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How a documentary changed my outlook on recovery

Guest Author: Andrea

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

My name’s Andrea, I’m 22 and I was diagnosed with restrictive anorexia nervosa at 17.

Wow, it feels so weird – so raw – reading that last sentence again. One doesn’t usually introduce themselves like that, stating a diagnosis, but there it is: I’m 22 and I’ve been battling eating disorders for over five years.

Now I can say I’ve been worse. I’m in weight restoration since I was 19, my focus 100 percent set on recovery. On good days, at least. On bad days, it can drop to 70 or 60 percent, or the dreaded 50 percent or below where I engage in past, toxic behaviors and I have to fight back as hard as possible.

Recovery is work.

I’m, as I like to call it, in No Man’s Land. In No Man’s Land I’m weight restored and I don’t usually respond to my self-hate filled thoughts— but I still experience body dysmorphia and anxiety in food-related situations. No Man’s Land is a danger zone (the most scary danger of all, of course, being relapsing), but it’s okay. Recovery is work, and as of recently my outlook on recovery has changed dramatically, all thanks to a Dutch documentary called Emma wants to live.

Now when it comes to ED-related media, there’s people in recovery who feel triggered by it and there’s people in recovery who feel inspired by it. I can relate to both, so I’m always very cautious of which ED-related movies, books and documentaries I let myself consume. Any mentions of weights or calorie intakes are a big no-no, as are words like ana, mia or rexie(s) (honestly, why the need to give a cutesy nickname to the mental illness who’s trying to ruin your life?).

When I encountered the Dutch documentary Emma wants to live, however, I didn’t know what to think of it. A few friends from my ED recovery group had talked to me about it. A couple of them claimed to have been a bit triggered by it, but the vast majority had found it empowering and a major wake-up call. I’d been trying to avoid it for a while (it had triggered some of my friends, after all!), but one grey Spring afternoon (one of those in which I felt so huge and unworthy) I decided to give it a try. And, gosh, am I glad I did.

Now I won’t say it was a Holy Grail. Please. Don’t think that this documentary is magically going to open anyone’s eyes so definetely that relapsing won’t be a threat ever again. But it is a major wake-up call.

The documentary follows Emma Caris, a Dutch 18-year old girl who’s been battling severe anorexia ever since she was 12, during her last attempt at recovery in an ED-recovery clinic in Lisbon. Emma wants to live starts with a self-recorded video in which Emma, weight restored at the time, is riding her bike again after recovery. It is 2015. Then, another self-recorded video. It’s 2016 now and Emma is visibly underweight. Life is no bed of roses, she says, and with that she encapsulates the undeniable truth: she’s relapsed again. She then states that we’re seeing the documentary of her recovery. Beat. Or not, she adds.

I was immediately taken aback by that. It felt so real, so honest, so close to what I’d been through when I was at my lowest and first attempted recovery. Recovery. Then it was both a promise and a nightmare, the best and the worst thing that could’ve happened to me, and although now I can see clearly that your worst day in recovery is still better than your best day in relapse, when you’re in the gutter the mere thought of getting better is as seductive as it is terrifying.

The documentary is as direct as Emma. She’s gotten better and relapsed countless times, and she’s in a stage where doctors fear there’s no going back. And yet she tries. Throughout the documentary we see Emma in the Portuguese clinic fighting her very hardest to overcome anorexia. Falling and getting up again, falling and getting up again as her body shuts down.

Despite the hopeful message, Emma wants to live is as brutal as the naked truth of it: eating disorders kill, sometimes even when you’re doing every little thing you can to survive.

I felt sad and angry by the loss of such a powerful life.

As doctors feared, Emma didn’t make it. Her last wish had been for the documentary to be released no matter the outcome. And although I’d only seen forty minutes of Emma’s fight, I was deeply touched by her and her courage, and I felt sad and angry by the loss of such a powerful life. That’s when the obvious hit me: so many precious lives are lost every year due to eating disorders. EDs kill, no matter the BMI or specific diagnosis, and the very least we can do for all those people we’ve lost is to choose life every single damn day. To live for them. It’s such a huge responsibility. Every day I see myself fall back in old behaviors I have to remind myself that I’m not just living for me, but also for Emma, and for the neighbor who died of anorexia, and that friend’s friend and all the members of my recovery group who never went online again.

Comments

Leslie
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I’m so moved by this documentary and the incredible strength she had. Thank you for sharing, Andrea. Your words, your courage are also inspiring. Stay strong and know that you are loved.

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