Celebrating Eating Disorder Recovery: One Friend Plants a Tree, Everyone Watches it Grow


Sam Shirreff 

date published

Nov. 26, 2019, 7:26 p.m.



My dear friend, a former colleague in our Italian fashion office reached out to me a week or so ago. We are so different in some respects but very similar in other ways as well. We spent a lot of time together navigating our way through buying for the seasons, whether in New York, Paris or Milan, we developed a deep respect for one another, forged a friendship and shared many laughs (and shed a few tears) along the way.

She told me that her parents had planted a tree for her young son on their beautiful land in the Italian countryside, her most happy place. She asked if she could plant one for me too to celebrate my choice to recover from a crippling eating disorder. My tree.

I was deeply touched by this gesture, and burst into tears.

One thing to know is my friend also gets things done. Cue the buffet of botanical options she sent to me. She was not messing around. I came to find out that Fall is the perfect time to plant a tree, a tip from her beloved parents. Not for nothing, they know their way around this land. I chose my tree, a mighty oak and we spoke about living so long we would be annoying old ladies sitting under the oak, gossiping and laughing and drinking a glass of wine (or two).

She told me today that my tree could grow to be 90 feet high and may live for 800 years, providing shade and shelter and nourishment. Although, eating disorders are not about weight and shape at their core, I spent the better half of 20 years shrinking, my body and my soul, my confidence and my world. I wanted to choose a tree that would be the antithesis of shrinking. I wanted to choose one of the strongest, grandest, expansive trees there is as I am no longer afraid to take up space: physically and emotionally. I wanted my tree to represent that. 

This beautiful oak will far outlive both myself and my friend but will grow strong and will continue to be meaningful for generations to come. A place to rest, a place to play, a place to think, a place to cry. 

My dietician, who is deeply spiritual, as I am, recently asked me “what do you think happens when we die?”. Yes, I know, intense, but I find these kinds of questions very thoughtful and if nothing else a prompt for personal growth and reflection. I’m not even going to guess what happens on the “other side”, but I know that so many parts of us live on through other people. We aren’t gone when we leave this earth because we are remembered and held in the hearts and minds and decisions of those we loved and who loved us. 

This tree will outlive us all but it’s a beautiful reminder that pieces of ourselves will endure even after we’re gone. 

It’s planting these seeds and saplings now that’s important. This is my recovery tree and I look forward to watching it grow and change, just like me. I hope it will be a place of comfort, solitude and confidence for all who sit beneath it.

Sam Shirreff is in active recovery from a severe and enduring eating disorder that spanned nearly two decades. She recently returned home to Toronto from the US where she worked in the fashion industry for over 10 years. Sam hopes to return to school to study social work so she too can hold a lantern for others walking in their dark places. She wants to impart that it is possible to recover, no matter how long you’ve been sick or how hopeless you feel. 

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