When You Don't Believe in Recovery From Your Eating Disorder
I don’t like to talk specifics about my health history when I blog. I don’t even like to write out the phrase “eating disorder,” even though I’m sure the vast majority of you have been able to glean from my tidbits here and there that, that phrase has applied to my life in all sorts of ways. The reason I don’t want to do this is because I don’t want to label my struggle, and because I do not want that label to carry on to where I am in my present. But that being said, I do think it is immensely important to reflect on where I’ve been in order to recognize how far I’ve come. When I struggle or have little slip-ups, my mind immediately jumps to things like:
You’re not making any progress.
You’re going to be stuck like this forever.
What’s the point of even trying to get better if your mind will always be like this?
Recovery is fake.
When I was at my sickest, I had an entirely black and white form of thinking. I thought “recovered” meant never having any disordered thoughts or actions ever again. And frankly, I didn’t really believe in recovery at all. I would look at other people who had “recovered” from eating disorders, and I would think, “Who the hell are you kidding? You can’t honestly tell me you’re happier now. You can’t tell me you like your body right now.” And because I didn’t really believe in a full, 100-percent recovery, I didn’t want to do it at all. I had no interest in existing in a space of push and pull between my disorder and health. I thought that sounded miserable, and I didn’t want to have to fight every day to try to achieve something I wasn’t sure existed.
So about once a year, I would have a serious relapse. My body would shut down, and medical intervention would be necessary. Then I would have several months of close monitoring and relatively stable health, only to repeat the same process over again. I never truly gave recovery a chance, but merely waited for everyone to back off, masked my behaviors and once again began the work of destroying my body. This happened for years. And it wasn’t until last year that something really, truly changed.
The other day I was catching up with a friend, and she looked at me and said, “Do you understand what you’ve done in the last year? Do you understand the massive turnaround you’ve done?” And it took me a few minutes to reflect, but she is absolutely right. At this exact time last year, I was exercising between four to six hours a day. I was barely fueling my body, and any time I did eat it was next to nothing and I would rarely keep it down. My weight was plummeting, as was my blood pressure and pulse. I made no time for anyone or anything, because I was always doing something to try to lose weight and I did not want any distractions. Every single medical professional in my life was urging me to leave school and go into intensive treatment. But beyond all of that, I felt absolutely hopeless. No matter how exhausted or miserable I was, I felt like my body was on autopilot, forcing me to work out or compensate for my food. I felt completely engulfed by my struggle and could not see a single way out. There were several instances when I thought I had really done it this time, that my body would succumb to my eating disorder. I remember laying on the grass in one of the fields, talking to my nutritionist on the phone, sobbing, “This is it, this is really it.”
I went home for fall break, locked myself in my room and did some thinking. I stared at myself in the mirror, my skin a pale shade of green, my fingernails broken and frail, my body bruised and battered. What am I doing? How did I get here yet again? I felt I had two options: continue down this path, resign myself to this disease and eventually, be it three months or 13 years later, die of an eating disorder. Or I could, for the first time in my life, give recovery a real try. The latter option was petrifying. I knew it would be painful. I was scared it wouldn’t work. But I knew if I gave it enough effort, if I stuck with it long enough, it might yield something that would give me a second chance at this life. And I chose to stick with it.
It was tough. It was gritty and terrifying and more difficult than I could have ever imagined. Everyday I had to wake up and make a choice to fight the voices in my head, to feed my body despite the inward screeches and protests, to begin to pick away at the mountain of self-hatred I had created, to try to unravel the habits of self-destruction I had cemented over the years. It wasn’t pretty or perfect by any means. But I 100 percent gave myself over to the process. I didn’t give myself an inch of wiggle room, because there is no negotiating with an eating disorder. I committed every meal, every rest day, every workout to recovering, and it was a process of unbelievable blind trust in myself.
Flash-forward to the present. I am full on in my senior year of college. I have made new friends who I am social with. I go out for meals, I take rest days, I skip workouts to spend time with people. My days can be spontaneous because I don’t feel tied to a rigid workout schedule. I’m looking for jobs and planning the next phase of my life. And — it’s been nearly a year since I have performed a single disordered action.
Whenever we go through struggles, I feel like we hear the phrase “you just need time” or “things will get better with time,” and often it sounds like total bullsh*t. We want to know when and how much time and specifics of what this “getting better” will look like. We don’t want to have to wait for whatever we’re going through to mend itself — we want it now. But after years and years and years of struggling with an eating disorder, and having had the year that I’ve had, I can firmly say it really does just take time. It takes time to unravel habits. It takes time to repair relationships. It takes time to work through things — be it a break-up, be it a life change, be it any other life hurt. You cannot hold your healing to an arbitrary timeline; it must happen organically and without force. I believe that is the only way true healing happens.
I still do not believe I will go the rest of my life without having disordered thoughts. I have them daily. But rather than being a constant, incessant stream of self-hatred, the thoughts will pop up here and there, and I am able to rationalize through them and dismiss them. And despite what my former self may have thought, I do think I am recovered. I think I am close to being the best I could possibly be in terms of recovery. I never in a million years would have thought I could be where I am. Even though I am still in the process and there are things I need to work on, where I’m at is so much better than where I was. All of the fight and grit I had to give was so, so worth it. I gave myself time, and it was the best gift I have ever received.
So whatever you’re dealing with at the moment, I encourage you to give yourself grace. Cut yourself some slack, and know that time really does heal. Some days may be difficult, excruciating even, but know if you trust the process and trust yourself, those days will surely pass. Beautiful things lie ahead, my friends.
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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