• Mair Elliott

Grief in recovery

I have never really lost anyone. I have never been to a funeral or lain flowers at a grave. I am very lucky to have lived 21 years without loosing a loved one. I wont pretend to know what it feels like, I don't know what it feels like to mourn after the death of a loved one. But I do know grief.

Grief in eating disorder recovery seems like a juxtaposition. Recovery is supposed to be the transition into living life well, moving from 'darkness to light' if you want to get airy fairy about it. Why would grief play a part?

The truth is recovery is not a simple process, its not as linear as it can be made out to be. Its not a natural process that a person is thrust into, neither is it beautiful most of the time. It is an extraordinary process, it is an act of courage and stamina, and it is quite phenomenal. But, its not something which anyone can do passively. It is complicated and often painful.

It is only recently that I have been able to label the extreme emotions I have been feeling as grief, after all I haven't necessarily lost someone. But I am losing something that was and still is very important to me.

Anorexia has been in my life a long time. I have dedicated 7 years to obeying it. Granted it was not necessarily a decision, but that doesn't mean it didn't have a purpose. My whole life revolved around it. My days were built on the rituals and routines which were dictated by anorexia, my mind was distracted by the calorie counting, my only focus was pleasing this illness which ruled my life by forcing the number on the scales to drop. I didn't have to think or worry about anything else, I didn't have to feel those painful emotions because I was so numbed by malnutrition, I didn't have to make difficult life decisions because the only decisions which mattered were about food and exercise. After a while it was my safety, my comfort. I knew how each day would go, I knew the rules, I knew the consequences of the 'wrong' decisions. It was my normal, and just as a prisoner becomes institutionalised inside the walls of the prison, I was institutionalised to the monotony of anorexia. I didn't know how to function outside the confines of anorexia - I still don't! I didn't know how to cope with the emotions the malnutrition kept at bay. I didn't know how to structure my day, or how to not let the worlds issues affect me. I didn't even know how to make decisions that weren't about food or exercise.

This is were grief in recovery comes from; as awful and soul destroying anorexia is, it also meant a lot to me. At 14 when I felt so overwhelmed and terrified of the mental illness which was drowning me, anorexia came along like a life raft. It helped me to push away the anxieties which crashed over my head and pushed me under. It helped me gain control in a situation I had nothing to cling to.

Now that I'm in recovery it feels a bit like I've jumped off that life raft into the stormy waters. I have voluntarily exposed myself to crashing waves, thunder, lightening and deep dark water. I don't know how to cope with this except to crawl back onto that life raft. But I can't, I know I can't.

I am grieving for the simplicity, the normality, the monotony. I am grieving for the numbness, the routine, the mathematics. I am grieving because I was really good at loosing weight, and I feel so inadequate at life. I am grieving for the control and strength I had to starve myself. I am grieving for the small frame, the deep-set cold, the angular shapes of bones.

Grief is a natural process of eating disorder recovery. Its the process which leads us to letting go of our eating disorders. It is painful and I believe it is the reason many go back to the relative comfort of that life raft. I don't blame them - but I know that for me I have to see what this grieving process brings. I know there is growth through grief. I want to see if there is more to life than the stormy water or the small, fragile life raft of anorexia.

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About Me

I am a young patient  activist, speaking openly about life with mental illness and autism. My activism includes public speaking, trying to affect change in mental health and/or autism services by contributing to relevant organisations, panels, committees and executive boards. I hope to break down misconceptions, stereotypes and stigma relating to mental illness and autism, and to create a future where mental health services are fit for purpose.

Want to hear me speak? Curious about my story? Think I could help you or your organisation to understand mental health and/or Autism?

Get in touch; Mair.elliott97@gmail.com


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