I have seen the most surprising transformation in myself.

When I started my third treatment stint at Rosewood, I was completely blinded by darkness. I only saw my life swallowed up by depression, failure, binging, purging, isolation and the most debilitating hopelessness that kept me locked in a mental prison. Looking back, I can’t remember what even brought me to treatment other than desperation. But nine months of residential/PHP/IOP saved my life. I used to joke that I could have had a baby with the time & expense of treatment. But I really did give birth to a new life.

I have seen the most surprising transformation in myself. I really showed up for myself, especially after treatment. When shit hits the fan, I continue reach out. I don’t abuse myself with food. When I’m dealing with the consequences of being disordered for over 20 years and want to shut down or throw in the towel, I tell my therapist and dietician. Because secrets keep me sick & I don’t want to live in shame.

I see myself, flaws and all. I see all the beauty, too. I can’t remember the last time I freaked out over clothes not fitting. Not because that hasn’t happened, but because I talk myself through it with compassion. If I want a burger, I eat a burger. Recently, a friend asked me if I planned to work out more because I had party food as a baby shower. I happily told her, “No. My body knows what to do with this food.” I really have built trust with myself, my body, and loved ones. When I indulge, there’s no guilt or shame. It fits in my meal & exercise plan. End of story. And even if it doesn’t, it’s one meal on one day out of 365 in a year. My body knows what to do.

So yes, I have days or even stretches of days when I unfortunately feel like my old self. But I work through that because I know succumbing to those feelings or urges ends in death. I’m not being dramatic. Anyone who’s lived through it knows that to be true. But most days I feel peace, freedom, hope, love and acceptance of both my body and of my life’s path. People said this day would come. Women who’d walked this recovery road while I moved about numbing myself in mostly a self-made hell. Therapists who saw the faintest spark of a really strong, beautiful and talented woman who just needed the time and space to cultivate enough self-love, care and respect to really live with awareness and intention. They all said this day would come and I thank God I lived through the worst of it and came out of the other side with the willingness to find reasons to keep smiling and laughing and loving.

Tomorrow, I’m starting a TESOL program at NC State to teach English abroad. It’s the first time I’ve made plans for my future since I dropped out of law school eight years ago. I had been too afraid I would relapse or fail to ever go back to school. In some respects, it’s not a big deal. And yet, I also know it’s everything. There’s no bigger deal than a woman empowering herself, taking control of her life, and fulfilling life goals that have nothing to do with weight, size, or body. Going back to school represents my hope and bravery and conviction that no matter what — I am stronger than my eating disorder.