphed over their eating disorders and then come back to help others in the role of clinician. Having seen and spoken with these women, I knew that I would never again be able to believe in anything less than full recovery. I knew that even I if I never were to make it there myself, and I were to grow old and die with my eating disorder still at my side, even then I would be able to swear by the fact that full recovery is, indeed, real.

These last six weeks have not been without their struggles. Just a few days ago, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror at work and to my surprise and horror, my eating disorder was staring back at me. She looked out at me through my own eyes, and I could hear her loud and clear. “You’ve had your fun in this recovery process,” she said, “but let’s get back now to who we both know you really are. Stop pretending to be someone you are not.” It literally gave me the chills to hear her again, to know that she is still there, even after all this time.

I promised myself I would talk about it in group later that night. But a couple hours later, my insurance company came to the unilateral decision that IOP treatment was no longer warranted for me. Like so many others, they had looked at all the wrong indicators to assess the state of my health. It had happened to me before, and the prospect of it happening again — especially after finally finding treatment that was working — was terrifying. For a couple of days, this setback drowned all the hope I had sown over the last few weeks. I felt alone and helpless, and my eating disorder eagerly came to the rescue. On the day I realized that my time at Monte Nido was over, I skipped my snack, bought a bottle of wine, and went home to pull every trick in the book to stop myself from feeling the savage disappointment.

But then I got an email from a young woman in the United Kingdom. She told that she follows my blog online because she identifies very closely with my story, and that she had seen that my treatment had been cut off. She wrote:

“I was really encouraged to discover your blog… I have never found anything that speaks so clearly and resonates so much with how I feel – you are inspirational and must help so many people. I am emailing to say I am so sorry you have been cut from treatment, that must be so distressing… You are worth so much more than money and deserve to reach full recovery. I am thinking of you and praying for you and will continue to follow your progress. Don’t give up. You are helping your followers to understand that recovery – even working towards recovery – is achievable – and we can do it together.”

Her email was exactly the reminder I needed to hear. I realized that one setback, one instance of symptom use, and even one full-on relapse is not enough to undo all that I’ve learned this year, to erase all that I now know to be true. Yes, I would not have the support of the brave young women who have uplifted me so many times at Monte Nido. True, I would not have the gentle reminders from the Monte Nido therapists that recovery is real. But that did not mean I was alone. There is a whole world of support out there to keep carrying me forward, if I only I seek it out.

The Eater’s Agreement

Today, October 19, 2014 — 26 years and one day since I arrived into this world, 12 years since I developed an eating disorder, 10 months and 8 days since I began treatment, and 52 days since I was first told that recovery is possible — I declare, “Enough.” I resign my position as an anorexic and will agree to fully embrace the life that I know exists for me.

I hereby agree to the following 8 Keys of my own:

  1. I agree to keep eating, to keep feeling, to keep recovering even when it seems like life is working against me. I will remind myself daily that feelings are not facts. Thus, even though I feel unprepared to do this without the support of a treatment program, I acknowledge that I do not need to feel prepared in order to actually be prepared.
  2. I agree to find a way to exercise my body for the sake of making it strong and powerful, not smaller and weaker. I will do this to maximize my physical energy so that I am equipped to participate fully in life.
  3. I agree to communicate my pain with my words, not with my body. When my voice fails me, I will write what I need to say. And when my pen fails me, I will draw what I need to say. And if none of the above is possible, then I will seek out one support and simply say, “I need you.”
  4. I agree to take up space in the world. I will not let any human being, no matter their status or position of power, to make me feel any less valuable or deserving of my space. I will speak when I have something to say and not demur from the statements I make. I will respect my need and desire to be seen and heard just as much as I respect this need and desire in  others.
  5. I agree to let myself get depressed. I understand that this may simply be a part of who I am, but it need not have the power to become all of who I am. When it wells up and steals my voice, I will not give in to it. I will simply let it come and go, even if it means losing my voice momentarily. I now know that I’m stronger than it, and that my voice will come back.
  6. I agree to feel all other feelings that comprise human life, including, but not limited to, anger, joy, shame, guilt, elation, desire, frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety, silliness, and love. I will let them visit me when they come and let them go in an appropriate time and manner.
  7. I agree to speak out against the injustices that have contributed to all of our illnesses through no fault of our own. I vow to change how our insurance providers see us and treat us so that their indifference and greed no longer pose barriers to our recovery. I vow to speak up and not stop telling our stories until this change happens.
  8. I agree to do all of the above from this moment onward and to not stop until I reach full recovery. And even then, I agree to do them anyway.

Signed,

Joanna Kay


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2 Comments

  1. I found your blog last week through Carrie Arnold’s Twitter. I have been in recovery for 3 years and have been stuck and occasionally slipping for a long time. I am a 54 year old living in West Virginia. I am lucky to have a psychologist who recovered from an eating disorder. I travel 3 hrs one way to see my psychiatrist and dietitian in Towson, MD. Therefore, I do not have any support groups in my area.

    I just want to say thank you for this site. I really feel like we are in the same place in recovery. I too am reading 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder. I read it once without doing the writing exercises. I hate to write. It makes me feel frustrated and stupid, but now I am forcing myself to go back and do the exercises. I have to say this has been rewarding.

    Just like the women who responded to your situation with your insurance company pulling the rug out from under you, I feel so… sorry for you. While I was in IP for 3 months I knew several women that returned again & again because of insurance issues. This is an injustice and I applaud your courage to go out and fight.

    You have a special gift. You are able to articulate your thoughts and are willing to share them with others in all stages of recovery. I thank God you are here right now.
    Wishing You All Good Things,
    Robin

    Also, I want you to know that even though I am 30 years older than you, I really feel connected in our recovery. I

    • Hi Robin,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I’m sorry to hear about the struggle that you’ve had — not only having to suffer with an eating disorder, but also having very limited access to care. I can’t imagine how much more difficult that makes your situation. But the fact that you are looking for recovery writings, and have found this blog as well as Carrie’s (which is excellent!), shows that you are dedicated to kicking this awful eating disorder. Believe me, I know that it is a difficult and painful battle. But it IS possible. You CAN recover fully if you just keep pushing through it. I promise.

      I’m happy to know that this blog offers you even the smallest bit of relief. It makes me wonder — what if there were some sort of forum on this site? A place where people can discuss things that they’re struggling with and get feedback? It would not be therapy by any means (unless someone with a few degrees wanted to jump in!). But I have found that just talking to peers can often be very helpful.

      In the meantime, take care of yourself <3 Don't give up
      Peace,
      Joanna