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Eating Disorder Recovery Is More Than What You Think

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To all who struggle with an eating disorder,

Recovery is not about food. (OK, it is a little bit.) It’s about the late night pizza runs with our partners, the bonding over pancakes and omelets and recounting the night before with our friends. It’s about sharing a spoon with a giant pint of Ben and Jerry’s over a movie or buying chocolate at the gas station just because we feel like it. It’s trying something new when we’re out to dinner because we feel adventurous, and we aren’t worried about the fat or calories.

It’s donuts, chips and all the things we used to cringe about in our disorder. It’s noticing your body is hungry, and even though you are tired, busy or emotional, you grab something quick and easy so you don’t feel hunger pains like you used to. It’s packing a snack in your purse, just in case. It’s getting rid of sugar free mints and gum because you actually eat now and they made you feel bloated anyway.

It’s nourishing your body not because you need to but because you want to. It’s loving food again. For those of you who think you have always “hated” food, we were all tiny, helpless infants once, depending on the milk or formula to keep us alive and help us grow.

But, really, it’s not just about the food.

It’s about being free from the bondage of rules, numbers and rituals. It’s letting go of things that aren’t just right or perfect. It’s taking a nap on the couch when the dishes aren’t done, the house isn’t clean and you haven’t gone to the gym yet because a nap is what you need. It’s actually resting when you are sick. It’s shedding your old beliefs about yourself and creating a new future.

It’s telling your friend their behavior bothers you without worrying about what they think. If they are a true friend, then they will understand and listen intently. It’s standing up for yourself. It’s telling your employer you need to work less hours because although the pay is good and it keeps you busy, you need more time to yourself. It’s making relaxation a priority.

Recovery is safety and control, not the safety of dormancy and controlling of numbers like you used to do. It’s safety in knowing no matter what happens in life, you will be OK. It’s safety in knowing who you are and being proud of it. It’s not the illusion of control you had when you were counting calories or losing weight. It’s knowing without using behaviors, you are the one in the driver’s seat. The disorder doesn’t control you anymore. It’s making choices that are healthy for you because, for once, you are actually in control.

Recovery is taking risks and making mistakes. It’s vulnerability. It’s laughing too loud at a joke that wasn’t that funny to begin with. It’s honesty. It’s crying in front of your partner and getting a hug instead of running to the other room and burying your face in a pillow. It’s saying the wrong thing and feeling bad about it later. You apologize and you hate the feeling but for once, you actually went out with friends and talked, instead of just hiding in the background.

Recovery is experience. It’s going to more places than just work or home. It’s making coffee plans with someone you never really knew before. It’s taking your dog on a different route for her walk because sometimes routine is boring. It’s traveling, even though you tend to be a homebody. It’s finding a new hobby because now you have the time to. It’s riding a roller coaster so fast you lose your breath.

Recovery is standing on your own and being OK with it. It’s looking back at your time in treatment and being grateful for all of the people you met and things you learned, and knowing for now, that part of your life is over. It’s yearning for the complexity of life once again, the anxiety of not having a meal perfectly planned and your schedule precisely mapped out.

It’s growing on your own because you had a hard day and there might not be someone there to talk to wherever you turn. It’s the fear and anxiety that comes when you become more independent and stray away from your outpatient team, but the pride that comes with feeling like you don’t need to see them as much as you used to. It’s finally “leaving the nest.”

Recovery is welcoming all emotions and committing to growth. It’s honoring the human experience and vowing to live in the present moment. It’s experiencing your emotions, even if they are uncomfortable. It’s being rational. It’s knowing the fear of abandonment doesn’t actually mean you will be alone forever, the anxiety of being weight-restored doesn’t mean you are a failure and the anger of being hurt doesn’t need to run your life anymore.

It’s tears and grief and bickering and exhaustion and for once, not being numb. It’s sitting through a panic attack, instead of suppressing it with addictive behaviors. It’s listening to a loved one talk about their day and actually be interested, instead of feeling foggy, distant and distracted. It’s connection.

Recovery is a process. It is not planning the day when you will “let go” or “fully surrender.” It’s just doing it. It’s waking up every day with a commitment to do the best you can and letting go of expectations. It’s being patient and trusting wherever you are in this moment is exactly where you are meant to be. It’s seeing recovery as a journey and not a nuisance. It’s not wishing you were further along or somewhere else. It’s meeting yourself where you are and not forcing it. It’s being kind to yourself, nurturing the part of you that needs to be loved and letting the universe do the rest. It’s looking back at the past and being able to say, “Wow, I may not be where I want to be yet, but I sure have grown.”

Recovery is messy. It’s relapse, slips and intermittent hospital stays for “tune-ups.” It is not a record of behaviors used or not used. It is not contingent on where you are at financially or physically. It may be one choice you make and never look back or it may be something you choose 20 times a day, every day.

It’s not one event, rather a series of happenings over time. It isn’t contingent on how bad our disorder was and it doesn’t matter if we’ve received the best treatment that the country has to offer. It’s not showy, self-seeking or desperately seeking validation that you are doing well. It’s not boasting or claiming things are 100 percent different than they used to be. It’s realistic. It’s admitting you are one human being, of many human beings who are just living their lives the best they can.

Recovery can be book deals, song writing and motivational speaking to massive crowds. It can be a quiet confidence you carry with you every day. You can tell people you are in recovery and be proud of it or you move on as if the disorder never existed. That’s the amazing thing about recovery, there are no rules.

Recovery is saying enough is enough and doing the work, over, over and over until it feels natural. Recovery is not unattainable, but don’t be confused. Recovery is not something given to us. It’s not passive in the least. It is brave. It is hard. It is worth it.

To all who struggle with an eating disorder, there is a whole other world out there waiting for us.

This post originally appeared on This is Where I Stand.

Originally published: June 18, 2016
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