This morning I woke up to the best message ever in my inbox… a message from another woman, of a similar age to me, who has had anorexia for years, telling me,
“Today is the day… I am doing it!!”.
… Yes, after a turbulent few days of indecision she is taking the terrifying and yet empowering leap into the deep waters of recovery ACTION.
And my heart filled with happiness and pride and yet also sadness for this incredible lady…
Happiness and pride because I know this is the first giant step into what I can only envision will be a distressing but also exhilarating and ultimately rewarding process. Yet also sadness because I know she has painful days ahead but mostly because I know that she, like I did, has experienced years worth of this devastating illness and she is about to realise that over all those years, this tricky recovery process was never out of her reach, despite what the illness told her and despite what any professionals might have advised.
One of the cruelest things about an eating disorder is that recovery is always possible and yet because it is so hard and raises such intense emotions, we delay, we stall, we keep saying ‘tomorrow’, we let life events distract us, we eat an extra banana in the day and say we are ‘in recovery’ and we put off and put off taking real recovery action for months, years and ultimately, tragically for so many, decades.
For years and years, both in and out of treatment, I waited for recovery to feel ‘ok’.
I went through inpatient treatment cycles more than once, yet only ever got so far or ventured to ‘quasi’ recovery at best because I only accepted taking recovery action if it was not too distressing and at a level that I could still tolerate with some degree of comfort. I ‘did recovery’ over the years, both in and out of treatment, by making some changes, gaining some weight, yet also with the illness having a degree of control each and every time – because when the illness still had some degree of control over me, in the moment it still felt safer, less distressing and more tolerable.
But of course, like this, I never recovered. Sure, I gained weight, sure I ate a bit more and might have even changed a few other behaviours but you can do all those things and still stay mentally very screwed up, playing whack a mole games in recovery, staying half recovered and then ultimately because recovery never fully happened, relapse was not just a possibility but an inevitability.
Sadly, despite being under ‘eating disorder professionals’ for many years, the level of distress that I would need to tolerate to achieve full recovery was never really explained to me and it was never encouraged or supported. There is certainly a large degree of holding back in treatment services when a patient becomes ‘too emotional’ and a lot of ‘they won’t tolerate that’, that goes on. Yet, if we are not pushed and supported to face and tolerate the deeply distressing emotions, how do we ever recover?
Well, perhaps we don’t when under the treatment services available at this present time…. BUT we CAN under our own steam!!
Because it was only when I really accepted and made myself understand and tolerate the level of distress that recovery would take, that I ever made any significant progress in recovery.
It was only last year, away from professional treatment and under my own guidance, following what I knew deep down in my heart I had to do, that I made the most progress I have ever made into recovery.
I had to accept, just as my courageous friend this morning has had to accept, that we CANNOT wait for recovery to feel ok if we want to actually recover.
If the work of recovery feels ok – you are very likely not doing it right!
Waiting for recovery to feel ok, or only changing so much, so that it still feels tolerable and ‘safe’ won’t get us recovered. Yes, we might gain some weight, we might eat a bit more, rest a bit more but if it still feels safe, I bet the illness is still maintaining a strong grip!
Wait for recovery to feel ok and see you in another 5 years, still in the same position, still sick, still saying ‘tomorrow’ I will change. Except that it won’t be that you are in the same position – take it from me, each year with the illness is not only another precious year of life wasted but each year that the illness stays, our lives are depleted a little bit more, becoming narrower and narrower until very little is left in life but a devastating disease.
Those recovery days of diving into the deep recovery waters, which we have to do over and over and over again in the recovery process are some of the most intensely emotional and difficult days and weeks and months any human can go through.
I know my emotions can swing from exhilarating highs to devastating lows in the same hour when facing hard recovery action and it is exhausting and terrifying.
But going through those emotions and doing it despite wanting to kick, scream, cry, slam doors, crawl out of your skin, is the only way to recover. If recovery was possible without the seemingly impossible to tolerate emotions, so many more would do it and there would not be the need for blogs like mine and we would not have the death rate we do from this illness.
How many times have you made that decision to ‘do it’, felt excited and motivated but then when it came to the jump, not actually taken the action because it was just too hard and your brain froze and you ran back to the safe feeling in the illness?
Stop letting the fear stop you… PLEASE!
Make sure recovery is messy and painful.
I wish I could tell you that recovery would not be painful and you could sail through it without intense recovery side effects, but that is not the case for any one of us.
So, just like the strong woman who took her giant leap into the difficult depths of recovery ACTION this morning – please, please jump! Allow it to hurt, allow it to be messy but let yourself learn, as everyone ultimately does, that there is another side to the pain and distress where life starts to ultimately get a little easier, with time, with food, with rest and in tolerating the hardest process you will go through in your life.
And ultimately the greatest emotion you should feel each and every minute of the day you get through in recovery is pride… No one deserves pride in themselves more than someone who stands up to and tolerates their relentless fears in eating disorder recovery day in and day out and that is you!