As told by Asha, a former Melrose Center patient:
When I think back to July 2009, I remember lying in bed right next to my husband and realizing he had absolutely no idea how unhappy I was with who I had become. He didn’t know what I was secretly doing to myself. And I literally had no idea how to tell him how “lost” I was.
I had been struggling with an eating disorder and with managing my type 1 diabetes for almost 10 years. Later I would learn that my condition was something doctors call diabulimia. But at that time, all I knew was that I was exhausted and ashamed. I was constantly angry at myself. And that same night, I was lying in bed daydreaming about suicide.
The next day, I called Melrose Center. And by the time I got there I felt that I had no other choice. It was either change my life or lose everything. I had to find a new way to live, or I knew I would die.
I had lost every part of me that cared about things. But I knew that there had been a time where I had felt peace inside. There were photos of me as a little girl and at age 11 and 12 where I was really and truly happy. I wanted to feel that way again.
Learning to accept myself
I had enough life-changing realizations on a daily basis at Melrose Center to fill a novel. But here I want to share what I learned about self-acceptance, honesty and perseverance in recovery.
During my first week as a patient, I realized that I had been putting unrealistic expectations on myself for years. I was in a competition with who I thought the ideal “Asha” was supposed to be. My eating disorder kept me locked in a cycle of self-destructive behaviors. It blocked me from exploring any other factors of who I was or what I wanted out of life. I realized that if I chose to continue to protect my eating disorder, I would be caught in this vicious cycle until it killed me. The standards I was setting for myself were so high that I could never realistically achieve them. And because of that, I continued to disappoint myself. The symptoms of my eating disorder continued to punish me.
What would happen if I could just learn to be ok with who I was in the present moment?
What if I could stop chasing after a distorted version of myself that I could never realistically attain?
What could my life be like without the cloud of an eating disorder overshadowing every facet of it?
I remember having such curiosity (and yes, a healthy dose of fear) about who I really was beyond my eating disorder. It was this very curiosity that gave me the courage to give recovery a chance.
After I spent time in inpatient, I began progressing through Melrose’s outpatient levels. And for those first 5-6 months, I couldn’t see anything beyond the day that I was living. I couldn’t see tomorrow. I couldn’t see next week. Instead I just took each day step by step. If I faltered, I did the next best thing to get back on track and did not spend time berating myself for making a mistake. I felt like a horse with blinders on – I just stared straight ahead and kept going. I did this even though I had no idea where I was going to end up or who I was “going to be.” I just wanted to find out what it felt like to have other thoughts beyond food and numbers.
I conquered a lot of fears during my first year of recovery. One big one was my fear of being vulnerable and honest about my feelings, especially in regard to my type 1 diabetes. I needed to know that the man I married would love me even if I showed him all the “real” feelings I had been so scared of showing anyone. I had been scared to reveal the anxiety I felt from living with type 1 diabetes. I hadn’t told anyone that I had an ever-present fear of experiencing a low, because I was afraid of the panic I would feel during a low. And like all people with chronic illness, I struggled with waves of anger and days where all I could focus on was “Why me?” – but hadn’t told anyone I did.
I had never shown those feelings to anyone. Why? Because I had worried for years that they would make me ugly and unlovable. But when I finally did acknowledge and share them, I felt the shame and the fear slowly fall off my shoulders. I found that allowing myself to be honest about everything I had hidden for so long gave me strength. And I felt beautiful in a way that no amount of dieting, exercise or makeup could ever match.
During my first year of recovery, I was able to finally start navigating through difficult situations without using my eating disorder to cope. And I can clearly remember each of the first times I was able to do so successfully. At first, the experience of making a new choice instead of reverting to my eating disorder felt so foreign. It was hard to know exactly what to do. But I had to remind myself that if I really wanted things to change, I had to make new choices. I could no longer rely on my behaviors as a coping mechanism.
Recovery is not comfortable, but it is possible. At first, making new choices caused me some angst. But once I started making them, they slowly became second nature. And now, every new situation or feeling that I face gives me an opportunity to practice a new way of handling it without my eating disorder being involved.
I never thought I could be free from my eating disorder, and I have never worked so hard in my life to find that freedom. But it was worth it! Every single day of my recovery journey has been a blessing. It has given me the strength and courage to face any obstacle in my life.
More about Asha
Asha is the Founder of We Are Diabetes (wearediabetes.org). By talking openly about her experiences, she strives to offer hope and support to others who may be struggling. Asha has spoken on the Family Panel at NEDA, at The Park Nicollet Melrose Center, JDRF, Diabetes Sisters and numerous other organizations. Her passion for connecting people to the help they deserve continues to grow as she establishes more and more relationships with eating disorder treatment facilities across the United States.