We asked author June Alexander how her diary has helped with her recovery from an eating disorder. Read her inspiring article, My Diary and Me: A Writing Partnership that Fought ED and Won below.
If you do not already keep a diary, I am hopeful my books and I will inspire you to start writing. All you need is pen and paper, and there is one rule only: write the date (and, apart from this, make no rules).
Making time to write your diary is important, for without enough ‘me’ time for your self to sync with your body, and keep you grounded and fully in touch with authentic you, threads may sever and, suddenly, connection may be lost. Your diary can store these lost or suppressed pieces and preserve them until you feel ready to reflect on and revisit them. Your diary can facilitate and nurture this process, helping you to eventually put confusion, uncertainty and suffering into a context that allows you to live fully in the present.
Knowledge is power in healing from an eating disorder or from any traumatic experience. But, with an eating disorder there are times when the diarist is incapable of understanding that they are sick, and the illness may thrive, their entries revealing a strengthening of isolation instead of insight or connection with helpful others. Writing with a mentor can help illness thoughts to be recognized for what they are, and help the diarist to avoid and find a pathway that helps them to rise above misunderstandings, rejection and hurtful shame and stigma. Even when not understanding my illness, doctors said: ‘Keep writing’. They believed in me when I could not, and I am eternally grateful.
Recovery of self and health from an eating disorder requires painstakingly deciding which thoughts and feelings are genuine, and how they connect, to accomplish reintegration. Recovery involves reconnecting with your body – biologically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Your diary can assist by providing a place to sort thoughts, deflect triggers, resolve issues, hone reflective and observational skills, and nurture true self.
Seven years have passed since I wrote a letter to my week-old granddaughter Olivia, in my memoir, A Girl Called Tim. Today, Olivia is a bright and thoughtful little girl who is mindful of eating three meals and three snacks daily. She engages in social and physical activities that include dancing, swimming and ball games. She loves reading and writing, and is creative. Olivia has a strong support team around her of family and friends and a supportive school environment. Together with my four other grandchildren, Olivia continues to inspire and challenge me to live in the moment. For instance, watching my grandchildren at the swimming pool is not enough. I need to don my ‘rainbow bathers’, mask and snorkel (because I am unable to turn my head to breathe), and swim with them. I dare not stop until I reach the end of the 50-metre pool for I can hear a chorus from the side: ‘C’mon Grandma, come on; you are nearly there Grandma, keep going!’
And so it is with diary writing. I am ever-grateful to my diary for helping me to survive, cope and heal from my illness so that I can be here today, to enjoy my family and to continue to explore who “I” am in the fullness of life.
Making a date with your diary is time well spent. Consider it an investment in true you.
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June Alexander developed anorexia nervosa at 11, where writing and her diary became a survival tool. She has worked as a journalist and written seven books about eating disorders. June is the recipient of the 2016 Meehan-Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy from The Academy of Eating Disorders. Read June's 7 week series of Dear Diary posts focused on this year’s World Eating Disorders Day relationships theme and learn more about her work on her website, The Diary Healer.