On July 14, one week from today, I will be celebrating my 8th recovery birthday. On July 14, 2012, I exited the Renfrew Spring Lane Residential Treatment Facility for the last time, luggage in tow but with considerably less unprocessed baggage.

Eight years. My recovery journey is basically a second grader.

If you had told me in 2012 that I would be where I am today, I probably would have laughed in your face. Or cried. Who’s to really say? My emotions were pretty much all over the place those days.

I was very lucky with my eating disorder recovery, for the most part. My healing trajectory was relatively linear. Once I was out of the residential facility, I moved relatively smoothly (whatever that means in the grand scheme of eating disorder and mental illness treatment) through the levels of treatment. Residential to partial day. Day to Intensive Outpatient (IOP). Outpatient. There was a brief stint where I joined a therapy group through a facility in New York shortly after I moved there. A few lapses, but never a full relapse. Some weight lost, some weight gained. Intense body dysmorphia abbreviated by periods of something resembling body-positivity at the time but probably, looking back at it, was more akin to body neutrality than love. Slowly moving toward the neutrality and away from the dysmorphia.

This does not mean that it was easy. It’s never been easy. Every day is a struggle. Still. Some days less so, some days more so. It’s funny; when you leave a treatment facility, when you are weight restored, people assume that you are healed. That you are better. You go from having every bite of food policed and watched to being almost completely on your own.

I felt immense pressure to be okay. To be better. To live up to the idea that I was healed.

I’ve come to realize that I don’t think I will ever be fully healed. I think I spent so much of my life obsessed, consumed by the fear of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, weight gain. I don’t think I will ever be able to unlearn the calories in an apple. But as each year passes, that utter terror moves further and further away from my present. I may know how many calories exist in that sandwich you just placed in front of me, but somehow I care a little less. Or maybe, this time, I don’t care at all.

The ebb and flow of recovery is frustrating, but watching it ebb more than flow is sometimes so exhilarating that I stop in the middle of a bite. Oh wow. I’m eating a cupcake. Cool! I take a moment to reflect on how, my senior year of college, the attempt would have left me mentally battered.

This recovery birthday, like all, I’ll eat one of my former fear foods (TBD on what it will be, but it will be very caloric and very delicious). And though it might give me some anxiety (who knows—it depends on the day), the anxiety will be overridden by the pride I feel in making it this far.

Because recovery is hard. But a life living at the mercy of a disease that won’t let you enjoy the simple joys of a mid-day ice cream cone on a hot summer day? That’s way, way harder.

Kristy Cloetingh is a Philadelphia native who is currently trying to figure out her place in the world. Her passions include reading, singing, dancing, nature, yoga, chicken fingers, and puppies. An anorexia survivor and mental health warrior, Kristy has made it her life’s mission to remind every single person that their bodies and minds are worthy of unconditional love and respect, regardless of size, shape, or whatever “normal” is.

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