What is Recovery
The most common difficulty when thinking about recovery is getting a clear idea of what it actually is. People stuck in the middle of an eating disorder often think that other people are focusing solely on weight and eating – about gaining weight for those who are struggling with anorexia, and about controlling eating for those who are struggling with bulimia or compulsive overeating disorder. In fact, eating and weight are just a small part of recovery as food and weight are a symptom of underlying psychological problems like low self esteem, body image issues and feelings of low self worth. Depression and anxiety often play a part too.
If you are struggling to recover from an eating disorder, it is very important that you take the time to find out and consider what recovery will be for you. If you do not know then it is a bit like setting out on a journey with no idea of where you are heading and what your goals are. You need to know where you are going so that you give yourself the best chance of getting there and also so you can be sure that you do not end up somewhere else you don't want to be.
It is very frightening having an eating disorder – especially if you are being pushed towards getting help and treatment that perhaps you don't want or don't feel ready for. Then often it can be tempting just to try to stay where you are rather than trying to change things because you are scared of what might happen. But the trouble is that this is a bit like being in a small boat on a river and deciding not to paddle. Some part of you might catch a glimpse of life on the other side of the eating disorder; the safety of landing on shore at a peaceful island. But it means taking a step into the unknown, rowing your boat through sometimes rough waters. However, you will find that if you do nothing you will drift further downstream and that is definitely a place you don't want to end up.
So what is recovery? If you are thinking about working towards recovery, or are receiving treatment right now, or if you are not sure whether you want to leave your eating disorder behind, it can help to make a list of what you think recovery is and what it is definitely not. Perhaps your thoughts and ideas might include some of the following:
- (This list has bright yellow smiley faces as bullet points.)
- Freedom from shame, guilt, obsessive thoughts and the need to achieve in unhealthy ways.
- Eating and food are no longer an issue.
- Normality; sometimes eating too much, sometimes too little without being thrown back into disordered eating.
- Letting go of your eating disorder ‘identity’ and finding the true you.
- Being able to enjoy food as a pleasure.
- Wider perspective.
- Being able to have a family.
- Building up self esteem and self acceptance.
- Able to eat ‘nice’ foods without fear of losing control or feelings of guilt.
- Restoring perspective.
- A challenge.
- Being able to see yourself as you really are.
- Moving on.
- Being honest and true to yourself and others.
- Seeing a brighter future.
- Letting go of the illness.
- Freedom from being trapped.
- Acceptance of yourself.
- Not being too hard on yourself or punishing yourself.
- Not being alone.
- Accepting the things you cannot change.
- The ability to have new thoughts, not staying trapped or stuck in one way of thinking.
- Not taking things out on yourself when things go wrong.
- Feeling that you deserve recovery.
It is just as important to be clear of what recovery is not so you can be clear about what you want and how you are going to get there.
Recovery is NOT…
- (This list has duller sad faces as bullet points.)
- Dieting all the time.
- Escaping the eating disorder only to be trapped by another unhelpful behaviour.
- Just gaining weight.
- Papering over the cracks.
- Constant denial or keeping busy so you don’t feel bad.
- Never having any problems ever again. It is about dealing with them in a more positive way.
- Living in and dwelling on the past.
- Ignoring your ‘inner self’.
- Restarting any previous damaging coping methods.
- Living a lie.
- Turning anger in on yourself.
- Depending too much on others.
- Losing responsibility.
- Restriction of food.
- A hamster wheel of activity.
Did you recognise some of your thoughts and worries? Some people find it really hard to think of recovery as a positive thing. They cannot get away from the fear that recovery means feeling as bad as they do with the eating disorder, but being fat as well. For those who feel they are not ready to change it feels like recovery is about losing the only good thing they have, or giving up the one thing they think they are good at, as well as giving up control.
Recovery is actually about what you gain from improvements in your life, rather than the pain your eating disorder causes you. Recovery does sometimes mean dealing with often painful issues from the past, as well as difficult emotions, but it is about finally being free from them.