You’ve heard it a million times: Recovery is hard. Recovery hurts. But you know what? There are also a lot of great moments in recovery; I’m not talking about epiphany moments, but those moments when you are smiling, when you are laughing, when you are simply happy. So instead of focusing on the difficult aspects of fighting back against eating disorders, I want to share a couple of my great moments. These are the moments that came unannounced to reassure me that I was going to make it, and that deep inside, my joy had never truly gone away.
One day in 2016, I was sitting in the inpatient living room area of Center For Change (CFC), an eating disorder recovery clinic in Utah. I had been there for about a week and a half, and was settling into my new reality. At CFC, arguably the best time of day was when the mail was delivered. All of us patients had quite a bit of down-time, so we often wrote letters to our loved ones in the outside world. One of my fellow patients, let’s call her J., often received letters from her grandmother, whose memory was beginning to fade. On this particular Spring day, J. received a new letter from her grandma and we all gathered around, our battered spirits desperate for distraction. Half of the letter was almost impossible to make out, but we forged ahead, determined to decode the nonsensical text. I have forgotten a lot of what it said, but I distinctly remember J. reading a long paragraph aloud that talked about a cat, whom J.’s grandma thought she had had for a long time. She went on and on about the latest misadventures of this cat, which had us all laughing in and of itself, but after she had finished reading, J. stopped, looked up at us, and said,
“Um…my grandma doesn’t have a cat.”
I don’t know why we found this so funny, but suddenly the living room was filled with shrieks of laughter, as we all clutched our sides and let the tears of delight roll freely down our faces. And in that moment, we weren’t a group of eating disorder patients; we were a group of girls delighting in the small eccentricities this life has to offer. For a moment we forgot about our struggles with food, and the tears we had shed at mealtime that day; we forgot about our drug addictions and alcoholism, and the pounding in our heads from withdrawals. For a moment we were no different than anyone else: we were simply happy.
After that evening I started to look for the good in each day, and made notes of the things I was looking forward to, even if it was as simple as a hot shower. But the best moments always took me off-guard, such as the day “Martha Stewart Prison” was born:
It was another Spring day at CFC, and I was once again curled up on the couch with a couple of other girls. Mother’s Day was approaching, and I was writing a card to my sister, who was pregnant at the time. As I was writing this letter, my friends, B. and L., were talking about how they (and I) sometimes felt like we were in jail, as we did not have the freedom to leave the center. L. insisted we had it almost as bad as prisoners — which was, of course, an exaggeration, to say the least — but B. thought our situation was a bit too cushy for that. It was more like, she said with a grin, “Martha Stewart Prison.” We busted out laughing, to the point we almost fell off of the couches. I quickly picked up the card I had been working on and signed it:
“Love, your sister and all her girls in Martha Stewart Prison”.
From that day on, we referred to CFC as MSP. Even when we went our separate ways, whether to other treatment centers or back home, we stayed in touch, always signing our emails and letters to one another:
“Love, your girl from Martha Stewart Prison.”
The memory of that moment, and the phrase it produced, was always able to separate me from the pain of reality as I continued in recovery, and subsequently force my depression to loosen its grip. When I think about it, I remember nothing but the joy we felt, united around a single cause that was so much less serious than the realities of our lives at the time.
I had plenty of other moments of pure, unadulterated joy during my time in recovery, but these are the two that stand out the most in my memory. They are not the memories of a struggling anorexic, but simply of a young woman, laughing and smiling with her friends. And perhaps most importantly, they proved to me that the light inside me had not completely gone out, and sure enough, would one day shine brightly once again. So to all those who are struggling with an eating disorder, have faith in your own spontaneous moments of joy — I promise they will find you. And to my girls from Martha Stewart Prison, keep fighting the good fight — you can’t possibly know just how much your smiles and support meant to me.