Today, I want to make a case for not stopping halfway when it comes to recovery.
That means it's time to talk about the F word. Or rather, the F phrase. Full recovery.
In my anecdotal experience, there are a few basic stances on full recovery.
One is that it's simply not possible. Many people who have suffered from disordered eating believe that they can reach a point where their symptoms are "under wraps", but they believe that the disorder will always live inside of them. The best that they can hope for is stability and keeping their symptoms under wraps.
Another is that full recovery is totes possible. Usually you'll hear this from people who say that they are in fact recovered. They'll say things like "I had an eating disorder in high school but I kicked it". Or some variant of that. Won't lie: I kind of hate these people. I'm like, well, what is wrong with me that I suffered during high school, then instead of kicking it, I continued to suffer for 15 more years? Part of me remains suspect of these people, like, did you really kick it? Or do you just not talk about it anymore?
Personally, I fall into a weird nether region between the two. In essence, I believe in full recovery because I want to believe in full recovery. And yet, at this time, I know that I haven't attained it and therefore am not certain what it looks like. I feel like the disorder lives inside of me still, but I feel the glimmer of recovered life at moments which are becoming more and more frequent.
The annoying thing is
The annoying thing is, there isn't a whole lot of literature (that I've found at least) about this partial recovery. There are tons of books about anorexia, bulimia, and how to get help. But there's a lot less literature about how to keep on going in recovery, which has been for me an ongoing project for the last 5 years.
Yes, you read that right: I've been in active recovery for 5 years and I'm still not fully recovered. It makes me want to use the REAL F word sometimes.
But there are a few good resources that I have found online. Two in particular that I have read and strongly resonated with recently have been this post on Why You Shouldn't Settle For Partial Recovery, and this one on How and Why Not to Stop Halfway.
In the former article, it talks about how many people in recovery get caught in this mindset where they think "Being on the “thin side” of normal with only some disordered behaviors, is as good as it gets. "
In the latter article, the author talks about weight restoration.
"And what if there’s still that niggling little voice that says, well, surely this is the absolute best place to stop, isn’t it, because after all, this was what I was aiming for all along, wasn’t it, to be just at the nicely slim end of normal?"
The truth about my current state of recovery
Those blog posts (and the statements I copied and pasted just above) pretty much nailed it for me.
The truth is, I am "mostly" recovered, but that is not fully recovered. I'm still in a partial state of recovery. Thankfully, I am no longer wrecking my body by starving myself or bingeing and purging. And yet to say that I'm out of the danger zone would be speaking too easily.
Truth is, I am still very rigid about diet and exercise. All it takes is something coming along that keeps me from going to yoga class for my whole day to be wrecked. All it takes is two bites too many of dessert and I go into crazy calorie counting mode and my stress levels surge.
The fact is, I'm scared to let go.
In the most literal way, I'm not scared to gain weight. If I were told "you need to be this weight for optimal health and this is exactly what you should eat at this time" I would do it. Unfortunately, even seeing a therapist and a nutritionist, there's a huge part of this that remains unique to you and something that takes time to figure out. This was a hard lesson for me, btw--I went to a nutritionist wanting her to snap her fingers and come up with a foolproof plan, but it's not quite that easy.
I'm not scared of the end result of possibly having a little more weight on my bones. I am very active and I know I wouldn't be "fat" (awful word I know but it's the one that my ED shouts in my head).
Rather, I'm scared of the process.
It's the not knowing that is the scary part.
If I could magically know what weight I should be, then I could throw out all of my clothes and buy the right size and never have to worry about that part again. I would know the plan. There wouldn't be all this uncertainty.
I'm scared of the slow, unpredictable changes that might come with changing my rigid diet. I'm scared that I wouldn't be special by being small anymore. I'm scared that I would have to start wearing a bra because my boobs would get bigger. I'm scared, ultimately, that things will change, and I don't do well with change. I mean, just this week I cried because my favorite yoga teacher announced that he is, in essence, retiring from teaching my favorite class. Transition is hard!
There's a big part of me that wants me to just stay right here, on the slim side of normal, and exist in this "better than anorexia" place.
But the truth is, it's not that much better than actually having an eating disorder. Physically, yes, it's better. But I don't obsess that much less about food, if that makes sense. I'm not restricting calories to the point of danger, but I still am restricting, and the fact that I'm not eating sufficiently or appropriately is just keeping my obsessive food thoughts going.
It's kind of ironic. I'm thinking about food all of the time, and actually, the cure for this obsession would be to eat more. It's simple, right? But not so easy to actually do.
I'm trying in small ways. I'm regularly breaking food rules these days. Recently, I went out for pizza with a friend on a weeknight. Just yesterday, I went out with a group of friends and didn't plan on where we were going or what I would order in advance. It's exhilarating, but then the other day my pants felt tight and I thought "you'd better exercise more!" so it's like my disorder is right there trying to figure out loopholes.
This point of recovery is exhausting, grueling, and mentally trying.
In some ways, this phase of recovery is even harder than when I started. So how do I keep on going?
- I keep reading accounts like the ones I linked to above.
- I keep on spending time with people.
- I keep on trying to improve myself in various ways: through therapy, through meditation, through learning.
- I focus on the good things in my life.
- I try to be gentle on myself when I backslide and fall into calorie counting mode.
- I remember my values--what I want in life. I want a family; I want love; I want adventure; I want true connections; I want success. To have the energy to do any of these things and to really devote myself to them, I can't hide behind an eating disorder.
- I keep eating.
- I keep trying.
By doing these things, I do feel those "glimmers" of normal life, of recovered life, where food is not like a pop-up ad in my head at all times but rather, a pleasant part of the whole package of my life.
I'm not going to stop halfway. Neither should you.