Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

recovered/in recovery/recovery/john?

One of the comments on my previous entry is something that has come up both here and in my “real life:

I have always wondered about the terms “in recovery” and “recovered.” Why do you choose “recovered?”

Perhaps it is just a game of word play, but there is a significant difference for me in the associations the two words bring up.

“In recovery” (to me) means that I am, in some way, living with the illness.  It means that I am on guard against behaviors or symptoms or eating disordered thoughts.  It means that I am managing the illness and that I am not free from it.

“Recovered” (to me) means that I have moved on, put the illness behind me, and am living without consciously making sure I am “following the program.”  It’s past tense.  What was is exactly that, what was.

For years, doctors and therapists told me that one never truly recovers from an eating disorder, that one manages symptoms, guards against relapse, and makes sure one is eating appropriately.  Somewhere around 2005, I realized that this wasn’t good enough for me.  Why spend so much hard work in treatment (both inpatient and outpatient) if the only thing to gain was “managing symptoms.”  If I was going to recover, I was going to recovery.  All the way.  This has been one of the few times black and white thinking has worked out for my benefit.  I want no part of the eating disorder.  I don’t want to manage symptoms, be on guard against destructive thought patterns, or monitor my food.  If therapy is working (for me) these are all non-issues.

So again, one would ask how I could possibly call myself recovered right now.  I know the issues behind my eating disorder.  None of them caused the return to restricting, although, as I said, I did learn that if I diet in a healthy effort to lose weight that I have a medical reason to lose, it reminds me of restricting too much and I can’t take that risk.  While I was in the hospital, I didn’t have to work through the underlying issues to get myself to eat; I had to get used to eating again, on a physical level.  A couple of ritualistic behaviors came back while I was IP, simply because I was in that setting.  There’s been no desire to engage in them since.  Have I had destructive thought patterns that would lead to restricting?  Nope.  And I’m not monitoring my food intake.  I’m relying on hunger and satiety cues to let me know when and what and how much to eat.

But this is how I feel about these terms.  In all honesty, they don’t mean much if you are not engaging in behaviors and are living symptom free.  In either case, “in recover” or “recovery” means health.  Call it whatever you want, even give it a name such as “John” if you’d like, but take care of yourself and claim health as your own.


February 28, 2010 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , ,


  1. Sounds good to me.
    Being “in recovery” to me, has changed its meaning. I insisted on saying that I was “in recovery” for a long time, and I guess I was. But now, it seems that I am really “recovered.” Being “in recovery from an eating disorder” is still allowing the eating disorder to own a part of your life. Being recovered, that puts the eating disorder in the past, where I believe it belongs. It wasn’t easy for me to transition from “in recovery” to “recovered,” and it only came over the last week or so. And as I sit here, a little bit too hungry in a way that feels similar to restricting, I know that I am just being lazy because I don’t feel like getting up until I know just what delicious meal I will be making myself for lunch in a few minutes. That’s the difference for me. In the beginning of recovery, I guess I would say “12:00, time for lunch.” Then, I would say – up until very recently, “I’m hungry. Must eat now before I get to hungry.”
    Now? sometimes I eat because it’s “time” and sometimes I eat because I’m hungry. And sometimes I DON’T eat because I’m busy or distracted or lazy but eventually I eat when it’s time, and I eat enough for me. Some people might not like the way I do it – even my nutritionist tells me to be careful not to get toooo hungry. It’s not like I resist my cues. It’s just that I put my “hunger and fullness” cues on the same level of importance as I put everything else in my life – breathing, sleeping, going to the bathroom, etc. Sometimes I wait a little extra long for various reasons. And sometimes I do it just because.

    So yeah. That’s what it is for me. It’s DE-elevating the eating disorder’s influence in your life. Being too “into” recovery can be nearly as bad as the eating disorder, mentally (not physically, thankfully). I’ve seen people’s identities be their recovery, and I’ve seen them absolutely crash when their “recovery” is no longer going well.

    Maybe it’s “in remission.” As much as I want to say it will never come back, maybe it will. But when you’re in recovery, it’s still there. When you’re in remission, there’s no evidence of it being there. But that’s not to say it could never come back EVER. It just isn’t there right now and it’s time to LIVE LIFE without it!

    Comment by Jess K | February 28, 2010 | Reply

  2. By the way, I am sorry I always write such long and personal comments on your blog. I should really really use your entries as prompts for mine, more often 🙂

    Comment by Jess K | February 28, 2010 | Reply

  3. I am still confused though how you are recovered when you went back into treatment? I do not mean for this to be an attack by any means, but I guess, I wonder if you are rushing the process of being “in recovery”…..yes, to be recovered is great and I want to get there too, but I have a hard time accepting your version of recovered. However, I have also learned that the recovery process and what recovered for each individual means is truly unique to each individual. I would just hope that when I consider myself recovered that also means that I can reach a level of acceptance for my body and in my life which for me would include decrease in depression and anxiety etc along with eating disordered behaviors. I have been thinking about this a lot because I feel like I am definitely “in recovery” and the farthest in recovery I have ever been and in many ways I can see myself possibly terminating my ED behaviors before all of the negative emotions triggering my ED is resolved. I do not know if that makes any sense, but I just wish for happiness in your life beyond ED. As Jenni Schaefer says- to be in love with life- but again maybe that is just her definition of recovery. That does not mean having tough days, but I feel like part of it includes, “knowing that in the end it will all be okay “…
    Oh and I am sure you have, but have you read her newest book? For me, that really resonated with me and what it means to be truly recovered. Just a thought.

    Comment by Jessica | February 28, 2010 | Reply

    • Do you question people who say they are “in recovery” but still refuse to maintain their ideal weight as determined by a treatment team? Just curious.

      As for depression and anxiety. Yes, I still have them. But I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder years before the anorexia. And anyone with serious PTSD can tell you that anxiety is just part of life. Bipolar Disorder runs in my family; until they find a cure for it, I’m stuck with managing the ups and downs.

      As for going into treatment, I’ve explained that in this post and my previous posts. It was an acknowledgment that if I let things continue, I was going to spiral downward very fast. And there was also explicit acknowledgment with my treatment team at the facility that I was not there because I needed to work on the issues behind the eating disorder. I needed a safe place to get my medications worked out and to learn to physically tolerate food again.

      I’m secure in my knowledge that I’m recovered. I like was Jess K had to say about it being in the past. It means that I am not living “in recovery” and still allowing the eating disorder to have a part of my life. Let’s move on to the present, and focus on real life. A full life.

      I guess the best way to describe it is that I know it’s recovered and not “in recovery” because “recovered” is effortless, and that’s where I’m at.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | February 28, 2010 | Reply

  4. I think you are in a very unique situation. I can understand where you come from, in regards to starting the behaviors due to a medical condition. But, there is something in the fact that you were unable to realize the beginnings of an unhealthy pattern and that it got to the degree that inpatient treatment was required. What made inpatient treatment at an eating disorder treatment facility required rather than increasing it and getting back to “normal” not possible with the support of your team? Where were your thoughts and your thought pattern at first and then once you recognized the difficulties? (I hope this doesn’t come across as too harsh-just challenges).
    I think a history of an eating disorder is enough to require keeping some tabs on what is going on. When I got married, even though it was 2 years symptom free and impulse free, I still kept honest tabs on myself. When I get pregnant, I will stay on top of myself in a way that most “regular” pregnant women do not. You can’t take away the inclination to do what you do-I will never take away that part of my brain that caused my eating disorder. It doesn’t take away from being “recovered”, but it allows me to stay that way. I will always have a history of an eating disorder-it’s no longer who I am or what I am, but to imagine that my past is not a part of me anymore would be (in my case atleast) foolish.

    Comment by Mel | February 28, 2010 | Reply

    • Okay, I was trying to avoid going into details.

      A) I DID recognize unhealthy patterns. And yes, I probably could have increased food intake on an outpatient basis. I wasn’t at a low weight, I hadn’t lost a lot of weight, and my labs weren’t bad. But I know enough about refeeding to know that it can wreak havoc on the metabolism and given that this means one can often experience cardiac symptoms during refeeding, I thought it best that I do so in a supervised setting since the last thing I wanted was to have my ICD give me a shock because I went into an arrhythmia because of refeeding at an improper pace.

      B) One of the behaviors that came back during the week prior to me going inpatient was purging. I had not purged in over ten years. I have no idea why I started up again, because I don’t “get” anything out of it. It doesn’t bring release of any type and I hate it and find it disgusting when I do it. But I also know that in the past, I was never able, despite all of my best intentions, to stop purging on my own. And once i had five days of tolerating food and not purging, I was off purge precautions because I had no more urges and knew it would no longer be an issue.

      yes, I do say I have a history of anorexia when I see a new medical doctor because this illness obvious leaves its marks. But as for monitoring? I think these previous weeks proved that I’m pretty damned good at knowing when something is off. I didn’t start “behaviors” due to a medical condition. I started altering my diet in a healthy fashion, following a doctor’s plan for me. But I found out that even that was too reminiscent of restricting, and THAT is when I began restricting. And I recognized that switch before my therapist did and was honest with him and was working with him but for medical reasons, I went inpatient. With my specific heart condition, I knew better than to attempt to do this on my own.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | February 28, 2010 | Reply

    • I agree with you Mel, I at least see that as how I may be at least initially in the future once I reach the recovered stage.

      Comment by Jessica | February 28, 2010 | Reply

  5. And to your first question, Yes I do- it is called gaining weight. Despite what the ED tells us, it doesn’t happen over night.

    Comment by Jessica | February 28, 2010 | Reply

  6. I’m so glad that I read your post today. It is hard to be “in recovery” and wanting to be “recovered.” There are many a fears associated with both of those words.

    Comment by imaginenamaste | March 1, 2010 | Reply

    • I’m sorry I didn’t see this comment until now. I know there are a lot of fears in both “in recovery” and “recovered.” Both mean stepping away from something that has become a safety blanket for you. I know for me, the ED was a means of isolation and a way to protect myself from getting to know people and engaging in the real world. Stepping away from the ED meant letting that world in, which meant that there was a chance I could be hurt in the process. But what I found out was that by isolating and staying with the ED, I also lost out on the chance to be nurtured and loved in a healthy manner. And I missed out on a lot of just plain old fun.

      if you are struggling with that being in recovery and wanting to move forward stage, I’d focus on being healthy. Doing what works on a daily basis. Throw the terms out the window for now and focus on the present moment. Don’t worry (I know that’s easier said than done) about getting somewhere. Live in the here and now.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | March 4, 2010 | Reply

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