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When I bought this guitar, I was at the height of my battle with anorexia and bulimia. I didn’t have the energy to push down the strings or to concentrate.

So, I actually took the guitar and I shoved it in the back of my closet. Well, ten years later, I’m recovered. And the guitar is out of the closet. I’m learning how to play, and I’m finding that it’s actually really fun.

What is your guitar in life?

What is it that’s in the back of your closet that you need to take out, something that your eating disorder has taken from you? Is it going back to school? Is it starting a new hobby?

I encourage you to take out your guitar, whatever it may be because we recover from our eating disorders in order to recover ourselves. And, after we recover, we can do anything at all.

Watch the video!

What is Your Guitar? (Jenni Schaefer "Goodbye Ed, Hello Me" - YouTube

The post What is Your Guitar? appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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Recovery from both an eating disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is possible. Here, brave Amie Shields shares her inspirational story of transformation. Amie writes about needing to get to the “roots” of her eating disorder. We all know what happens if we pull a weed up only by the surface, leaving the roots. Inevitably, it grows right back. To eradicate a weed as well as an eating disorder, we need to “pull it up” by the roots. In my life, this meant that I couldn’t hold onto any of the eating disorder. If I tried to hold onto just a little restricting, as an example, some eating disorder roots remained. I relapsed. For those with trauma that precedes their eating disorder, they might need to address PTSD. If you are struggling with an eating disorder and/or PTSD, hold onto hope, like Amie says. She writes, “There is so much joy ahead.” I agree!

To submit your own Dream Big story, please click here.

Bring Your Brokenness

by Amie Shields

I stood crying at the end of the long hallway of a residential treatment facility for eating disorders, surrounded by women like me – broken, hurting, and physically and emotionally unsafe to be on our own. The indescribable feelings intensified to the point it seemed my heart shattered in a million pieces. I didn’t think I could survive it.

Even though, in so many ways, that was one of the worst days of my entire life, it was also the beautiful beginning of the rest of my life. The treatment team literally held me up – mentally, spiritually, and even physically – as I began the difficult process of pulling the eating disorder out by its roots.

We started with the earliest time I could remember. Beginning with an abduction at the age of three, much of my life was stained by trauma and abuse. No one ever talked about it. Being sad was being silly. We never discussed negative emotions; someone always had it worse. I blamed myself for so much.

In my junior year of college, everything began to unravel, creating the perfect storm for an eating disorder. The unprocessed trauma, the abuse, the violations – all of it came to a head when a boyfriend blamed me for some of the incidents.

The catalyst was a physical education class which required documentation of all intake and daily workouts. Part of our grade included our BMI. That was all the eating disorder needed to sink its claws in and draw me into its horrific slavery. Over the summer, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

I agreed to go to counseling for a couple of months. Unfortunately, I became really good at covering symptoms for the next two decades. I never reached the roots of the disorder. And the heavy baggage of messy life experiences was still strapped tightly to my back.

When I entered marriage counseling in 2016, I began processing my traumatic experiences for the first time. And the embers of the eating disorder that had hidden quietly all those years exploded in flame within me. After four months of extreme behaviors, it was determined that a higher level of care was necessary, and I was placed in an intensive residential treatment facility. Not once, but twice. The diagnosis was anorexia nervosa–extreme, PTSD, and major clinical depression.

Recovery has been a process of unpacking that heavy bag I’ve been carrying my whole life. Because I never acknowledged or processed trauma, I learned to push those disgusting, shameful, and dirty pieces way down in the bag, out of sight. I ensured the pretty pieces were arranged neatly on top so that everyone could see the part of my life that was all put together.

So my team and I dug down to the heaviest and ugliest pieces. Treatment was like sitting in the middle of the floor with the entire contents of my bag strewn all around me, covering the entire room. It was a mess. It was exposing. It was painful. It was scary. It made me vulnerable. It gave me anxiety.

We looked at each piece, many of them a lot more than once. Some were fine. Others had been mislabeled. Many were not my pieces to carry and shouldn’t have even been in the bag. Yet they were a part of the heavy load. Many were covered with such thick layers of guilt and shame that they were distorted and indistinguishable.

And, as we began to peel back those layers, hope emerged.

Hope had been there all along. His name is Jesus. But the eating disorder had filled me with such shame that I didn’t believe I was even worthy of hope.

Nonetheless, truth remains. I am worthy because of the price He paid for me. And He has been the glue that’s allowed us to put my broken pieces back together.

Today, I’m still on the floor with my team. We’re sorting, re-labeling, peeling, and gluing. But we’re making progress day by day.

Once God has restored the broken pieces, I’m tempted to put them back in the bag, hiding their imperfections. But my team challenges me to put them on a safe shelf, even while the glue is still drying, even if it means people may notice them. Every crack tells a piece of my story, and God is the Master of using broken things for good.

How beautiful it is when others see the brokenness and feel that it’s okay to bring theirs. They see that hope is possible because of God’s deliverance in my life.

Sometimes I slip up and make a mess again of part of our work, because recovery is far from perfect. But I get right back up and start in again, because hope allows for so much grace.

I’m amazed to look around me and see all that God has restored thus far. And as I walk this road of recovery, my eyes are being opened to the incredible sights along the way.

I’m learning to be present with my family. As I learn ways to survive the full impact of negative emotions, I’m simultaneously experiencing the full impact of positive ones. I’m feeling the wonder that comes from being fully present, being loved, connection, and even vulnerability. Relationships that the eating disorder destroyed are being restored.

The hope of all that recovery will bring strengthens my commitment.

Amie Shields, click image to read her blog

God has given me a passion for writing which I’ve turned into a blog. He’s placed a dream in my heart to publish a memoir.

I’m going back to school to work on a counseling degree. I can’t even describe my deep fulfillment when God allows me to help someone because of my brokenness.

I want to be a recovery advocate. I dream of using the gifts of singing and educating God’s given me to travel the nation and share my story through word and song.

There have been many times in recovery over the last couple of years when my intentions were good, but my efforts were exhausting and futile. I valiantly surrendered my heavy bag on most days, but I always kept one hand on it so I could quickly scoop up all its contents and take it back when I needed its familiarity on the tough days. It kept me stuck. The ponderosity of the bag made me weaker by the day.

It was only when I relinquished the entire bag to Christ and took both hands off of it that the futility ended. That’s when He dumped out the entire bag for me, for good, and began the work of restoration. That’s when He opened my eyes to the truth that my treatment team had so desperately been trying to help me see.

One by one, He’s redeeming each piece in the pile, and in the redemption, He’s strengthening what once was so weak – my mind, my heart, my soul, and my body. His strength can move mountains. In Him, all things are possible.

That means that full recovery will be a reality for me one day soon. And it can be for you, too. No matter where you are, there is always hope. Don’t ever lose sight of it. There is so much joy ahead!

The post Dream Big: Bring Your Brokenness appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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If you follow me on social media, you know that I love trees. Think Austin, Texas, treehugger. Last year, my neighbors helped me to save a tree on my property that was at risk of being cut down by the city. The tree, affectionately named Moose by the neighborhood, is alive and well today. (See the image of Moose and me to the left. You can kind of tell why the tree is named Moose, huh?) I was told by countless people that Moose wouldn’t make it, but, banded together with a team of advocates, we beat the odds. Yes, this is a metaphor for recovery. Never quit. When I received this Dream Big submission from Sally featuring her beautiful artwork, I just had to share her inspiring story. Sally’s artwork was an assignment in treatment; she explains what the image means below. Thank you, Sally, for giving us the gift of your experience, strength, and hope!

Values Tree of Life

When I fall deep into the eating disorder, I find that my creativity wanes. My inner spirit fades away, and my soul literally evaporates.

As soon as I begin obtaining life-sustaining nutrients, I become like a potted plant brought out from a dark room into a well-lit window. I blossom. I become so engaged and prolific in art and writing that I feel as if I am bursting with energy, inspired to express myself.

The roots of my tree of life represent activities that enable me to feel grounded, de-stress, and to help me maintain my focus. For example, I love taking walks in the park—not to exercise or to burn calories, but to breathe fresh air, recharge, and let go of anxiety.

My tree encompasses values that I consider essential to my well-being, such as creativity, compassion, intelligence, and empathy. The branches of my tree display beautiful flowers and leaves depicting my soul flourishing as I transform.

Recovery, to me, represents a rebirth, a dying flower garden regaining life as the sun fosters growth and development.

Recovery enables the soul to awaken.

~ Sally

The post Dream Big: Tree of Life by Sally appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual violence can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, addiction, depression, and other trauma-related problems. What I know now: if you have to ask yourself whether sex was consensual, it wasn’t. By definition, the idea of consent means that you would know.

This is a message that, as young adults, many of my friends and I desperately needed to hear. If I had, when I experienced sexual assault with a boyfriend in my late twenties, I might have known to call it what it was. I believe that we should take the “date” off “date rape” because it seems to minimize the assault. I’d later develop PTSD as a result.

To read the full post on The Meadows Blog, click here.

The post Sexual Assault: What I Wish I Had Known as a Teen appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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When I was struggling, confused, and pretty hopeless regarding my own trauma, I remember reading Dr. Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger. Finally, my strange set of symptoms and behaviors made sense. I wasn’t going crazy. I was actually having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

Sadly, research suggests that it takes twelve years from the onset of PTSD symptoms for someone to receive a diagnosis. This means that many, like me, suffer in silence and often get misdiagnosed for a very long time. For me, a diagnosis wasn’t a label. It was a compass pointing in the direction of help. With time and appropriate treatment, I got better.

Today, it means the world to me to join The Meadows as a Senior Fellow and advocate for its specialty eating disorder program, The Meadows RanchDr. Levine, the author of that book that helped me so much, is a Senior Fellow, too! Yes, this is yet another full circle moment in my life. Years ago, I never could have imagined having the chance to work with the nation’s premiere program for treating trauma.

If you struggle with PTSD, other trauma-related symptoms, or something else, hold onto this kind of hope. Healing can happen, and recovery can bring the most beautiful gifts, often ones that showed up in the ugliest of packages.

You are not alone. (I once thought I was.) Get help, and never, never, never give up.

Read the announcement on The Meadows Blog.

The post Big Announcement: New Role! appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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I was born afraid.

So, it became no surprise to me now that, by the time I entered college, my high anxiety, sensitivity, and perfectionism had fueled anorexia nervosa. Restricting food decreased anxiety. And, if I ate enough in a binge, I didn’t have to deal with difficult emotions. Controlling my body size was an unconscious way to cope with perfectionism. (If I can’t get the perfect grade, I can, at least, have the so-called perfect body.)

Of course, none of this worked in the long-term. Eventually, my solution became my biggest problem, my greatest fear. A year or so after college graduation, I desperately wanted freedom from my eating disorder.

What we want often lies on the other side of fear.

I had to move directly into what scared me most—over and over again—in order to save my own life as anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

To continue reading, click here to read the full post on Mogul.

The post Born Afraid—But Not Defeated appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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“You don’t look like you have an eating disorder,” a well-respected (supposed) expert once said to me.

He was the first doctor I sought help from — at 22 — when I realized I really did have a problem with food.

Since the age of 4, I had battled eating-disordered thoughts. You can imagine how difficult it was for me to push past the denial, stigma and shame I felt at the time — to walk into his office and say those five distressing, difficult words:

“I have an eating disorder.”

Getting to this point — having the insight that I needed professional help — had taken nearly 20 years to develop. Finding the courage to walk into his office had taken even longer.

Since I didn’t look sick enough to have an eating disorder (to him), I was dismissed. I felt confused. I started to wonder, “Do I really even have a problem? Do I deserve to get help?” I felt more ashamed than ever.

Today, I know there is no shame in having an eating disorder and that anyone who struggles deserves help. I also know this key point:

To continue reading, click here to read the full post on The Mighty.

The post ‘You Don’t Look Like You Have an Eating Disorder’ appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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“You don’t look like you have an eating disorder,” a well-respected (supposed) expert once said to me.

He was the first doctor I sought help from — at 22 — when I realized I really did have a problem with food.

Since the age of 4, I had battled eating-disordered thoughts. You can imagine how difficult it was for me to push past the denial, stigma and shame I felt at the time — to walk into his office and say those five distressing, difficult words:

“I have an eating disorder.”

Getting to this point — having the insight that I needed professional help — had taken nearly 20 years to develop. Finding the courage to walk into his office had taken even longer.

Since I didn’t look sick enough to have an eating disorder (to him), I was dismissed. I felt confused. I started to wonder, “Do I really even have a problem? Do I deserve to get help?” I felt more ashamed than ever.

Today, I know there is no shame in having an eating disorder and that anyone who struggles deserves help. I also know this key point:

To continue reading, click here to read the full post on The Mighty.

The post ‘You Don’t Look Like You Have an Eating Disorder’ appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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I don’t have any kids yet, but I am certainly a proud mom of many! Tara DeAngelis is one. Tara wrote the article below last summer, as part of her internship with me. Today, even further along in her recovery from an eating disorder, PTSD, and anxiety, she has had more insights regarding her future. She has actually realized that she can combine her childhood passion of being an attorney with helping those who struggle with eating disorders. Watch out health insurance companies; here comes Tara. It is my belief that she will make huge strides in advancing the mental health field via her recent decision to pursue law school.

Don’t be surprised if, like Tara, you change your mind about “what you want to be when you grow up” (no matter how old you are now). As we get healthier and stronger in life, our passions can change. Often, through our pain, a beautiful, enriching purpose can emerge. Thanks, Tara, for sharing your story with us.

If you live near Elon University in Elon, NC, please come out and see us on Wednesday evening for a free, community event! Tara will be sharing her inspirational story before I speak. Find Recovery, Find Your Purpose

by Tara DeAngelis

When I was fourteen, I had a dream to be a lawyer. No, not just any lawyer—I was determined to be the best, to be hugely successful and famous and be a leader for women to look up to. That same year, however, I hit my lowest weight in my battle with anorexia and was forced to go to a residential eating disorder facility. My anorexia actually started when I was 10, but by the time I was 14 I was at risk of dying from the disease. I continued to battle anorexia for many more years after my first hospitalization, but I never let go of my dream. As the fight went on, my dream changed a bit, and by the time I entered recovery at the age of 19, I knew for sure that I was destined for greatness, but no longer as a lawyer.

Mission Recovery: On the Road in Austin!

I committed the rest of my life to raising awareness about eating disorders, to educating children and teenagers about the dangers of these disorders, and to writing books that would reach people of all ages. I vowed to become a therapist to help other girls overcome their battles with Ed (Eating disorder) just like my therapist, Sarah Gibbs, did for me. I’ve been seeing Sarah since I was 14 years old, and she never once gave up on me. Sarah helped me to find myself again, and more importantly, to realize that I always had everything inside of me that I needed in order to recover— nothing could ever stop me once I put my mind to recovery or any goal. When I was at my worst, Sarah reminded me of my strength and resilience, and she believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Now, at almost twenty-two, I am in a solid recovery and happier than I’ve been in a very long time—all thanks to Sarah. I want to be somebody’s “Sarah” someday.

The thought of using my struggles to help other girls like me still gives me chills. I have big plans for my future private practice, and this dream is what keeps me going even when the fight gets really hard. My dream is to open a private practice that provides services normally offered exclusively in inpatient or residential settings at an outpatient location, and at an outpatient cost. I want to partner with a horse farm and offer equine therapy; provide a massage room to help clients learn what safe touch looks and feels like and relax from the stress of recovery; create a “shopping” closet with donated clothes and labels with positive adjectives on them rather than sizes so my clients can get clothes for their recovery bodies with minimal distress; I want to make recovery a hugely positive experience for my clients, with a focus on what they are gaining rather than what they are losing.

Currently, I am running my very own recovery blog, called Honestly Free[ed] where I blog about my recovery from anorexia, PTSD, and anxiety. Nothing is sugar-coated, nor is anything triggering. My blog is a safe place for people to come and find comfort in knowing that someone else feels the same way they do. It is a place for loved ones of someone struggling with an eating disorder to understand what her thoughts may be, a place for the mother of a child with PTSD to empathize with the intensity of the disorder, a place for someone with anxiety to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that she is still in control of her life. Most of all, my blog is a beacon of hope for anyone who visits the site. My blog is the start of my future dreams coming true.

Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I stuck with my initial plan of becoming a lawyer. But then, I take a look at what my life has become, and I am so thankful. In reality, my original dream is not so far from where I am today—my childhood dreams are coming true! I am the best version of myself I could ever hope to be, I am very successful, and while I’m not famous, I am respected and appreciated, and I know that I have already begun touching the hearts of many who are suffering from the same disease I am now beating. Most importantly, I am a leader for women of all ages to look up to. I never gave up the fight, and now, I’m reaping the rewards. Recently, I was told by an old friend that I am her recovery role model. And now, I’m participating in an unofficial internship with one of my own recovery role models, Jenni Schaefer! Thanks to recovery, my dreams are coming true much sooner than I ever thought possible.

The post Dream Big: Find Recovery, Find Your Purpose appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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I am blessed to work with many brilliant clinicians and authors at Eating Recovery Center. Dr. Catherine Ruscitti is one. Below, please find an excerpt from her newly released book, The Anorexia Recovery Skills Workbook. I only wish she’d have written this book about 20 years ago. I needed it then! But, here it is now, for you. Thanks, Dr. Ruscitti, for sharing your wisdom and inspiration with us. (I look forward to seeing you and your incredible co-author, Dr. Rebecca Wagner, in Houston at ERC next week!)

For a chance to win a signed book, please see the information at the bottom of this post, following the book excerpt.  Building Motivation to Get Better

Win this book! See details below.

There are two types of motivation that influence how we behave: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources outside of yourself (like attending psychotherapy appointments to avoid late-fee charges), while intrinsic motivation comes from internal resources within yourself (attending psychotherapy appointments because you want to get better).

Because anorexia tends to be egosyntonic, fostering intrinsic motivation is often extremely difficult.

Hence, it is typically easier to be successful in recovery in intensive treatment settings than in outpatient settings or with no treatment. Intensive treatment settings establish various types of external motivators that help you take positive steps toward recovery (for example, gaining privileges if you complete meals, or adding nutritional supplements to your meal plan if you do not complete meals). However, once you step down to less structured levels of treatment, the amount of extrinsic motivation tends to decrease and the consequences and rewards of your behaviors are not as immediate.

Having both external and internal motivators is important in recovery and in life. The more sources of motivation you have, the more likely you are to continue in a healthy, recovery-oriented direction. Because intrinsic motivation is not always stable— as there will inevitably be days when you want to give up— it is important to create and identify external sources of motivation for yourself. However, relying solely on external motivators can be detrimental to your recovery in the long term, as the value you place on them is likely to dissipate gradually over time. Intrinsic motivation is long lasting and will foster a stronger and more stable recovery journey. Therefore, rather than relying on extrinsic motivation as a crutch, use it to help foster intrinsic motivation. Sometimes you will need to go through the motions in recovery (for example, by following your treatment team’s recommendations regardless of your feelings toward its members). At those times, external motivators (such as not wanting to disappoint others, avoiding a higher level of care, or getting or remaining medically stable) will serve you well. They will help you to avoid a lapse or relapse and prevent you from falling so far backward physically that your mental health and well-being are compromised.

But eventually you will need to make choices that move you toward recovery for you, because you want it and because you are ready to live in accordance with your values. Having intrinsic motivation does not mean you are ready or able to do recovery alone; it means quite the opposite: that you are ready to do whatever it takes, including using the help offered to you and the level of support that will best assist you at this time, to make steps toward recovery without the need of external rewards or consequences to motivate you. Some examples of intrinsic motivators for recovery include your values that you identified in the previous chapter, a desire to live a more vital life than you live when you are engaged in your eating disorder, and goals you have for yourself that may be possible to achieve only with recovery (such as to finish school, pursue your dream job, have a stable relationship, go on an adventure.)

Now that we have discussed the differences between and importance of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, take some time to write yourself a letter on your motivation and reasons to recover.

Why do you want recovery? What keeps you motivated to recover?

Be sure to include a list of both your external and internal motivators. This list may need to be reviewed time to time both as a reminder and in order to keep it updated and relevant to you. While you can complete this exercise at any time in your recovery, it would be best to write your letter when you are feeling particularly motivated. Keep this letter handy and read it when you are struggling with motivation or having urges to act on eating disordered behaviors. Feel free to add to it or rewrite it at any time, as your life may change and provide you with more or different reasons to stay motivated.

Win a Signed Book! To enter to win a signed copy, please post a comment below, sharing one reason you are motivated to recover. Why do you want recovery? What keeps you motivated to recover? One winner will be selected from all who comment. 

The post Why Recovery from Anorexia Can Be So Hard appeared first on Jenni Schaefer | Eating Disorder Author.

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