The 'Forgotten' Part of Eating Disorder Recovery
I’ve always known that recovering from anything is not a linear path. There’s going to be good days and there’s going to be not-so-good days. I guess I’ve always kind of assumed, however, that I would go from struggling to one sudden day being all better, no longer using behaviors. I’ve waited for that day. I’ve thought I’ve reached that day only to spiral downward again. It turns out, my picture of the recovery path was missing a significant stage.
It was shortly after the song “The Middle” (“So why don’t you just meet me in the middle? In the middle, oh…” Are you singing yet?!) became popular that my therapist introduced me to the idea of a middle stage of recovery. This “middle stage” consists of being able to resist the urge to use behaviors, but feeling (potentially intense) discomfort, shame, guilt, anger or whatever negative emotions your disorder might try to convince you that you should be feeling because you resisted the urge (which is a huge deal worth celebrating by the way).
Recovery suddenly made more sense to me. Feeling weak (which is how I usually feel) for not using a behavior does not imply that I should go back to that negative behavior. I somehow thought that I was “supposed” to use behaviors because I felt so awful not using them. Spoiler alert: mental disorders are often huge liars, trying to convince you to believe false beliefs.
My therapist clarified that having these awful feelings upon ceasing behaviors was normal. Resisting behaviors does not always come paired with feelings of joy and pride. No, before those feelings come we might feel worse than using behaviors makes us feel.
I talk about this because I am frustrated that I never understood that this was a part of recovery, and I want you to know. This middle stage is difficult. Honestly, having been at all different stages of recovery (fully engaged in behaviors, in the “middle” and free from behaviors), this middle stage has felt the hardest and takes the most strength. It takes strength to decide to not act on an urge when negative voices are screaming at you in your head. It takes strength to sit with the discomfort after not engaging in the behavior. It takes strength to daily make the decision to continue on the path of recovery when certain negative habits have become a way of life.
But, let me assure you, this “middle stage” is not only comprised of negative feelings. When we’re able to push the lies of our disorders to the side, there will be feelings of pride and accomplishment and celebration and hope. And you deserve to feel these things. Because it may not be one random day that you suddenly become better, but you will be better some day.
Push on, my warriors.
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Unsplash image via Nazar Strutynsky