Recovered vs. Recovering

Catherine Liberty's picture

During my own journey towards recovery I discovered some truly wonderful women and men who had completely recovered from their eating disorders and today, as part of this week’s special recovery article, I’d love to introduce you to one of those people.

We all know how many conflicting ideas there can be around the idea of “recovery for life.”

Here at Bulimia Help we have always championed full recovery because we wholeheartedly believe in it, we have witnessed it first-hand – and we’re not the only ones! (What does full recovery mean?)

During my own journey towards recovery I discovered some truly wonderful women and men who had completely recovered from their eating disorders and today, as part of this week’s special recovery article, I’d love to introduce you to one of those people.

Inspirational person of the day - Carolyn Costin

I first learned about Carolyn Costin after reading an article about actress Portia De Rossi’s eating disorder recovery. Carolyn had been Portia’s therapist for some time, and the more I read about her, the more excited I found myself getting.

Carolyn is an Eating Disorder specialist and the founder and Clinical Director of Monte Nido Treatment Center in Malibu, but more than that she is an eating disorder survivor who has been fully recovered for 37 years!

Below you can read all about Carolyn’s experiences of recovery for life. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did!

Recovered vs. Recovering by Carolyn Costin

(original article source)

 “I have been receiving comments from patients, family members, therapists and journalists regarding my stance (long held and recently published in a Huffington post interview) that it is possible to be fully recovered from an eating disorder.

It is fascinating to me that we are still debating this issue

I had my first formal talk on this subject at the International Association of Eating Disorders (IAEDP) conference held in Los Angeles approximately 2 1/2 decades ago. For this lecture I brought with me four recovered patients who each spoke for a few minutes about their recovery. All four I had previously treated, all had been recovered for a few years.

All were normal weight, had no symptoms, no desire to return to symptoms, and their quality of life and relationships were great. They are all still recovered today.

Many therapists came up to me after the talk and said things along the lines of, "I have never met anyone who has recovered from an eating disorder before, I had no idea it was possible." I was struck by the response. I remember thinking, "It must be very hard to treat eating disorders when you don't know the person will fully recover."

In retrospect, back then this made sense, anorexia and bulimia were not household words, there were not that many recovered people around and certainly no recovered therapists speaking out about it.

I had proposed the talk because I knew of the 12 step model for addiction and knew that eating disorders were different. After all one has to eat and cannot become "abstinent" from food.

I did not know that there was a huge controversy already and that many people had already formed the opinion that those with eating disorders would always be "recovering."

I knew I was over my eating disorder, it was gone, a thing of the past and I was recovered and although it was the hardest thing I had ever done, I felt if I could do it so could anyone else. I treated everyone who walked through my door this way and I have never looked back.

The president of the organization approached me and said I had caused "quite a stir" among the crowd, and that there were many who questioned my approach believing that people with eating disorder are always "recovering" but not ever "recovered." Surprising myself I immediately responded, "Well let me debate them next year." The following year I did the debate with a colleague of mine, Dr Barry Markell, and two professionals who IAEDP referred to as their "top 12 step people."

The debate called, "Disorder vs Disease" drew an unusually large audience. The best way to describe the impact of this is that two days later the physician on the 12 step side called me and told me he had been affected by the experience and was re thinking his view! There is no better result for a debater than for the other side to do change their mind.

Today the fact that this controversy is still going on fascinates and intrigues me

The new research on the genetic predisposition that contributes to the development of an eating disorder unfortunately seems to contribute to the notion that one cannot fully recovery. I have been told by some researchers that I am in "remission" not recovered and that I could relapse.

So far my remission has lasted over 37 years. A few years ago I was even hospitalized for a parasite which caused a significant weight loss and I heard rumours that some thought it would "trigger" my genes again for anorexia. The truth is I cried every time the nurses told me I was still losing weight and I could not wait to gain the weight back and did everything I could to do so.

My joke has become that if I don't relapse before I die then I want someone to put on my tombstone, "She really was recovered."

The truth is we now have a lot of data showing that people can be fully recovered, that it takes a long time but is possible

If you investigate you will find there are many of us "recovered" people talking about it and writing about it. I actually feel that we are about to reach a "Tipping Point" where there are enough of us that the discussion on this topic will begin to change in favour of what we know to be true.

My genes are the same as they were when I had anorexia nervosa but I am different. I make different choices, I think differently, other things are more important to me now.

Furthermore, in my three decades of treating these disorders my patients have taught me that we need to examine the self-fulfilling prophecy of the term "recovering" and inspire those suffering from eating disorders with the hope and inspiration that they can become fully recovered and in our own caring and loving way demand it of them."

Want to know more about recovery for life?

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Tindar's picture
Hi Catherine Thanks for this

Hi Catherine
Thanks for this really interesting and very encouraging article. I hadn't heard about Carolyn Costin but she sounds like an incredible woman. I saw the Portia de Rossi interview on Oprah recently and it was really powerful, so whoever helped and counselled her through her own recovery must be worth investigating and listening to. It so great to get these regular emails telling us about new articles. I know they go out to the whole community but they still make me feel a bit less alone when I get them in my inbox.

Tina x

P.s. I think she's Portia de Generes now 'cos she married Ellen. Happy endings ...yey!

Ali Maree
Ali Maree's picture
Thankyou Catherine! It is

Thankyou Catherine!

It is fantastic to know that there are medical professionals out there who do believe we can fully recover! My own therapist- whilst lovely and helped me to some degree believed this was something I was going to have to work hard at keeping away for the rest of my life. Having that in mind, it seemed like there was never going to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

Again, fantastic read!

Thanks, Ali.

'We are each of us angels with one wing. And we can only fly while embracing each other.'
-Lucian de Croszonza

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Thank you for your lovely

Thank you for your lovely comments :)

Tindar, you're right I completely forgot she had taken Ellen's surname now, I agree so nice to see her have such a happy ending to everything, they seem so in love!

Ali I agree with you completely. To be honest I could go on and on about recovery for life, but when people like Carolyn step forwards I think it really makes a huge impact and I can't wait for the day when everyone really starts to acknowledge that recovery does not have to be a life long battle.

Catherine x

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