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5 Things I'm Doing as I Start a New Year in Eating Disorder Recovery

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The new year is a time for casting off the old and welcoming new possibilities. For a lot of people, it can feel like a clean slate. A chance to turn the page and start a new chapter.

I think these feelings are amplified for me as I’m entering recovery.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been in recovery. When people get help for their eating disorders, I don’t know if they ever stop being in recovery. Recovery isn’t a new task for me, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

Recovering from an eating disorder, for me, feels like standing on the edge of a chasm, waiting to see if something comes along to push me over the edge or if I’ll keep the courage to walk back to safety one step at a time. And, like a lot of other people in recovery, I’ve fallen off a few times, climbed back up and started all over again.

That’s how I’m going into 2018.

I’ve been journaling about what I’m going to do this time around to set myself up for success in the new year. Here are the five things I’m doing to make sure I’m successful in my recovery this year:

1. Reflecting

I’m letting myself think and reflect. Not just on the past year, but on the past 28 years. I’m letting myself think all the thoughts that come up and letting myself feel all the feelings that arise. I’m looking at where my disorder came from and how it evolved. I’m looking at the times I entered recovery and the times I relapsed and asking myself why that happened. I’m not brushing any thought, feeling, or event under the rug. I can’t deal with it unless I know it, and I can’t know it unless I spend some time reflecting on it.

2. Checking My Perspective

A lot of this comes down to my attitude. Why do I want to get better? For others or for me? Maybe a mixture of both? Do I really believe I can make these changes? I’m looking at where my priorities lie — where am I investing my time and energy? And is that where my time and energy should be going? Am I looking at the big picture of my life or am I getting hung up on the insignificant? I have been known to let the little things sabotage my recovery in the past. How am I going to change my perspective so that doesn’t happen this time around?

3. Practicing Mindfulness

My therapist calls mindfulness “awareness without judgment.” For me, mindfulness is being aware of my thoughts and feelings and taking them for what they are. And, since my eating disorder is a physical issue as well as a mental one, I’m also practicing mindfulness with my body — being aware of it, listening to it and giving it what it needs without judgment. Sometimes it looks like meditation, sometimes it looks like yoga, sometimes it looks like drinking a glass of water and being quiet for a while. As long as I’m becoming more aware without bringing my critical judging eye to the party, I’m accomplishing what I need to accomplish.

4. Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

I learned about S.M.A.R.T. goals when I was a teacher. A goal is S.M.A.R.T. if it is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Setting recovery goals has always been a struggle for me. I always end up unsure if I’ve really met them or feeling like a failure if I hadn’t. Then I realized the goals I was setting weren’t very good goals to begin with. They were either too vague, unrealistic, or I didn’t know how to measure if I’d met them. It seemed a little silly and like a lot of work at first, but making goals fit the acronym has been effective in other areas of my life as well.

Take this example:

“I will save money this year.” How much money? What are you saving for? Where are you saving it? What’s the desired end result? There’s too much room for error. You could put one dollar in a piggy bank and meet this goal, but that’s not getting anyone anywhere, is it?

“I will put 50 dollars per week into a savings account in order to achieve an emergency fund of $2,600 in one year.” That’s a S.M.A.R.T. goal. It’s specific, you know how to measure your success, and you know what you want your end result to be. I’m applying the same idea to what I want to achieve in recovery. If I don’t know exactly what I need to be doing, how can I expect myself to do it?

5. Asking for Help

This is the hardest one for me. As a gay woman, “coming out” is part of my every day life. It doesn’t feel hard for me anymore. But “coming out” about my illness isn’t as easy. People need people. People need a support system. I, as a person in recovery, need friends and family to know that there is an issue and that I am trying to address it. But people can’t help if they don’t know there’s a problem. People can’t help if they don’t know what they can do to help with the problem. The first step is telling the people I want in my support system that I am recovering and need their help. The second step is telling them what I need from them moving forward, whether it’s accountability and a safety net, or just a little love and understanding.

Recovering isn’t easy, and it’s a lifelong process. I get so much encouragement from seeing stories and meeting people who’ve walked this road before and survived. I will probably come back to these five things more than once in my life, and that’s OK. A clean slate is much easier to tackle when you have a template. This is mine.

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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Unsplash image via José Ignacio García Zajaczkowski

Originally published: February 17, 2018
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