What is Eating Disorder Recovery?
To anyone deeply engaged in their eating disorder, recovery seems like a long lost wish that is out there but unattainable. Fear, confusion, anxiety, losing control, the unknown, and failure are all just a few of the barriers that keep them locked in their disease rather than taking the first steps into the daunting journey of recovery.
Recovery has many different definitions depending on who you ask. Some feel as though it will be a life long process. Others see it as an abstinence of eating disorder behaviors. Some consider it the ability to find a place of identity and purpose where you can feel free and happy rather than locked down by the eating disorder. Even more hopeful, many believe the eating disorder can become completely overcome and a distant memory of the past. The bottom line is that you need to define what recovery means to you in order to have a starting point for breaking free and living life free of the eating disorder.
The thought of recovery can be extremely frightening. Some feel they'll go through the process and just end up depressed and fat. For those that have experienced recovery and then relapsed, facing the recovery process may bring about fears of hopelessness and failure that they will never be able to obtain recovery again. Maintaining hope is one of the most difficult and critical emotions to hold on to when taking on the rocky road of recovery.
You can begin by making a list and defining for yourself what recovery is and isn't. Remember that recovery may involve dealing with difficult and painful emotions from the past, but it also means freeing yourself from all that has weighed you down.
An excellent exercise to do when you begin to define your own recovery is to make two lists, with the main message from these lists being that recovery is about "gain, not pain."
1) Listing what recovery means to you
2) What recovery is not.
A few examples from each list are below:
- obtaining freedom from shame, guilt, obsessive thoughts, & the need to achieve
- expressing confidence
- finding balance
- finding a new healthy identity
- enjoying food as pleasure
- creating opportunity
- rebuilding self-esteem and self-acceptance
- accepting oneself
- accepting things you cannot change
- letting go of the past / living in the moment
- not taking things out on yourself when things go wrong
- feeling you deserve recovery
Recovery is NOT:
- dieting all the time
- just gaining weight
- ignoring inner self
- suffering with guilt and shame
- enduring starvation
- losing responsibility
- turning negative emotions on yourself
- experiencing rigidity with life, food, perfection, etc.
You can also make a list about your fears regarding recovery. Make your list and then go back and challenge them using skills to reframe each fear. For example:
Recovery will be:
Going back to feeling depressed all the time.
I will have more energy and fuel for my mind to deal with my emotions as they come and with increased nutrition my mind will actually function better.
Looking awful in clothes.
Recovery is being able to wear clothes that appropriately fit my body and will actually look healthier rather than falling off of me or wearing inappropriate sizes for my age and body type.
Not knowing who I am.
Recovery is a rollercoaster but one of the main focuses will be rediscovering my self, my core values, and my identity without the eating disorder.
Losing the real me.
The real me is not the ED me. Recovery is designed to help you rediscover the true real YOU!Having to seem happy all the time and not being able to show my real feelings.
Everyone has emotions and it is normal to experience them and feel them. No one is happy all the time and that is okay. You can take off the mask and be "real" with people, especially those in your support system.
Being able to do more things.
Yes! You no longer have to hide in the rabbit hole of isolation. Go out with your friends, get involved in some groups or activities in your area, try new things! Recovery will open a whole new door of opportunities.
Recovery can be a challenging and slippery slope. There will be many ups but also downs as well. One may experience many steps forward and twice as many steps back; it's unpredictable but important to remember that with perseverance it will continue to improve over time. Going backwards can be extremely fearful and stir up emotions of hopelessness and pits of depression. However, it's important to remember how many months/years it took for your ED to develop, and they therefore don't just disappear overnight.
Unfortunately, there may be slips and even small relapses, but the most important thing one can do is learn from these. They allow you to identify possible stressors, vulnerabilities, etc. so you can be more aware and prepared in order to avoid them in the future. Rather than look at them as failures, try to see these lapses as vital learning opportunities to add to your toolbox, and you will be prepared for such experiences if they hit again. Sometimes it may feel as though you get caught in a cycle where you keep succumbing to the same falls time and time again-similar to a toddler falling over and over again without catching themselves. However, it isn't long before the toddler finally puts his arms out to catch himself, having learned from the prvious falls. Recovery is much the same. Even if you get caught in a cycle, keep trying, use your skills, learn from mistakes, and put your arms out before the fall. It may be a roller-coaster, but eventually you'll be able to take over the driver's seat.
One woman shared, "Recovery involves taking risks, it takes courage and determination, but as you get better, theses things also grow so that you are able to cope with the next stage. I have become braver as I have discovered that things aren't as bad as they seemed-eating hasn't ruined my life, but rather is improving it. As you recover you start to feel real happiness-better than any you can get from starving or losing weight because it is real. It's amazing as you start feeling it."
Some of the best things about recovery are:
- Smiling much more, the ability to be happy and having more energy to actually LIVE!
- Improved relationships with healthy boundaries.
- Knowing people really do like you for who I are.
- Having energy to get through the day without always being completely exhausted.
- Replacing tine spent on maintaining the disorder on developing and engaging in new passions.
- Amazement that all foods are actually allowed and waking up the next day to discovery they really haven't done anything bad to you.
- Gaining a new sense of freedom!
It's a process, one that is different for all, but everyone owns the strength to achieve it. Everyone deserves the compassion to live a self-fulfilling, free life with the ability to live each day to it's fullest capacity.