10 Stages of Eating Disorder Recovery
1. “I’m fine.”
For a long time, you don’t think you’re sick. You’re fine. You’re good, even. You’re flying high. Sure, sometimes you feel really bad about yourself. Yeah, your eating disorder is a big part of your life, but only because you let it be, right? You’re in full control and can stop whenever you please. All in all, it’s helping you, not hurting you. You finally have control over your life. Things are fine.
2. “Maybe there’s something wrong.”
It dawns on you maybe, just maybe, things might not be fine after all. You’re starting to feel the physical symptoms of your disorder. The muscle pain, the fatigue, the headaches, the dizziness, the sore throat. The constant loop of insults in your head is wearing you down. It scares you to think you might not be the one in charge anymore. You start to worry your eating disorder isn’t just a big part of your life — it is your life. You realize you can’t stop even if you want to.
3. “There’s something wrong, but I don’t want to change it.”
You recognize something isn’t right. You know you’re sick. You know you have an eating disorder. Still, you wouldn’t want to be without it. Your eating disorder helps you, right? It’s better for you, right? It makes you feel better. It takes away some of your pain. It distracts you. It gives you control, a purpose, a goal. Without it, you’d be even more worthless than you are with it. Right? You’ll fight tooth and nail against anyone who tries to help you. You know your eating disorder will help you. Recovery isn’t for you. You have no interest in getting better. There’s no point. Why bother? Your eating disorder is louder than you at this point, so why fight?
4. “I don’t know if I want to keep living like this.”
At this point, you’re not sure. Do you keep going like this, or do you fight to change things? You flip-flop between remaining tied to your eating disorder or recovering. You can’t decide. On the one hand, recovery sounds nice in theory. In practice, it doesn’t seem attainable. Your eating disorder is in full control and you don’t know how much longer you can take the constant screaming in your head. You’re drained after going so long being convinced you’re worthless. You don’t know if you even have fight left to recover.
5. “I need my eating disorder.”
Without it, who are you? What would drive you if it weren’t for the voice in your head telling you you’re not enough? What would make you special? What would give you control? Your eating disorder is stronger than you and far louder. It’s hard to hear other people over the constant screaming in your head. When you try to pull away, it grips you harder. When you consider recovery, it gives you lists of reasons you can’t. You need it in your life. After all, it is your life.
6. “I’m going to recover.”
You can do it. You’re motivated, you have support, you have treatment, you have strength. You’re going to kick this EDs ass!
7. “I can’t.”
You go between stage five and six for awhile. First, you’re ready to recover. It gets incredibly hard and painful and you run back to your ED. It welcomes you with open arms, only to shove you down again and again. You feel ready to try to recover again. This cycle loops over and over. You can’t recover. Your ED is right — you’re not good enough. You don’t deserve to recover and you never will.
8. “I can, and I will.”
At some point, things change. This point is different for everyone. Sometimes, between all the fighting in your head, you grow stronger than your eating disorder. Your voice is louder. You scream right back at it. You work hard towards recovery and have many victories. You’re a recovery rockstar. It’s hard but you push through no matter what. There are setbacks, but you get right back up. You might relapse, and that’s OK. We all fall down sometimes. You work your hardest to pick yourself up right after.
9. “I’m recovering.”
You’re at a good place in your recovery. You’re making strides and maintaining a healthy life of balance. Things are good. There are bad days but you have the tools to keep up with whatever life throws at you — therapy, coping skills, medication, physical activity. You name it. You’re learning to deal with your emotions. You’re taking control over your own life. You’re kicking that eating disorder’s ass.
10. “I’m recovered.”
You’re at the end of your recovery journey. You’ve found a healthy balance that works for you. You love yourself as you are. You treat your body as your friend, not an enemy. You’re no longer at war with yourself. You don’t have to do constant work to maintain your mental health. But know you also can’t get lazy and let things slide. You’ve worked so hard to get to where you are.
Some say you’re never truly recovered from an eating disorder. This is fair. You’ll be in recovery for the rest of your life. There will be slips and triggers and setbacks and times where you want to sprint right back to where you started, back to the welcoming arms of your eating disorder. Sometimes, you might even do it. Relapse is nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what, you’ll always come out again to fight. You’ll remember why you recovered in the first place. You’ll remember you were strong enough then and you’re strong enough now and tomorrow and 35 years from now. You’re strong enough. You’re enough, period. You are more than enough.
When it’s hardest, darkest, bleakest, you’ll remember your worst day in recovery is better than your best day with your eating disorder. You’ll remember the pain it caused you, the things it robbed you of, the joy it stole from you. You’ll remember though it says all the right things and sounds so sweet, it’s nothing but a monster trying to drag you down. You don’t need it anymore. You have yourself and that’s more than enough.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
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