*Summer: Sun-soaked skin. Stunning sunsets. Sizzling sand. Sparkling seas. Shimmering stars.

*Summer: A time of limitless adventures, of sheer freedom from the normal restraints of school life.

*Summer: A time to do the extraordinary, to rejuvenate, to explore.

*Summer: A time of endless laughs, of reduced stress, of more living.

This summer, one bursting with happiness and flexibility, is what comes to mind for most. However, for many who are recovering from eating disorders, that summer feels foreign and idealistic. For them, summer looks more like this….

*Summer: Skyrocketing stress. Substantiating struggles. Skintight swimsuits. Stripped satisfaction.

*Summer: A time where you can no longer hide the shape of your body, where you must accept it for what it has become.

*Summer: A time of endless triggers and comparison, from wearing bikinis to looking at seemingly infinite posts of perfect figures on social media. 

*Summer: A time when relapse has never felt closer, when it becomes a little easier to say “no” to that refreshing ice pop.

At least for me, summer has always been the ultimate challenge…..a test to determine whether my recovery was genuine or whether internal feelings of shame were still in control. For me, summer has been the season when I have generally relapsed, when my thoughts of body inadequacy become too loud to ignore. It is easy to hide from reality in the winter, to conceal my post-recovery body under my favorite pair of Pink sweatpants. But in the summer, the season of shorts and swimsuits, I was forced to confront the fact that my body looks way different than it used to. And since, as humans, we seek solace in familiarity, this transformation had often overwhelmed me. And so, in the midst of this overwhelming change, I couldn’t help but dig my way back to the comfort of the past.

Summer is when I was first diagnosed with anorexia. It is when I learned what mental torment really was. It is when I was first forced into treatment, where I had my first taste at what it felt like to be a prisoner, granted no liberty and kept under a watchful eye 24/7. It is when I learned that I could cry for hours and hours straight at a time. It is when I learned that the summer wasn’t always sunshine and freedom, but sometimes darkness and restraint.

Summer is when I first relapsed. It is when I was suddenly dropped off at an institution miles away from home. It is when I first learned that not only dreams could become reality, but so could nightmares. It is when I was introduced to that grey cement building, resembling hell more than a place that fostered positive thinking. It is when I spent four weeks alone, with no other inpatients to connect to, being timed at every meal….if I didn’t finish my feast within thirty minutes, I was threatened with a feeding tube. It is when, for the first time in my life, I realized that my unattainable goal of perfection was not worth this concomitant hopelessness and sorrow and apathy towards life. It is when I first became motivated to recover not for others, but for myself.

Now, as this summer begins, I am hit with a newfound awareness: I am truly recovered this time (& I can 100% say this without the guilt of deceit). Yes, I will probably still continue to struggle at times when a bikini that used to fit me is now too tight. Yes, I will probably still feel uncomfortable in my own exposed skin at times. Yes, I will probably still have urges to eat a little less than I should. Yes, I will probably still feel a yearning when I see a post of an Instagram model with a “flawless” #bikinibod. But, this time, I am going into summer with the wisdom and tools I need for success….Having had a taste at what it truly feels like to live, be happy, and love myself, I don’t think I could ever go back to that poisonous, nauseating flavor of restriction and self-bullying. With this exposure to a healthy lifestyle, I no longer find that same comfort in my past, but in the promises of my future. I have been exposed to the sun, to the light, to that first version of summer, and no amount of mental strain to achieve a “better #bikinibod” is worth losing this warmth. 

That being said, I hope I can inspire you to ignore your eating disorder urges this summer. Trust me….a summer suffused with self-discovery, opportunity, and laughter is so much better than one in which your “sleepaway camp” is located in a suffocating mental hospital. Make this summer your best summer yet….realize that there is no such thing as a “perfect #bikinibod,” that your body does not determine your self-worth. Realize that rocking a swimsuit with confidence is the best #bikinibod. Realize that the “comfort of your past” is only the abusive “Ed” trying to lure you back to its grip. Bathe in the sun, and you will realize that this unparalleled warmth and empowerment is all that matters.

*Summer: A time that shows us just how strong we can be, a testament to the progress and self-acceptance we have gained through recovery.