Why Recover?

Recovering from an eating disorder takes time, work, support, awareness, and well, at least some level of willingness. As an eating disorder clinician I come face to face on a daily basis with this question. Why recover? As a recovered individual this has such obvious answers. However many of my clients who remain entrenched in their eating disorders understandably have tremendous ambivalence. Why should you to let go of something that has allowed you to cope with emotions, feel safe, special, at times given you a sense of identity, purpose, and accomplishment? Why give up what seems like the road to the promise of a body in which you will finally feel comfortable, worthy and confident? Why give up this sense of control or complete abandon with food to eat “normally” instead? Sounds rather boring actually, and frightening. It is the sound of failure for so many of my restricting clients. And yet, as someone on the other side, I know it is beyond worth it. But hearing it from clinicians can sometimes sound preachy and less authentic as from peers who have recovered. So here I share what some of my lovely clients have agreed to write confidentially about their own reasons to recover. 

“Gotta admit, I’ve had moments where I’ve asked myself what the point was. But mostly it’s just moving forward, pushing through, and getting by day after day despite the thoughts.  Maybe it’s realizing my worth and deepening my relationship with God that gave me the hope I needed to see my way through. Then once I started recovering, I couldn’t stop. Even when I self-sabotaged. Like a snowball rolling downhill. Why recover?

Because I have too much to do and not enough time to do it.

I’m finished being nothing, being held back, and being invisible. I’m too much for that and I’m embracing that part of me. Accepting it slowly.  I can’t be held underwater by anyone anymore and the next person that tries to drown out my voice won’t have a pleasant experience”. 

“Asking "why recover?" is kind of like asking "why would you want someone to stop beating you with a baseball bat?"  The suffering involved, and the desire to end it, should be pretty self-explanatory.  And yet, the delusion of desirability can be profound.  

I work retail, and one day several years ago I noticed a painfully thin young woman in line who turned out to be someone I had met in treatment long ago.  We talked.  As I had guessed from her low weight, she had never recovered, and her life was in shambles.  She was divorced and unstable and miserable.  Near the end of the conversation, when I said I was happy to be there for her if she needed anything, she said that she was worried about triggering me.  And the thought was so absurd, I wanted to laugh at her.  How could she believe for a moment that I would be tempted to trade my life for hers?  That she could make me miss the constant exhaustion and cravings and explosive self-hate that come packaged with anorexia?  I have relationships that matter, I have a body I respect regardless of its shape, I have the joy of writing novels and going on hikes and living.  The mistake she made, the mistake we all make when our eating disorders are whispering in our ears, is that we think living starts when we are thin. 

The truth is, living starts when we stop valuing thinness. “ 

“Deciding to recover for me was allowing myself to be FREE of guilt and shame after 30 years. I never thought I would have the freedom to live, travel, and experience life without worrying about food. Although body image is still something that I work on it does get easier every year. I have become thankful for my healthy mind and body. Here’s to another great year of Freedom!”

“I chose to recover because it was divinely inspired. Every step I took toward recovery was rewarded and continues to be rewarded with huge blessings. I’m so thankful. My life is so full now. It’s hard to express how grateful I am. I am doing well!”

“Why I chose to recover: I was so tired of feeling trapped by something. I knew complete freedom was possible and I wanted it.  I wanted to know who I truly was aside from ED. Almost like my life was on pause until I could meet ED’s goals. However year after year I met each goal and only found myself more unhappy. I got to the place where I fit so perfectly in a “safe” box and realized that safe was not where life happened.  Life happens when you get to go places and not worry about what you’re going to eat. It happens when you get to not be perfect and actually enjoy the things that make you unique. Being able to travel and experience all the different foods, cultures, and memoires.  I not only enjoy the taste of food but I truly love how I feel when I am nourishing my body. It gives me the energy I need to do the things my soul loves.” 

“I look back on my two years in recovery from my eating disorder, and for one, I can’t believe it’s been two years, and for two, I can’t believe how much my life has changed. Sure, it wasn’t easy at the beginning, there were ups and downs, struggles and lapses, but it did get easier. Today my brain is free from the obsessive thoughts around food and behaviors that came from them. Through a program of recovery I have also learned to love myself more (which is an ongoing practice) which means having boundaries, being assertive in my life and ditching negative thinking patterns, the biggest of which were the thoughts of perfection and holding so much value in what others thought or think about me. It’s also liberating to be free of the guilt and shame that came hand in hand with my eating disorder. I know taking the first step isn’t easy, and neither is the second or the fifteenth, but I know that from where I stand today there is hope, and it does get easier with a plan of recovery and the right support. Like I said, it isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it. I thank my past self for taking those few first brave steps towards recovery. My two cents of advice would be, just start with a baby step or a leap of faith, whatever that looks like for you, your future self will thank you for it.”

As for me, I can direct you to the blogs I have already written on this very topic such as “Tales from Recovery: Why I chose Me” “How Pregnancy Healed my Body Image” and “How my Alcoholism and Bulimia Coincided”. But to sum it up, I eventually grew tired of the depression, the sickness, the deep self-loathing and obsession. I eventually came to a cross-roads. I wanted more. I wanted better. I sought connection, love, peace, and real relief. Not the kind of relief that comes from the temporary respite I found in restriction, exercise, bingeing or purging. But the kind that resides in the depths of self-acceptance and self-love. Suddenly there is peace. There is comfortable silence. There is a sense of coming home to yourself. Today I continue to recover/discover more and more of who I am. As I do, the compassion and love grows ever deeper, not only for myself, but for everyone. It’s not narcissism to love yourself. It’s a human right and necessity, and it’s contagious. As I have discovered my worth, I have discovered yours also.

“I have a life now.  My worst day in recovery is still better than the best fleeting, bitter victories I won against my weight in high school.  You ask, why recover?  I ask, why breathe?  The answer to both is the same: if you want to live, you have to.”

Marlena TannerComment