What Recovery Really Means
Imagine this: you are completely adrift, irrevocably and utterly lost in a sea of darkness. You scream out for help, for someone to save you and pull you into the light, but then you realize you are underwater—where sound flows just about as efficiently as a thick glob of molasses dripping off the trunk of a tree. Far below the surface, no one can hear your quivering voice, pleading to be pulled from the sinkhole birthed by your disorder….In these shadowy depths, the deafening, ceaseless silence of a warped voice constantly telling you not to eat, not to choose happiness, and to restrict at all costs keeps you from floating up to feel the liberating, refreshing air once more. This is the terrifying image of “living” life (or not living, but rather merely existing) with an eating disorder. And the scariest part? Even if someone could hear your cries for help, in the end, it is only you who can save yourself. For recovery is not for people who need it, but for people who actively seek it.
For so long, I and those around me thought I could be pulled up towards the surface, away from the smothering embrace of anorexia, through constant love and support. My parents thought that by exerting 100% of their efforts and energies into getting me better and by giving me the opportunity to receive the best treatment possible, I could magically get better. And while the recovery process obviously is facilitated through the caring encouragement and cheerleading of family and friends, that alone can never be enough. For in the end, recovery can really only commence with the most difficult, yet most rewarding choice made by the person struggling alone—the way to escape the underwater depths is not through passively being pulled up. You can’t just call out, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” and expect to be saved by the hard work of someone else. Instead, you can only be reunited with the surface once more if you earnestly swim upwards against the currents pushing you down. Recovery begins when you (and you alone) say, “This is NOT how my story will end.” Recovery begins only when you decide to immerse your body, your soul, and your effort into the healing process. The hard truth is that no one else can do the saving for you.
Not only is recovery an active choice, but I have come to learn that to truly attain recovery, you have to be present every step of the way. You will inevitably encounter many hardships and obstacles that test your inner strength to its very core, so without a wholehearted commitment, your motivation to change your current situation will fizzle. For years and years (and if I’m being honest, still some days now), I gave recovery half my effort, deciding I would put in the work to achieve a healthier mindset but not to achieve weight restoration. Clearly, this thought process is based on faulty reasoning because recovery doesn’t work that way. You can’t only recover partially or say you are in recovery when you are avoiding a major portion of the problem. Recovery from an eating disorder is a multifaceted, all-encompassing journey—one that requires you not only to continually nourish your mind and mental well-being with self-love and self-acceptance, but that indispensably necessitates that you fuel your body with the appropriate nutritional intake. To truly be in recovery, you can’t choose to heal your mind but leave your body in broken, shattered pieces. Likewise, you can’t just say you are recovered because you have gained the weight—to fully be recovered, you need to have gained the mindset that you are worthy of taking up space in this world and that you, as much as anyone else, are deserving of simply enjoying the taste of delicious food without all that anxiety and guilt.
Another important thing I learned along the way is that recovery is never a “quick fix.” Those struggling with eating disorders are not just capable of waking up one morning, reaching the epiphany that they finally want to truly get better, and then start eating cake and ice-cream and burgers like they were never sick to begin with. If that was the case—if recovery was that easy and simple—we would all be better by now. However, (although I hate to break it to you) recovery will be one of the most difficult, most frustrating, and longest roads you will ever have to walk. Recovery will never be a continuous, linear progression but a curved cycle suffused with a multitude of ups and downs. There will be days where you push yourself, follow your meal plan, and sleep knowing you did the right thing. There will also be days where you fail to honor your meal plan, where each bite overwhelms you with pain and fear and guilt. The good news is that although a “perfect” recovery does not exist, if you have the strength to accept that every few steps forward will also be accompanied by some steps backwards, you can show fortitude through the failures. If you don’t catastrophize every shortcoming as a complete relapse, you can treat every day as a new opportunity to show your eating disorder who the true boss is….YOU. So, cut yourself some slack and be patient with the process. It is completely normal to have bad days. As long as you continue to swim through the storm, hope always flows under the currents.
So, what exactly is recovery?
Recovery is falling down seven times but standing up eight.
Recovery is getting out of bed every morning and saying, “I can do this,” no matter how disappointing yesterday was.
Recovery is painful progress that will push you to become a more resilient person than you ever thought possible.
Recovery is the ultimate test of patience.
Recovery is the sliver of sunlight penetrating through a mass of stormy clouds.
Recovery is daring to discover yourself even when it seems as if you are utterly lost.
Recovery is accepting that you are a human being deserving of love and compassion.
Recovery is an immense, turbulent, fluid sea animated by hopeful highs and disappointing lows.
Recovery is worth it because you are a person worth searching for.
Recovery is possible.