Willing and Gentle: She Fights for Recovery

Rebecca Cords, 23, is a college student who spends her free time blogging about her eating disorder recovery. Her blog “I am Willing” on WordPress covers everything from the topics of adaptation and adoption to recovery and yearly windups.

Cords attends Elmhurst College in Illinois and is majoring in psychology with a minor in sports coaching. She was adopted from China at 14-months-old by her Italian dad and Southern mom and has been in Illinois ever since.

In the eighth grade, Cords began developing her eating disorder which was later diagnosed as Anorexia.

For years she battled the disorder until she became so ill that she had to leave college at 19-years-old. It started with a potassium deficiency that sent her to the ER. She spent around seven months at Timberline Knolls and then went back to school.

A year later, in 2017, Cords made the decision to go back to treatment. This time she spent about seven months at the Eating Recovery Center in Downtown Chicago.

She has been in recovery since then.

Cords is a gentle young woman–her voice is gentle, her features and words too, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t tough. A story like hers takes strength.

She shares her story with her followers on Instagram and Facebook, and recently went back to Timberline Knolls to share her story during NEDA week.

Birds in flight are tattooed on her lower arm to remind her to trust herself.

What does your tattoo mean?

It’s from a quote. I got it after senior year . . . before going away to college. The quote is “A bird sitting on a tree is not afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not on the branch, but its wings.” I got it because I felt like I wanted a reminder of learning to trust myself. I am really bad at that. Even dating back to high school, I was always second guessing what I should and shouldn’t do. Just trying to follow my own gut instincts. I am still learning to . . . trust myself more and trust the process of recovery.

Do you think were some of the factors that played into developing the eating disorder?

I think being an athlete. I tried to become one of the best athletes on my team and I felt like in order to do that I had to be on this diet, I had to train more, and I think that is when it spiraled out of control. I had a lot of perfectionism going on.

I feel like maybe part of my eating disorder [came from] being adopted a little bit just because of the whole identity thing. I have issues with trying to figure out who I am and then figuring out who I am without my eating disorder.

How would you describe treatment?

Intake at the treatment center is a very long process. I think my first night I didn’t look up to see anyone, I was too afraid. My first week was kind of a blur because I think I was just so malnourished. I remember my first meal and I kind of just sat there and stared at it. Then weeks went by and I was trying really hard just to finish one meal without Ensure and whenever. It took me a while just to get one meal down but once I did, I felt more confident in my recovery.

Do you remember what it was like traveling with an eating disorder? How would you describe that to someone?

[Chuckles] So my family, we love to go to Mexico, before treatment, going to Mexico was very difficult because in every [way], I just tried to restrict. Then after treatment . . .  I am trying to work on intuitive eating. My last time in Mexico was this past June and I just tried to listen to my body, trying not to care what I look like in a bathing suit. I kind of tried to stay with foods that I felt comfortable with at the moment, but I also tried foods that I never tried—that was kinda cool too.

Would you say it was hard to maintain recovery while traveling?

Yeah, because even with road trips you are stuck in a car, or stuck on a train, and all you can do is eat. I know that whenever I travel down south to Kentucky to see family, we are in the car for five to six hours and we stop for lunch and it may be fast food and I am trying to be ok with fast food.

If you could give anyone some recovery tips while traveling what would they be?

I would say to not feel pressured by your own self to have your meals perfect because they aren’t going to be perfect when you travel. I think that to maintain recovery while you travel that you have to understand certain circumstances. Let’s say you can’t have lunch, but you have something with you, just go ahead and have that and wait until the next meal.

One of the hardest things about recovery is letting go of the need to exercise. How did you fight the urge to work out while you were traveling?

At the resort in Mexico they always have a gym and I was always very tempted to sneak out of the room and go for like two hours, but it’s a lot of self-talk and to [remember] that you’re here on vacation. It’s not like you have to work out, it’s ok to [eat] whatever you have been eating there. You don’t have to work out every day like you used to do. It’s hard to go against that, but I just somehow ended up following through with what I was planning to do on my vacation.

What was the experience of having an eating disorder like for you? What did it give you and what did it take from you?

It gave me a sense of control. When [there were] things I [couldn’t] control, I felt like I could control my food and my weight. What it took from me was time with my friends and family. It took away my time in school. I had to leave school twice for treatment. That’s a very big thing. I am 23. I should’ve graduated with a four-year degree by now. I have to remind myself that it took me two years to get help.

Did you ever use any other sources outside of treatment for recovery?

With Timberline Knolls I was introduced to [a] 12-step program like AA. I never knew that they had one for eating disorders . . . so I got into that program. I went in and out of it but right now I am trying to get back into it because I feel like it has been helpful. On social media I follow NEDA, and @nourishedandeat; I also follow @Iskra she is another big one. I got to hear their speeches at the NEDA walk in Chicago, which was pretty cool— that’s how I found out about them.

What is one thing you wish people knew about eating disorder?

It can happen to anyone at any age, any gender, sexual orientation. In treatment I met males who have eating disorders, and the youngest person being like 12 [and the oldest] 70 years old. I was in treatment with those people and I feel like people don’t know that it’s not just your adolescent age or your early twenties. Some people carry it the rest of their lives and still have to go to treatment. When it was time to leave it was hard to say goodbye to the women I had met because . . . all of them have touched my life in a meaningful way.

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