Shira Charpentier is the founder of the nonprofit Living Proof MN, which is a peer-based program that supports those working towards recovery from their eating disorders and offers hope, inspiration, and lived experience. LPMN offers mentoring, peer-led support groups, groups for supporters, meal support, education and resources, as well as a unique family style live-in program; support can be as intensive as they decide, as LPMN empowers people to take an active role in their own recovery. The approach used at LPMN is the only one of its kind in the United States and due to its unique approach has seen extraordinary results. Learn more here.
In all my years of treatment I never heard the word recovery, let alone the word recovered, once. Having had an eating disorder for more than 5 years, I was told over and over again that my eating disorder was chronic and pervasive, New Zealand says those with eating disorders longer than 5 years have an eating disorder that is severe and enduring. Those words, regardless of how much you try and fight will take the wind out of your sail and leave you hopeless. The more time I spent in treatment the more I believed the professionals, “Shira you will have to learn how to live and manage your eating disorder for the rest of your life.” Being told at the age of 29 that I would live in a group home or the state mental hospital was beyond crippling. As a straight A student, with a B.A. and B.S.N. degree, a licensed registered nurse, and having owned my own business for 10 years that I started in college, a future in a group home or mental hospital didn’t seem congruent with each other.
Most of the time I spent in treatment was fighting against their rules, constraints, and control they had in place. I heard that I was failing treatment too many times and finally I hit my final straw when the therapist I had come to trust, who I had made the most progress with more than any therapist I had over the course of my life was taken away. At that time, it was the most hopeless and devastated I felt, contemplating ending my life I instead decided to leave the treatment center I had come to think of as my safe place even though it wasn’t working.
When I left that day at the end of September I didn’t know who I was, what I would do, how I would live, or if I would survive. During my last stay in any treatment center or program, I spent 12 days on an eating disorder unit in the hospital and what transpired over that time was what brought me back from death to life. Almost my entire day was in a hospital room by myself, I ordered my own food from the hospital cafeteria, my bathroom was left unlocked, I met with a psychiatrist daily, and wrote for nearly 14 hours a day. My writing began as dark, lonely, angry, and hopeless, that transformed into a burning desire to fight the eating disorder and come out on the other side. It was as though I wrote my way out of the dark and into the light, finding the drive within myself to believe something different than what I was told. What if I could recover, what if that wasn’t my ending?
Next month I am celebrating 7 years in recovery, the last 3 of which I consider myself to be fully recovered. It feels as though I am turning 7 years old, as I am living a life I never dreamed of or even considered for myself. I sought out people living a life in recovery and it was nearly impossible to find. There was one organization but they said it was a 2-year waiting list to get paired with someone in recovery. I want people to know that no matter how old you are, how long you’ve had an eating disorder, and even if others don’t believe you are capable of recovering, it is possible. Today being a mentor to over 40 individuals working towards recovery, I feel fortunate to be able to provide the hope and inspiration that full recovery is possible and be a living example of it to those seeking a way out of their darkness.