Gratitude Journal and Eating Disorder Recovery

When I returned from treatment in 1996, I had no aftercare. The only OA “group” where I lived was abysmal- one lady handing out HER idea of what we should all eat (all 3 of us) every week as we sat on the curb of an empty parking lot- out in public. I tried some open AA meetings, and some were good, but I didn’t feel like I was all that welcome there. I was a drug/alcohol rehab-detox RN… I understood that addiction was addiction. But, it was very awkward.

I started a gratitude journal– writing 5 things every night for a year with no repeats. Started out lame “the milk in the fridge doesn’t have chunks”, “my socks match”, “I live indoors”- stuff like that. Moved to being thankful for having fresh food, having feet to put in those socks, and gratitude for every convenience I had (electricity, running water, a nearby job, car to get me there, etc). My perspective shifted in a big way. It took me a while to get to the point of even considering a gratitude journal, but I think that it’s good no matter where someone is in recovery.

It saved my life. It gave me perspective on how selfish my ED was in the grand scheme of things. That in turn allowed me to have compassion towards my mom (who had dementia and wasn’t able to talk about meaningful things), opening up a path to forgiveness, which laid the groundwork for returning to my hometown to help my dad with my mom. All because of writing down 5 things a night before I went to bed (also helped chill me out if the day stunk).

On the more active ED front, I ended up getting every professional treatment book I could find, and being an RN, knew I’d never treat a patient the way I treated my own body. It was a slow process, but I had to “act as if” I was dealing with a patient when it came to food and nutrition. I make a checklist of what I was supposed to eat from the different food groups based on what the dietician, and only sane person at the treatment center, had given me (I’m also diabetic- diagnosed prior to the relapse- so used exchanges back when that was the way food plans were set up). I got 100 copies at first- and checked off each thing I ate for the day. It started slowly, not even getting 1/2 of the things checked off. I had to do what would be tolerable in a ‘no support’ environment. Progress was the goal- not perfection. No amounts (those were understood in the exchanges)- just check marks. No calories counted. No dividing things up… just plop it on the plate and get it down. Total auto-pilot.

It was overwhelming at first, so I added one thing from one category to one meal/week- starting with a very simple three meal plan that I could tolerate- but had to have actual servings- none of the “but it was a WHOLE fruit loop” business. Was it ideal? No. But it’s all I had. I wasn’t at a dangerous weight, so had some options. I made consequences for myself- if I didn’t eat everything scheduled for the day, I couldn’t do my “walking” (boss- and member of the intervention- said it was like trying to catch a greased cat to get me to stop walking so fast- she lived in the same apartment complex). It took 3 years to be able to eat in front of people. But it was the only hope I had. Much of this was well underway when I started the gratitude journal, but I don’t believe that’s necessary- there are ALWAYS things to be thankful for. I look at my 5 sponsor kids’ photos and letters, and know that THEY suffer. They don’t have much of anything- and yet THEY are grateful for so little.

Once I was nutritionally more put together, the obsession and compulsions went away. Starving had done just what the Minnesota Keys Study after WWII did to those volunteers- made everything all about food. My weight hadn’t been low during the 1995 relapse, as I started out very overweight. But I’d lost 120 pounds, had chunks of skin falling off of my heels, my hair went the way of the dodo, and my thinking was all anorexic. I didn’t binge- I starved and purged. By relearning to tolerate food, I got to a weight I could live with, and not loathe my body. Since then, my body has had to deal with chemo, blood clots in my lungs, multiple medical issues, and my weight is not where I’m comfortable being. But I got off of all laxatives and was able to enjoy going out for lunch with my dad when he was alive. No purging (laxatives) since treatment in 1996.

The details of what I ended up doing wouldn’t work for everyone, and is definitely not anywhere near the way it should have been (needed aftercare). I was desperate. I didn’t want to die- and being thankful is a big part of that. A gratitude journal only costs the price of a notebook, a pen, and a few minutes. Always check with your primary care provider before starting any type of eating disorder rehab on your own (anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, compulsive underrating, orthorexia, etc). There are good treatment centers out there. And most of us need some type of inpatient treatment to at least get started in recovery safely.