We sat down with AMH everyBODY client Rachael Magill to discuss her journey of recovery through her own eating disorder.
I was receiving help from Dunlewey Addiction Services after I left treatment, and I was with them for a few months before being signposted to AMH Everybody. Things were going well, but despite being clean and sober, my disordered eating habits and behaviors remained a powerful force in my life. I was constantly tired and cold, I napped most afternoons and could never get a good night’s sleep, I had brain fog, and I went for long periods of time without eating. My thoughts were constantly consumed by food, when to eat, when not to eat, what to eat, and if I did eat certain foods, the guilt I felt was unbearable, causing me to engage in punishing behaviors. Furthermore, my weight dictated my day, and I felt powerless over it, as if I were chained to my weighing scale.
2. What does recovery mean to you?
For me, recovery means remaining openminded, honest, and willing to do the uncomfortable in order to change who I am as a person; otherwise, I will remain trapped in the negative thoughts and behaviours that accompany eating disorders and other addictions. Recovery is difficult, but it is worthwhile. Today, I can accept that my recovery is not linear and that some days will be more difficult than others, but on those days, I have learned to be a little more compassionate to myself and accept that my best is different on each day.
3. What does self-care mean for you, and how has it helped?
Knowing my limits and having boundaries in place to protect my sobriety is self-care for me. Self-care is ultimately self-preservation for me. I was very much a people-pleasing person who kept pushing and pushing without pausing. Today is different; I have boundaries in place to protect myself, and I have tools to help me maintain my mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. I, for example, have rediscovered my love of running and swimming and am currently training to run a marathon on my second sobriety date. I enjoy painting about my recovery and how I am feeling. I do a lot of journaling and just taking a moment to pause, even if it’s only for a minute or two. That pause can mean the difference between engaging in or refraining from engaging in self-destructive thoughts or behaviors.
4. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions surrounding eating disorders?
One of the most common misconceptions, and certainly one I had, was that someone with an eating disorder had to be significantly underweight. I’ve learned that weight is only one factor to consider, and that the thoughts and behaviours that accompany an eating disorder must also be considered and addressed. This misconception, I believe, prevents people from seeking help.
I also believe that people have the misconception that once someone reaches a healthy weight or completes treatment or therapy, they are cured or recovered. That is not my understanding. As with any other addiction, such as drugs or alcohol, quitting the drink or drugs is only one aspect; it is also important to change the thoughts and behaviours that accompany such issues. Yes, I am not using, but that does not mean I am cured. I emphasises the importance of viewing addiction and eating disorders as diseases that can be treated but never eradicated. My disease will always be lurking in the shadows, waiting for me to make a mistake, which is why recovery must be done on a daily basis.
5. How has seeking support changed things for you?
Seeking help from AMH Everybody has transformed my life tenfold. I’ve been working with Deborah for almost a year and she’s taught me so much about who I am as a person, my negative thinking patterns, my beliefs and values, and things to help boost my self-esteem. Though it took some time, I believe the most important thing that has helped me is that I am now able to be a little more compassionate to myself and supportive in my own thoughts about myself. Today, I have choices, and I chose to eat and to be in recovery, and my life is so much better for it.
I used to be terrified of eating in public, but now I can go out and socialise with friends and family. As someone who hated their body, who wore baggy clothes and didn’t want to be seen because of how I felt about my weight and because I have scars all over my body from self-harming, I am now able to go to the swimming pool, wear a swimsuit, and enjoy swimming, and I love it. My eating habits have changed to the point where I am no longer tired and can go and do the things I enjoy doing, such as running, socialising with friends, attending school, and working. I’ve learned that my weight does not define me as a person, and that gaining weight can be healthy. AMH Everybody gives you the opportunity to participate in creative courses classes, and through this I have met other people who understand how I feel in relation to my disordered eating behaviours. Since then, we have been able to go for coffee and have open conversations about the things we struggle with, which is nice.
I don’t let the scales dictate what I eat anymore, and I can now eat intuitively and listen to my body. I no longer feel guilty when I eat food, and I adore food. My enjoyment and excitement for food has returned. I’m not kidding when I say I feel so much better in my body now, so much healthier, and I would not have believed it if Deborah had told me this at the beginning of our sessions together.
6. What advice would you give to someone thinking about asking for help?
I would say if you are struggling today, know that you are loved, that you matter, and that you bring something unique to the world. There will only ever be one of you in this world, so make your choice and take back your power. Life is too short to be at war with yourself. Don’t let your inner fear prevent you from living your best life. The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.
7. What is the most helpful thing families can do to support a loved one with an eating disorder?
I believe that if a loved one has set certain boundaries to protect their own recovery, such as asking family members to refrain from commenting on their appearance or weight, those boundaries should be respected. It is about boosting their self-esteem rather than criticising or judging them.