The 5 Most Important Lessons Recovery Taught Me
1. Accepting help is not a sign of weakness.
In fact, it is actually a sign of strength. It takes courage to admit that you may not be fully in control of your actions at the moment. To address your weaknesses and flaws and be in tune with them is the first step to taking back what is rightfully yours—a healthy, happy life in which anorexia and the concomitant negativity has no place. To be humbled by others and ok with that….that is what I call sheer character.
It took me awhile to hold onto a helping hand—not because one was not offered, but because I was ashamed. I was ashamed that at 12 years old, I still hadn’t mastered the art of feeding myself. I was ashamed that at 12 years old, I still had no control over my own actions. I was ashamed that at 12 years old, I still was unable to silence the constant internal shaming of my body, of my essence. To me, accepting help was equivalent to admitting what a pathetic excuse for a pre-teen I was.
I was wrong.
2. You have to help yourself before you can help others.
Yes, sometimes by helping others, you can in turn help yourself, but this is not the case for a person wrapped up in the midst of a mental illness. To truly focus on recovery, you must simultaneously focus all your attention on helping yourself….at least until you get back on your feet. Focusing on you is not always selfish. In fact, in this case, putting yourself first is perhaps the most selfless act. Because only by beating the illness can you divert your attention towards other scopes of life, such as giving back to others.
When I was little, I dreamed of helping end poverty and sadness and war. I dreamed of travelling to third-world countries, helping to rebuild the slums and provide the destitute children with the comfort of a future. I wanted this so bad, more than anything else. For years, I begged my parents to let me travel for a summer to fulfill my dream. For years, my parents said no. And this rejection angered me because I just didn’t understand.
However, while in recovery, I realized that I couldn’t make those impoverished children happy if I was so miserable….First, I needed to regain my own happiness so I could share some with them. And so I did. I recovered selflessly for the children, for myself, for my dream. It was so worth it—after focusing on myself for awhile, I was finally able to travel to Thailand, working with neglected children at orphanages and rebuilding slums. I used to think that I didn’t need to be happy before committing to bring others joy. I used to think that focusing on myself was shameful.
I was wrong.
3. Recovery is about so much more than just weight restoration….it’s about learning to love and accept yourself.
And it is probably the hardest, yet most rewarding process you will ever encounter. I don’t really understand why it is so easy for us to love and accept others, to treat friends and family with kindness, to think they deserve the world….yet, think that we ourselves are unworthy of this same sense of belonging. I don’t know why it feels so impossible, I just know that it does. Recovery not only forces us to confront our worst fears, to feel our favorite pair of jeans becoming tighter and tighter with every passing day, but it also forces us to do perhaps the most difficult thing—to recognize that we too, are human. That we too, are worthy of love and laughter and unconditional comfort. That we too, despite our mistakes, are strong and genuine and deserving. Recovery is a process that locks us in a room alone until we become friends with ourselves….It is an intervention that replaces self-abuse with self-love.
Recovery forced me to question why I only focused on my weaknesses and flaws while overlooking my many strengths. Recovery forced me to see the seemingly contradictory—that at the same time, I was the bully and the victim. Recovery forced me to accept my weaknesses because I was only human and the very nature of humanity is imperfection….I used to think that loving myself was absurd, was impossible, was delusional.
I was wrong.
4. Patience in the process is not only a virtue, but altogether essential.
It took me over 5 years to reach a point where I could genuinely and truthfully say I was recovered. It took me over 5 years of hospitalization, months and months of being away from everything I had ever known. It took me 1825 sleepless nights of crying, 1825 days of grey, sunless skies. Recovery is not at all a fast process. Recovery is the evolution of us….a gradual, unpredictable venture into the unknown. Without patience, you will never reach the finish line. Without acknowledging that recovery will not happen overnight, but over the course of many nights, you will find yourself without the strength to keep fighting. Without recognizing that recovery is a prolonged battle, that you can only emerge victorious after apparently endless days filled with both defeat and triumph, your endurance will vanish. Patience is key. Patience is the indispensable weapon.
I remember all the nights I cried, wondering when, or if, I would see the sun again. As time went on and I kept relapsing, I became increasingly frustrated and impatient. I remember 2 years ago, probably my 5th hospitalization, I was so sure I could go home with only 3 weeks of being in treatment. I remember being certain that I would be discharged before Christmas….That did not end up happening. Instead, my stay lasted 2 months: 2 months of missed birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s, and memories. Without patience, I never would have been able to come back home. I used to think that I could recover quickly—that recovery could be some continuous, hurried process.
I was wrong.
5. You get out of recovery what you put in.
In other words, there is no half-assing recovery. Not if you truly want to complete the process, to truly live a life untainted by internal war. You will only take away from recovery how much effort and heart you put in. You cannot carelessly stroll your way through recovery….to reach the finish line, you must persevere and exert all the energy and willpower you have. Otherwise, you will just lose stamina. No one can force you to recover. You must want to recover yourself, to truly put in the work to reap the full benefits. You decide the extent to which you will gain meaning and insight.
As a teenager engrossed in the unattainable journey towards perfection, I couldn’t have cared less about recovery. At therapy sessions, instead of talking about my feelings and issues when I so desperately needed to, I would glare at my therapists, wearing a smug smile of silence. Little did I know that I was only hurting myself and my chances for a happier future. 1-hour sessions, week after week, would go by with no progress. I rebelled every step of the way, trying to compromise with my nutritionists, trying to beg my therapists for freedom. I couldn’t understand that it was my own apathy, not my therapist, that was keeping me trapped, caged, stuck.
You cannot expect to magically feel better after putting in no effort towards healing. It was only after I really was fed up with a life of misery and Ana’s broken promises that this suffering would all be worth it in the grand scheme of things that I truly fought with everything I had. I didn’t want to be those 60 year olds who cycled in and out of treatment centers their whole lives….I wanted to see the sunshine. And so I fought to end the rain, to paint over the grey. And it was only after ending my rebellious, recovery-is-not-for-me phase that my smile became natural, that my heart became full. I used to think I did not have to focus on recovery to truly recover.
I was wrong.