Every so often I have the pleasure of sharing with you a client’s story. (See the tag on the side of my blog: Client Spotlights). Eating disorder recovery is a long and scary road. Seeing the successes (both small and big), is a vital part of holding out hope and belief in a better life. So thank you J for sharing 5 of the lessons you have learned while on your path to recovery. Your willingness to share your journey is inspiring. And no one should go it alone.
5 Lessons on My Path to Recovery
“I feel ready” she said. It was her last night as a patient in the Intensive Outpatient Program at the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center (CEDC). She was ready to take back the 9 evening hours a week and let go of the support the Center provided. She was ready to go out in the world and do it on her own. It was only my first week, and I remember wondering if I would ever feel that way. I was still having trouble saying, and truly believing, that I had Bulimia. It seemed like an impossibly long road to recovery. Would I ever be a normal eater? What is normal eating anyway? Was I prepared to make a life change that would reprogram 17 years of emotional eating, negative body image, body-based self-worth and self-loathing, and, more recently, a full-blown eating disorder? Would I ever feel ready? I knew I had to try.
Week after week, I went to the sessions. The support was tremendous and the lessons passed along were invaluable. But week after week, I would express, rather disconcertingly, that I could not see my path to recovery. CEDC was undoubtedly keeping me afloat, but how was I supposed to be ready to go out there and make it on my own if I didn’t know the way. I’m left-brained and process-oriented. I wanted steps. I wanted a to-do list. I needed markers of my progress to know I was improving. I didn’t even know what recovery looked like. How was I supposed to find something if I didn’t know what I was looking for?
With the help and support of the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center and the guidance of Marci, (and I can’t ignore – with patience and time), I am beginning to see the road to my recovery. There have been many lessons – these are a few that have been especially meaningful to me.
1. My eating disorder is a part of me, but I am not my eating disorder.
Once I admitted that I had an eating disorder and actually believed it, this was my first, and perhaps most important step to recovery. Shame and guilt melted away and I found a stronger sense of self-worth.
2. I can make decisions based on self-care.
Playing the game of “should” and “should not,” guilt and obligation, will often lead you astray. Making a decision based on self-care will bring you back to balance. It can change your outlook, change your day, make you stronger, more confident, more in control. Decisions based on self-care can be difficult, but making the difficult decision, with your own well-being in mind, reinforces the notion that you are important and deserve to be taken care of.
3. I can separate food and feelings.
I have taken to telling myself, “This is how I feel. This is separate from my food choice.” Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But I am beginning to embrace the uncomfortable feelings and appreciate them for the messages they are sending me, or even, the gifts they are giving me. They are opportunities to learn what I truly need. Numbing with food makes me feel like a prisoner in my own body and a slave to my eating disorder. I’m learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Feeling bad, in a strange way, means I’m getting better.
4. Black-and-white thinking is my enemy.
My diet does not need to be black and white, all or nothing. I can make food choices, moment by moment, and work towards progress, not perfection or ideals of thinness, as my goal. Progress towards healthy living and body-based signals of hunger and fullness through compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness.
My recovery, also, does not need to be black and white. The ups and downs are part of the process. I might fall back into all-or-nothing eating, I might make food choices based on feelings, I might make decisions that are not based on self-care. It’s about doing the best I can with what I have in the moment and learning from the highs and the lows. It’s about forgiving myself for the times I fall and being my own cheerleader when I get back up. Recovery is imperfect. The downs help us measure the ups and remind us of where we want to be.
5. Progress comes from taking risks.
I could not have gotten this far or learned this much without taking risks. Growth comes from working through the challenges we face, with food and in life, and finding the lessons on the other side. It comes from fighting our eating disordered brain, making the difficult choice, and reframing years of unhealthy thoughts. Growth comes from finding the strength that we never knew we had when we were unwilling to take the path that scared us.
These are the markers of my recovery, the signs I know that I am changing and growing. I am finding that, by taking away my eating disorder’s control over me, my body and mind have slowly begun to step up. I understand that the road ahead may still be long, and though I am not yet recovered, I can see the path, I will stay on it as best I can, and I am confident that I will get there. I understand that my eating disorder has served a purpose, and that letting it go might be scary, but it will ultimately be what sets me free.
I am proud that on my last night at CEDC, I was also able to say, “I feel ready.”