In a nutshell,
You’re going to fall down. A lot. You’ll probably hit an extreme rock bottom, maybe one that’s lower than the rock bottom you thought you reached when you were sick, and you’ll wonder what the hell at the point of all of this stupid, shitty-ass work is all about. You’re tired of falling. You equate falling with failing. Aren’t they the same thing? You’ll cry to a God if you believe in one, and if you don’t, you’ll still cry and probably wish you believed in one.
There will be low points. And they will hurt like hell.
You’ll think you are the exception. You are the one who won’t heal, the one who cannot recover, the lost cause who is doomed to a lifetime of misery.
People are going to tell you this part of the process. What, this falling down, slamming yourself into the ground, time and time again? This utter inability to actually take care of yourself constructively? The continuation of the very habits you want to break the most? Oh, yes! They’ll tell you with their knowing nods, condescending smiles, and confident attitudes. This is part of the journey.
You’re going to slip. Professionals like to use that term. Slip. Maybe you’ll slip right back to where you started. Maybe you’ll slip even harder and fall into a new realm of hell. At least you’re gaining insight. This is part of the process. You’ll keep hearing those words. Be kind to yourself. You will also hear that, even though that’s the most fucking counterintuitive advice you’ve ever heard. Be kind to yourself? REALLY? Who could be kind to such a monster? Who could be kind to someone who continuously beats, torments, and wrecks me? This just seems nonsensical. In fact, you may even hate yourself now more than you ever thought you did in the past. You will not be kind to yourself for a very long time because unfettered kindness equates with immense self-love, which in turn, KILLS the eating disorder, literally diminishing it from existence. You just can’t get rid of it that fast. It just doesn’t work that way.
You will doubt recovery. You will doubt you even had an eating disorder. You will doubt the validity of positive affirmations, doubt your treatment team (if you have one), and doubt that anything is actually going to stick. You will still lie, because lying has been the basic bane of your existence. In fact, don’t be too surprised if you even get better at it. You will become talented at cheating the system and cheating yourself. You will hang on to your eating disorder for dear life, while, at the same time, doing everything you can to throw it away. You will constantly feel tormented, conflicted, and vulnerable.
If you are fortunate, you may quickly stop the behaviors. But the negative, distorted thoughts long preceded those behaviors, so they will linger far after. You will become just as obsessed with recovery as you were with sickness, wanting to be perfect yet again. Seeing the world in black-and-white yet again. This is your habit. This is how your eating disorder trained you. If you can’t be the most perfect sick person, you have to be the most perfect recovered person. The obsession stays for a long time, and that is one of the hardest parts. Food dominates your mind. Every meal, every unplanned snack, every new item of clothing, every change in your body…this will be scrutinizes and analyzed. This will be your new compulsion.
After awhile, with some smooth sailing, you may get cocky. This happens, too. During those high points. You will get confident that you will never use that behavior again. You will never be back to the way you were. You will never choose to hurt yourself again. These statements, you will realize, are just as detrimental as the negative, all-or-nothing statements that maintained your disorder. People will try and warn you about potential triggers and the risk of relapse. You will shrug them off. Couldn’t happen to me. I GOT THIS.
It’s only a matter time before you are triggered. You will spiral out in a tailspin. You will realize they were probably right. You will curse them…and then, you will realize you are a fucking human being who is recovering from one of the most beastly, complex, chronic mental disorders in the DSM, and therefore, YOU WILL FALTER. You didn’t move into hell overnight. You won’t be able to move out overnight either. Even though you desperately want to. But, with recovery, you get to start seeing other places to live. You get to check out the other real estate. You get to see if it’s worth moving. You are shopping; you are learning what else is out there.
And if you start liking what you see, you will start to push yourself. More than you’ve ever pushed yourself. You will start accepting, HONEST-TO-GOD accepting the fact that you can’t “WIN” recovery any more than you can “WIN” an eating disorder. You just plug at it. You may have epiphanies and you will probably feel random bursts of inspiration and motivation, but sadly there is no magic formula or voodoo secret. You will have to trial-and-error. And, in a clinical sense, trial-and-error essentially means TRY, TRY, TRY until something works. And that’s what recovery is. TRY, TRY, TRYING until something works.
There is no timeline. There is no right or wrong. There is no prize for you at the end, except, of course, your health, vitality, sanity, and freedom. But, here’s the catch. You don’t actually receive those just at the end of your journey. Those gifts are with you from the start, from the first moment you decide you’ve extended your stay in Hell and want a new place to live. Those gifts are what keep your path, and all its ups and downs, worthwhile. Whatever sense of health, vitality, sanity, and freedom you thought you had in sickness can ONLY improve in recovery. You will notice that. You will start to see, taste, hear, and feel it. The sensations may be overwhelming. Stick with them.
Healing hurts. Unleashing the pain hurts. The rawness of exposed wounds hurts. That is part of recovery. There is no way to avoid all the suppressed feelings, the stuffed-down anguish, the starving fears. But remember this. With an eating disorder, pain progressively increases. With recovery, pain progressively decreases.
And on the other side, of pain, you will see, lies a pleasure you may have never known existed.