By: Jenni Schaefer

You gave me hope.

People like you who have confronted and overcome challenges in life gave me hope. Those who have battled addictions, triumphed over abuse, and survived broken hearts gave me hope.

My hope deepened when I met men and women who had found freedom from anorexia and bulimia. Maybe, just maybe, I could recover from my eating disorder.

True hope began when I connected with others. My friend in recovery from alcoholism found that hope only started for him when he realized he could not do it alone. I discovered this to be true in my recovery from anorexia and bulimia. When I attempted to make changes in my unhealthy behaviors alone within the walls of my silent apartment, I only grew worse. I felt hopeless.

As my passion for life faded, I became honest with myself. If there is even the slightest chance for me to change my behaviors with food, I am going to have to tell someone. I need to reach out for help.I did not recognize that I was also reaching for hope.

I filled my life with people who actually knew that the term “eating disorder” was a part of the English language and who would support me in my journey of recovery. Of course, among the bunch were my therapist, dietician, doctor, and psychiatrist. I wove into my life people who were in recovery from various types of eating disorders. I became close to women who had actually broken the chains from their eating disorders and who were pursuing their dreams. I gave my hand freely to all of these people, because I believed that they could help me. I wanted what they had out of life. As I held their hands, my hope that I could recover grew stronger. And my recovery grew stronger.

When I fell, I fell harder. In the middle of a relapse, I would often find myself deeply depressed and alone in my home ­— doors locked, curtains pulled. My former therapist, Thom Rutledge, says, “When it comes to eating disorders, isolation kills.”

I did not want to die, but I would have rather died than live the way I was living. I did not think anything could possibly change. Then the hands reached out to me. The phone rang relentlessly, emails quickly filled my inbox, and knocks sounded at the door. (I was always glad I had never given anyone a spare key.) Even when I ignored the voicemails, auto-responsed the emails, and avoided the knocks, I could not stop hope from infiltrating my home. The light of hope helped take away the darkness. I would pick myself up off the ground, stand back up again, and open my curtains to let the sunlight in. Letting light into my apartment was a symbol to me that there was always some hope — no matter what.

After kicking and screaming (and hitting my bed with a plastic baseball bat), I would let go of whatever part of my disease was holding onto me at that moment. I would eventually move on. Letting go. Everyone always talked about that concept. They said I would ultimately have to let go in order to make it to the other side of my eating disorder. I would have to let go and eat. Let go and accept my body. Let go of this and let go of that. I thought to myself that I would let go of this and this, but hold onto that. I will do it my way. They will see.

And then I realized that my way did not work very well. And I understood that they were not just talking about letting go. Most of them had already actually done this whole thing themselves. They were asking me to do something that they had already accomplished. They had let go. They were letting go. If they could do it, so could I. At least I hoped so. There’s that word again. More hope.

Today I know the true meaning of letting go. Throughout early recovery, I would let go of one thing only to find out that I was holding on really tightly to something else. So I kept opening my arms and letting go of that something else. This was excruciatingly painful and was only possible by keeping my eyes on hope and my hands in the grips of others who had gone before me. Throughout this powerful process, I found freedom from my eating disorder. I still practice letting go in my life today.

I will never let go of one thing: hope. I never know when I might need it. I never know when you might need it.

You gave me hope.

Jenni Schaefer is a singer/songwriter, speaker, and the author of Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill). She is a consultant and spokesperson with Center for Change in Orem, UT. For more information, visit www.jennischaefer.com or email [email protected].