My eating disorder took a lot away from me. It took away my friends and family, my desire to live, my dreams and hopes for the future and even started to take away myself physically and mentally. It consumed me in any way imaginable. When I finally hit bottom I learned that I had two options either to live or die. I wasn’t willing to give up everything I had already lost to look a little thinner, to be the right size, and to be perfect. There are many lessons that recovery taught me but these are ten of the most important and significant ones have been for me.
1. It is not about food but everything else. The disordered behaviors, the restricting, binging, purging, or any other behavior is not about the food. It is a method for coping of the underlying issues whether it be stress, family relationships, depression, anxiety, childhood just to name a few for me. I learned that until I accepted that it wasn’t about the food, which doesn’t mean food isn’t important about recovery, it is, that I didn’t really make progress or get anywhere. I learned that also when I began dealing with everything underneath that following my meal plan, listening to my doctors and dietician was easier to do and I didn’t fight it. I was more in the recovery mindset.
2. I am not a burden and I can’t recover alone. When I first started the recovery progress I had this idea that I had to be strong and perfect. Why wouldn’t I? That is what my eating disorder was telling me. When I began recovery I saw my therapist, doctor and dietician but I wasn’t reaching out to any friends, family or other people in recovery. The concept that I felt within myself is that I was a burden. That no one wanted to be my friend, listen to me, or support me. No one wanted to know me. This was the opposite I found out. When I wasn’t reaching out, I was slowing getting stronger but when I started reaching out it got easier and my self-esteem increased as well. It wasn’t easy and still isn’t always. Also I figured out I couldn’t recover on my own. I needed help and support.
An important idea to know when you do reach out to people is that they need to have some credibility with you. How they do that is up to you. Do they have experience? Are they in recovery or recovered? Are they professional? I learned for me it was important to have a variety. I have friends that are in recovery and those that aren’t. I have a mentor, a treatment team. I have family and a partner as well. It is important to have professional and non-professional help. Variety is the key.
3. Always try it one more time. I wasn’t always successful. I didn’t always get things right. I wasn’t perfect at recovery or life. I was me. I learned that if I gave up, that I wasn’t going to be at a standstill but instead fall backwards. Relapses are an important part of recovery and a natural part. For me it helped make the “good” times better and make it easier next time. The key is when you fall down stand back up. If you don’t do something right or don’t do it at all; say you have a goal with your treatment team to follow your meal plan and you miss a few meals or restrict. Then instead of giving up, try the meal plan one more time. Keep doing that. Practice makes progress. It does get easier. It just takes time.
4. Celebrate each step no matter the size. We don’t always have big breakthroughs in recovery and we are not always trekking on step by step or crawling like babies. Sometimes little steps are needed to get to big ones. For me I had lots of little steps at first with occasional big ones then some smaller ones then bigger. It was random. I was at first upset if I didn’t have a huge “miracle” happen in therapy or that I didn’t reach a goal instantly. I felt like I had failed at recovery. In fact, at those points, I was making several small steps. Maybe I wasn’t following my meal plan everyday but I was most days. The days increased each week too. Once I wasn’t opening much in therapy at all or wanting to talk but it was an improvement from not coming at all. I learned it is important to celebrate each and every step because it is important. They all add up and at some point they really are a big deal even if they don’t seem like it. It is an accomplishment at beating your eating disorder; isn’t that worth a celebration?
5. Do the next best thing relapses happen. Relapses are a normal part of recovery like I said. The journey of recovery goes up and down. The “ups” helped me make it through the “down” easier. There are times in recovery where I wanted to quit and go back to my eating disorder. At first it was almost every day. I learned the more I followed recovery the less of a rollercoaster I had and the extreme they were. If I did relapse I learned instead of just sitting in my crap I would get out of it because no one wants to sit in crap. I would do the next best thing. I would call a friend, make an appointment, journal, go for a walk, or do some self-care. I would do whatever I thought would be best for me. This brings up an important part that I learned that I didn’t always know what was best for me so I had to trust others and give up my false sense of control. The longer that I have followed recovery the less relapses I have had but the relapses I have had have showed me that going back to my eating disorder is no longer an option for me. It all takes practice.
6. It’s a marathon. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It is not like a sprint that you just get ready, get, set, and go then before you know it you are done. That would be much easier. I learned that recovery takes lots of practice, time, and dedication. You have falls and setbacks along the way as well,
7. Energy management. What comes to mind when I think of energy management is not eating disorder recovery but more of science and anatomy. But when I was in recovery I was sometimes really stubborn and I didn’t want to get better. I would put all my energy into fighting my treatment team, isolating from friends and not following my meal plan. That took so much energy and was so tiring. I learned that if I instead put all that energy and stubbornness to fighting against my eating disorder, talking with support, using my voice, and nutritionally supporting my body that I got a lot further in recovery, felt a lot less tired, more happy, better self-esteem and better outlook on recovery.
8. Sometimes it is best to not trust myself. Do what’s uncomfortable. I had to learn to trust those around me, especially those I gave my control to. If I didn’t trust them, I wasn’t going to listen to them. I wasn’t going to take their advice or do what they say is in the best interest for me, my life and recovery. I wouldn’t dare to and my eating disorder wouldn’t let me either. Just because I gave up control doesn’t mean my eating disorder just magically left. My eating disorder began to fight more and more. Learning to trust others is something that didn’t come easy and is still not easy. It is still a battle. Like I said, recovery is a journey. It was uncomfortable for me. I at times didn’t know what was best for me though. I learned that those around me would help me and look out for my best interests even if it is uncomfortable.
9. Don’t throw your hope in the fire. When I was in recovery I thought that would be my life and that is all it would ever be. For a while, I had to actively tell myself, you need to eat this today, journal today, and had so many things that I had to do. I had so many recommendations from my treatment team for recovery that seemed to make it harder at first but as time passed I didn’t always have to consciously think about every little thing. Parts became natural or easier at least. There are other parts of life besides recovery just sometimes recovery needs to be your main focus. I learned for me, I had to leave school and work for a while but it made me stronger in recovery. That isn’t always true in all cases but there are other aspects to enjoy in life besides recovery, such as friends, family, parties, school and work. You just learn to manage both and sometimes have to make some sacrifices.
10. Full recovery is very likely when you do the work. When you do the work in recovery, practice and keep going at it. It is very likely you will recover. I learned that it does get better and recovery is very possible. I never thought it was yet I have gone longer than ever without behaviors, have achieved many goals that I had in treatment and am enjoying many things in my life. It is possible and I believe everyone can achieve it. Practice makes progress.
Courtesy of Voice in Recovery.
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