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Heather's story

                                                                    Recovery is Possible.

Anorexia, bulimia nervosa, over eating, binge eating, these are all just words and labels to describe a complex and indeed life threatening condition which is an eating disorder. A term I as a sufferer like to identify with is Ďeating distressí. The term Ďdisorderí has a stigma attached to it. Labelling the condition makes people feel 'disordered' Ďdiseasedí, creating more shame and guilt.

Many people associate the term 'eating disorder' with either anorexia or bulimia. Often if you asked someone to describe a person with an eating disorder, the majority of people will describe a young, emaciated girl. However, the term Ďeating disorderí describes a variety of conditions, from anorexia nervosa and bulimia, to compulsive over eating and obesity. It is also important to understand that eating disorders are not a gender issue, it also affects men.

An eating disorder is a personís way of coping with unmanageable feelings. Because the behaviour of a person with eating distress revolves around food, often showing some devastating physical effects on the body, it is often presumed and mistakenly believed that the issue is food, this would be a false and ignorant assumption. It is crucial to realise that the behaviour around eating, however distressing, is an outward cry and sign of emotional distress. Food is sometimes the only way that the person can communicate their distress. They may turn to or away from food, as a means of relieving their distress in an attempt to gain some control in their life. As distressing and destructible eating distress is, ironically it provides a sense of safety and security for the sufferer, thus letting go of the condition, the only coping mechanism in that personís life is very difficult.
There is no quick fix, no tablet, no feeding programme or diet. Recovery is difficult and resistance is normal and expected, BUT IT IS POSSIBLE, it is more than possible with the correct intervention and treatment. As a fellow sufferer I have seen the proof and I am now living through it, it is out there for everyone, and I do mean FULL RECOVERY for all sufferers whatever size, age, and gender you are. The process or journey is difficult but worth it, and the rewards are unimaginable, gaining life, freedom, choice, inner peace, happiness. There is hope for all of us, and where there is hope there is healing. Recovering from eating distress is learning to deal with lifeís problems in constructive ways without turning to food or starvation. Recovery is a process, learning how to enjoy and make the most of life, learning how to balance life with things such as friendships, work, hobbies and interests. Recovery is about making better choices in life, it is a journey to find the real self. In short, recovery is loving you the way you are.

Why? You may ask why me? Why my son/daughter? Families blame themselves, sufferers blame themselves, but where will blame get anyone? Guilt is a luxury that we can not afford. It is self limiting, clinging to the past and doesnít focus on the present, the now. There is no single cause of eating distress; it could be attributed to a variety of factors in a personís life, including emotional, physical, psychological effects etc... People with eating distress are very sensitive people who absorb the world around them much more in depth than other people. This sensitivity is a gift when in a positive way, but for a person with eating distress it is used negatively absorbing all the negativity of the world around them.
I think an important question to ask; that I ask myself is what my values are? Look at todayís society; one has to ask the question, what are our values nowadays? Do we conform to our societies values? How much value is placed in material things, the good job, house, marriage? Look at the role of TV in our lives today, and the overuse by young people. Look at the fashion industry, how much does fashion conforms to a personís existence and acceptance in society. Is there room for individuality? Look at the amount of diets on the market, the increased advertising and accessibility. There is enormous pressure on young people these days and unfortunately in my view this pressure is only increasing.

However, I strongly believe that our society is not made aware that full recovery from an eating disorder is possible and attainable with the right intervention and treatment programme. I am speaking from personal experience, as a person in recovery from an eating disorder. People need proof of recovery so it is up to people like me to provide the proof, to help spread more awareness and understanding in our society, and above all give people the hope that recovery is possible. After all, where there is hope, there is healing. People with eating disorders are not freaks or victims. On the contrary I am very proud of the strength and determination in myself to take responsibility for my life by choosing the road to recovery. I am not a victim, I did not choose having an eating disorder but I do choose recovery.

We can accept that things are as they are
Or we can accept the responsibility to change them
And we can make a difference

Unfortunately in Ireland, the correct treatment of eating disorders is not easy to come by and I am speaking here from personal experience. My path to recovery led me in numerous directions from psychologists, psychiatrists, to cognitive behaviour therapists, counsellors, nutritionists etc... If only it was as easy has eating 3 meals a day, donít underestimate my intelligence, please... Food is only a small part of recovery, of course it is vital for survival and must be taken into considerable account in the early stages, BUT if treatment focuses only on food and the physical aspects then recovery will not be gained and it is ignorant to presume so, a holistic approach must be adopted.
Treatment of eating distress should focus on a combination of areas in ones life, including, physical, intellectual, emotional, social, psychological, spiritual, and sexual, assertiveness, stress, relaxation and career. When combined and examined and really looked into and worked on, then recovery is attainable, possible and not short lived, it is living.
After much time, I have now found the help, the proper treatment and this is after numerous failed attempts in other therapies. How, you may ask have I found the right help? Well I have seen living proof, numerous people fully recovered, living full, happy, free, independent, non destructive lives. I am now learning more about myself, my body , my mind, me. Someone is finally listening to me and assist me in my journey to freedom. I now know that I will recover fully and be a stronger, better person, it may take a little time, but whatís time, I have my whole life ahead of me. But, let me just explain that finding this help was no easy task. I found it very difficult to find the appropriate treatment, to find somewhere to go, to trust someone and believe in what they are saying to be true. To make that initial phone call is the hardest thing and then to be told there is a waiting list can be very disheartening.

I live in the southern region in Ireland and every week I travel to Dublin on an intensive therapy programme. This involves travel expenses, accommodation, living expenses, rent, car and all this is on top of the cost of the actual therapy itself. How do I pay for it? Well in the beginning I worked part time, but due to health reasons and the general impracticable not to mind time constraints, I had to stand back. I choose to put my health first before any material things. The only assistance I am entitled to is disability allowance which just about covers my rent, what then?? No financial assistance is provided for therapy, I attend a private clinic that is not funded by the health board. So what do I do, give up and let the eating disorder control me because of lack of resources, let if win my body over until I no longer exist or do I stand up and fight for my right to be heard and the right of everyone else who is on the same path as me. I am fortunate, I worked and saved enough to help me through for a while, my savingís my life's investment. If the only correct treatment service is in Dublin, and they have a waiting list, what does this say? Are we ignoring the growing increase in the disorder, ignoring our young people etc...? We need more services, more interventions. We need more awareness in our society of the condition, and of the recovery. We need education programmes in schools, teachers are the key. Today the number of young people developing eating disorders is increasing, the pressures on young people is immense. We can not be afraid of this; we need to ask questions, ask more, and understand. Yes it is a life threatening illness if not treated correctly but with the correct intervention and treatment full recovery is possible. But how can we beat the condition and spread the word if we donít have the adequate treatment services and resources.

Everyone has the right to full recovery, and has the right to live healthy in body and soul.



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