we’re allowed to be human?
I’ve gotten a couple of messages recently from people who are either fully recovered or have been almost fully recovered for some time or who have been doing extraordinarily well for sometimes . . . and the fact that they’ve been doing well has been no secret. Friends congratulate them, offer encouragement to “keep moving forward” and the like. And they think they’re through with the eating disorder. They like their new, free life and have things to live for that they couldn’t have imagined before.
And then, out of the blue, a weekend comes along triggered by stress, memories, poor body image, fear, and a whole lot of other things. And they find themselves engaging in old eating disordered behaviors. And, in general, two things happen in each case (other things happen but aren’t as predictable) : A) they feel crappy about themselves, or ashamed, or afraid this means a total relapse; and B) someone else will say, “But you were doing so well.”
Let’s look at B first. How do you think it feels to hear someone say, “But you were doing so well.” Sure, it may be true, but what do those actual words imply? A) That you should have continued so well; B) this is definitely not good; C) You’re certainly not doing well now; and D) All of that progress just went down the drain. So what kind of feelings do these linguistic interpretations stir up? A whole crapload of shame and embarrassment. And the feeling of letting someone else down in the process. A lot of us have this perfectionistic background and grew up with the need to please others no matter what, so hearing that we’ve let someone down, well, all the old issues just come roaring up to the service.
What’s wrong with saying, “Sorry you had a rough weekend, but I know you can get back on track like you did last time.”? What’s wrong with saying, “Is there anything you want to talk about?”? What’s wrong with “I’m here if you need anything.”? Knowing someone is there, beside you, willing to sit with you, is tremendously better than hearing that, “But you were doing so well” and all of that statement’s implication.
Now let’s look at A. Is this a reason to feel shame? No. We expect people new in recovery to have lapses and bad days. Well, guess what? Years of self-harming behavior don’t disappear in a month. Those tendencies may be at the back of your head for some time. And what’s important is not the two days you slipped back into old habits but afterwards when you realize what’s going on and work on turning things back around and getting back on track. That’s what the comments should be about: the strength and determination it takes not to let one off weekend pull you back into the eating disorder.
I keep this blog. I encourage people through snail mail and through facebook. I’ve lobbied for the Eating Disorders Coalition. I’ve given talks during NEDA Awareness Week. I’ve helped friends find treatment.
I’m supposed to be better, right? I mean, I call myself recovered. Fully recovered. And yet, this past month has been difficult. Change and loss have always difficult for me, and when my life seems to be made up of changes and loss? And I’m still struggling with depression and receiving ECT each week, soon to be every-other week. And I’ve found this fully recovered self struggling with restricting. I’m still not over my desire to disappear when things in my life well, to put it plainly, suck. (And yes, I know I can’t disappear.)
Here’s what’s making this not a relapse: I started talking to my therapist after I noticed I wasn’t eating as much after only four days. There is no hiding it from my treatment team; they all know. There is no trying to get away with something. There is no desire to keep going, only a desire to get back on solid ground rather than stay in this muddy terrain. And there have been steps taken to get back to that purely solid ground. And there has been pride for everyone one of those steps taken. I won’t let myself get to a dangerous point, but I don’t even want to be below an ideal point.
What does this make me? Human. I’m not perfect. My recovery was never perfect. I’m not perfect. I never will be. But just because I’m having a hard time does not mean I’m no longer in recovery. I care too much about the life I gained to give that up. But it will take some work on my part to get back to that fully recovered self again.
I am not ashamed of where I am. I am damn fucking proud of myself for bringing it up with my therapist before he noticed anything. I never would have been able to do that in the past. There’s a lot of things I’m doing now that I never would have been able to do in the past. And that’s what I’m choosing to focus on. As i said in a recent post: The past is in the past. The future has yet to happen. But I live in the now. What I choose to do now, not what I chose to do last week, is what is important.