by April Ballard
Recovery is truly like waking up from a fog. The fog of an eating disorder is terrifying. The cycle of terror and disconnect leads us to feel removed from not only others but from ourselves; removed from the life around us. Recovery means being able to live and exist in the present moment. Recovery means that we are able to walk amongst the trees, breathe in the fresh air, and smell the scents of nature. I was once told by a very dear friend to acknowledge the moments throughout the day in which I feel peaceful, and not only the moments that I feel anxious. This practice enables me to live in gratitude for the beauty of life and all that is surrounding me. I feel gratitude for recovery. I feel gratitude for the love in my life.
I have been reflecting on the moments, the instances within each day in which I recognize these experiences and truly feel and embrace all that is around me. I will begin with the description of taking a walk in nature. There was a time in which every single walk, every single step I took was with the eating disorder. It was never only me on a calm walk alone, or enjoying a walk with a loved one, but rather the eating disorder was always present no matter who else accompanied me. That being said, because of this presence, I could not fully, or even come close to fully, embracing the moments of the walk. I was distracted by the constant voice of the eating disorder. It was exhausting to try and pretend to be attentive or pretend to myself even, that I was enjoying myself, when in reality, I was nervously stumbling through the motions. Recovery has made it possible for me to realize that taking a walk in nature truly means embracing the sounds of the birds chirping, the sound of the wind lightly blowing the trees, the sound of leaves rustling beneath my feet, and the peace that I find outside of the eating disorder ruling my every thought.. It is possible to be free from an eating disorder, and that the freedom, peace, and clarity on the other side, are so worth the journey.
Traveling is another opportunity that I have found as a result of recovery. The eating disorder kept me locked into “safe” zones and patterns that were, in fact, anything but safe. I was rigid and reluctant to accept any new experiences. I was terrified to travel and too exhausted to do so as well. Recovery means that I am able to visit new places and have awe-inspiring experiences. I am able to feel the joy and excitement that comes with being in a new place. I have the energy to walk through a new city or along a beautiful hiking trail. I have the concentration to learn about these new places. I have the desire to have fun and remain present in each experience. The eating disorder robbed me of all of these things while lying to me and having me believe that it was where safety resided, when, in fact, that was an extreme untruth. Recovery is safety and knowing that nourishing myself and self-care, allow me to have cherished moments.
I traveled to Chicago during a time in which I was incredibly ill and battling the eating disorders. My brother’s wife, Lora, had invited me to accompany her and, in theory, we would have an amazing time laughing and enjoying the city. However, the eating disorder had other plans for me. Not only was I unable to physically walk around the city, I also had a major health episode while attending a performance at a beautiful theater. As a result, Lora and I had to leave the performance. I was far too ill and weak to walk back to our hotel room, and my ankles were terribly swollen from the edema. That being said, this trip to Chicago was certainly not only Lora and myself. Rather, the eating disorder was certainly riding in the front seat of the car the entire time. April was somewhere within but lost in the fog.
I will now describe to you a trip since recovery…. Lora and I took a trip several years later to visit Asheville, North Carolina. We hiked. We laughed. We visited a triple waterfall. We enjoyed dinner at my favorite restaurant. We browsed shops. I lived. I felt. I was there; April was there. On the day of our hike, I walked and walked and felt the cold air and it was invigorating as I took each step. I stopped to view the amazing scenery that surrounded us. I took in the mountain air. We had a conversation along the way in which I was actually engaging in, rather than pretending to do so. Recovery gave me the strength, the mental awareness, and the desire to experience this joy. It is possible to experience this joy again and to love yourself enough to take care of you. You are worthy and deserving of recovery.
I have learned so much about myself and about life along with my journey to recovery. I have had to face the root of fears, anxieties, and depression. I have had to acknowledge these feelings, rather than trying to run away from them. Through this process, I have found recovery and life waiting for me. I interact with people in a genuine and organic way. I am there for those that need me and look to me for help and encouragement. I am there for my loved ones. I am there for my roles in life. I am able to offer my best, by treating myself with kindness and taking care of myself. The eating disorder repeatedly told me that I did not deserve this. I am so thankful to share the message of hope and recovery and to relay to you that you can also say NO to the eating disorder. You can say YES to you and to life. You can recover. There is hope. There is always hope. Again, I am proof of this testament. I too once believed that this was not possible for me. I had resigned to the notion of just being in the fog. I didn’t even really realize how swarming the fog was until it began to lift during recovery.
I am now able to embrace life’s moments. This does not mean that I do not also experience stress and discomfort at times, but I am feeling. I am not numb in the fog. I am not terrified wandering through the fog, with only slight glimpses of April. I like to repeat the mantra, “I am peaceful and easeful in my body.” To be at peace with my body, I am at peace with my mind. I am at peace with nourishing myself and nurturing myself. My hands no longer shake in fear as I sit down with a menu. I am peaceful and easeful in my body. What an amazing realization and empowering feeling it is when we let go of the eating disorder. When we let go, we say yes to life. We say yes to so much more than we even thought possible. We say yes for ourselves, and for those that we love, and for the moments that were there for us all along, waiting to be embraced and experienced.
I encourage you to say yes for yourself and for the life that is here. Recovery is possible. Love yourself today and every day.
April Ballard is a teacher and eating disorder awareness and recovery advocate who has been in recovery from anorexia and bulimia for three years. April also designs curriculum for a national art and music integration program. April is the founder and coordinator of the Charleston, South Carolina NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) Walk. April has been recognized and awarded on the university level for her critical thinking teaching skills. She is also currently writing a children’s book with the message of treating all beings with compassion and kindness. April is a strong advocate for eating disorder prevention and recovery. April is also committed to an educational role with helping The Stone Soup Collective where she will strive to empower individuals and families to discover their strengths, while learning to nourish their bodies, minds and spirits.