• Jolie Sukonik

Celebrating NEDA Week: Reflecting on My Path to Recovery

TW/CW: Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, disordered eating tendencies

Before we begin, I would like to wish all readers a happy NEDA week! Celebrate your successes, love yourself, be forgiving with yourself. You are amazing and I am sending you a virtual hug. <3

In the spirit of NEDA week and an understood importance of the responsibility to avoid triggering, damaging, or re-traumatizing language, I want to celebrate the successes of my recovery and inspire hope and self love. Something even more overpowering than any of the lows I have experienced is the joy I feel when I think about how my 6 year old self would view me now: 20 years old, living happily after recovery, full of self-love, and a member of an organization on campus that helps promote a positive self image and encourages students to invest in healthy self-affirming practices. I love you, Body Image Task Force!!

I started my formal recovery journey from anorexia 7 years ago, and I realize the gravity that statement holds as I bring it to legibility. Eating disorders are a brutally complex and overtaking illness, and it can be quite difficult to map the trajectory that led you to such a place void of self-love and inner peace. Mine began when I was 6 years old.

I remember the girl who first called me “fat,” as I was sitting at what I consider now an ancient slab of technology -- the early 2000s desktop monitor. It would be too simple to reduce my life into a “before” and “after,” with this instance being the dividing line between a pre-eating disorder and post-eating disorder experience. Those of you familiar with the course of its development understand eating disorders are deeply rooted in a need to control uncontrollable environments, but that this can also compound with other factors...such as a 1st grader telling you to suck in your stomach. So now it could seem unjust for me to assign this elementary school situation the power to change the course my life would take. But I was 6 years old, and a new concept of self-image had lodged itself into my mind.

Before this, I was blissfully unaware of the violent and harmful tropes that my body could be demanded to change for someone else’s approval. Being introduced to this concept so young completely shifted my world view. I was no longer justified in any unique self-experience or could pursue activities based purely on self-interest because someone was always watching, judging, and thinking their own derivatives of the initial comment that sent me spiraling. When I decided to become a competitive dancer at 12 years old, the foundation was set for me to absolutely deteriorate in a toxic, body-centered, mirror-filled environment, and when my illness became life-threatening in 2013, my family gave me an ultimatum: out-of-state inpatient rehabilitation or beginning to sow the seeds of recovery. Believe it or not, the world of social media helped me choose the latter.

My recovery journey began in the early days of social media, when Kik Messenger was all the rave and Instagram had its original logo. It’s so interesting to me now that social media can be the most contested area of body and mind warfare, but in its very beginnings it was a place that truly gave me hope when I thought it was lost. During this time, “recovery accounts” were being born. People from around the world created Instagram profiles to document their journeys, and I was so inspired by the uplifting energy within the community that I needed to join them. We posted pictures of all of our meals and left encouraging comments for each other. Fridays were #fearfoodfriday where we’d challenge ourselves by reintroducing foods back into our lives. My personal favorite activity was #pintparty where we’d eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and share our experiences over Kik Messenger ;) Cool, right? I think so. Maybe I’d even consider myself a social media ~pioneer~ … just kidding. It was profoundly beautiful to have a tool that connected vastly different people over one common journey. This global community who shared similar experiences and supported each other is genuinely what gave me my life back and helped me take the steps toward being receptive to professional help and even accepting love and encouragement from my friends and family. When my account was live in middle school, I received incredible support from such unexpected places and even helped other people become more comfortable with sharing their experiences. It was a beautiful chain reaction.

I think that this uplifting corner of social media can extend itself to today’s dystopian Zoom society. It’s no secret that COVID times have been a trying time for those with eating disorders. The lack of movement that quarantine demands, the isolation and inability to remove yourself from triggering environments, and the constant reminder of our appearance from Zoom, mirrors, and other screens

has bred a difficult situation for those struggling, in recovery, or recovered. For those of you experiencing any of these challenges, I see you, I hear you, and while each of us experience different variations of this circumstance, I understand you. Even though I consider myself mostly recovered, I still feel the embryonic remnants of the disorder and admit I have struggled during this time. But, it’s humbling and reassuring to reflect on the progress I’ve made. Recovery isn’t an armor of invincibility, but it IS a liberating and protective shield that makes life so much more enjoyable. I find the reminders of my strength in letting myself enjoy the things and foods that make me happy, as well as in the loving people I surround myself with.

I want to emphasize that recovery is not a linear process, rather a highly nuanced EKG of ups and downs. But even more importantly, it is possible and rewarding and life changing...and it will be the most strengthening, incredible, and empowering experience. People look at me and would never predict I struggled with an eating disorder in the past or even currently grapple with the remaining threads of disordered thoughts. So, I need to enforce the idea that **just because someone does not

traditionally “present” themselves as having an eating disorder does not absolve them from the possibility of having one** (much to come about this in a separate blog post). With that, I encourage those struggling to set boundaries with people that potentially use triggering language or engage in triggering behaviors. I know it’s difficult, but protecting yourself is important, and you are incredibly strong for having endured everything this challenge brings.

I love sharing my story in order to inspire hope in others. I know for many, being so open is not the case. And that is ok. Just know that wherever you are in your journey that you are seen, you are valid, and you are capable of a life outside this harmful world.

I love you, I send you so much strength, and I hope you’re doing well.

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