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The ‘Squiggly Line’ of Eating Disorder Recovery No One Talks About

I’ve heard that recovery is like a squiggly line. Overtime, the lows of the line become smaller while the highs get higher. When I am motivated and doing well in recovery, I love this analogy. It empowers me to notice my strengths and all the progress I’ve made. Even in a low moment, I am able to hear a quiet voice whispering within me — my healthy voice — which validates that I still have a long way to go in recovery, but also praises me for coping with the situation, even if only slightly better than I did in the past. Maybe I avoided eating disordered behaviors or redirected frustration away from criticizing my body.

Yet, when I am doing my worst, this analogy scares me. My depression grasps me tight, and I am unable to escape from its overpowering strength for days or weeks at a time. Meanwhile, my eating disorder lies, falsely promising relief from my emotions or partnering with the depression to punish my body. In these moments, I question if I have recovered at all. If I am almost as low on the line as I was before I started recovery, maybe I haven’t made any progress; maybe I’m losing the battle against the depression and the eating disorder.

Except no one talks about how the especially difficult moments of recovery are also part of the process. Sometimes, the squiggly line breaks its pattern: it drops down lower than it’s been since the beginning stages of recovery, and it seems like the highs will never come. For weeks, it feels like the line has stopped moving — no high, no baseline, still stuck in the low. It feels right to blame myself for falling down so far or to criticize myself for not successfully implementing coping strategies. If I had the knowledge to fight the harmful thoughts or confront the painful emotions, why didn’t I try hard enough to use it?

Few people mention how surviving these lowest lows in the later stages of recovery is a success in and of itself. Regardless of how long the low lasted or the way it was handled, you survived. And while it may have felt like you’d be stuck there forever, you pulled yourself out of it once again. You found the strength and the courage to continue to face the many obstacles that remain on the squiggly line of recovery. Finally, while the lowest low may have felt discouraging, overcoming it only added to the self-discovery journey by providing more insight on personal strengths, triggers and areas for continued growth or exploration.

Still, I like to believe that towards the end of the long recovery process, the lows on the squiggly line really do get smaller and the highs get even higher than anticipated. While I think the squiggly line will always have unexpected drops and turns, I hope that one day, I’ll have the strength to be my own ally when confronting the most difficult lows. Regardless, I know that the unexpected highs throughout the journey are worth fighting for and even when the highs seem far away, they are an ever present reason to continue working toward recovery.

Getty image via oatawa.

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