I’ll start by saying there is no right or wrong way to recover from an eating disorder; what works for you may not work for the next person. It’s rarely a linear process, there are so many peaks and troughs, and everyone’s experience of eating disorder recovery is different. There are, however, some common themes that many identify and that I certainly experienced for myself.
It will be hard
Recovery is exhausting. You are committing to try and change something that feels ingrained in who you are and how you define yourself; your identity as a person. Your eating disorder could have caused you and those around you insurmountable pain and distress, but for whatever reason it had a function for you at one point. It may have helped you manage or block your emotions, it may have been a way to punish yourself, it may have helped you to feel in control. There was a time when it felt as though it was helping, and accepting that this is no longer the case is accepting you have a problem. And accepting you have a problem is difficult. Really, really difficult.
You will have lots of different emotions
Recovery can be a rollercoaster. Be prepared to experience a range of emotions, which can often be conflicting. One day you may be angry at yourself for gaining weight or eating something out of your comfort zone. The next you could be angry at yourself because you are trying so hard but just aren’t able to stick to your treatment plan. There will be days when you are happy about making progress, and other days when you feel sad about leaving behind a life you have come to know so well. Trying to separate eating-disordered thoughts from helpful, recovery-focused thoughts can be incredibly confusing, but does get easier with practice.
You might want to give up
There will be times when you wake up and find the idea of fighting your eating disorder for another day unbearable. It gets harder before it gets easier, and recovery can be an exhausting process. It might feel like it’s too hard, and that living with your eating disorder is easier than trying to fight it. These thoughts can become overwhelming, and you can find yourself giving in to the old thoughts and behaviours that you have become used to. You are not alone in this.
You might have to start over
If you do find that you’re struggling to motivate yourself to recover, that’s okay. It will probably happen at least once, and may happen many times over. Recovery is not a straight road, there are hills and valleys and u-turns along the way. The important thing is recognising this, accepting it and moving forward in whichever way you need to.
It does get easier
You might have some relapses into old habits along the way. Being ‘well’ or ‘recovered’ can feel impossible and completely out of reach at the beginning. But over time, with the right amount of commitment and support, it becomes more and more attainable. The days where you wake up feeling motivated and positive about your progress are few and far between to begin with. But they do get more frequent and eventually outweigh the difficult days. Things that seemed impossible to begin with become part of your routine as you’ll take on new challenges. Each time you progress, you’ll realise how strong you really are.
It will be worth it
I cannot possibly emphasise this point enough. I spent so long believing that I couldn’t, wouldn’t and didn’t deserve to recover; I genuinely believed that it was never going to happen for me. I had absolutely resigned myself to the fact my illness was going to kill me one day. But I am here, stronger than I ever imagined and living a life I never thought possible.
I still get thoughts occasionally that are unhelpful but I can challenge them now. My relationships are better, I can focus on my job and my education. My physical health has improved and I feel immeasurably happier. I can take enjoyment out of tasks that weren’t even possible before. I can exercise for fun, I can eat with my friends, I can enjoy food without punishing myself. And most of all, I can accept and appreciate myself for everything that makes me who I really am – and that doesn’t include an eating disorder.
Find me on twitter: @caralisette