Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

“real” recovery


Statue. Definitely not real.

BEFORE READING THIS ENTRY please take a look at my entry, “the insanity of the eating disorder community” because I added something at the end.  For those who were following everything, the individual and I were able to be honest with one another and work things out, and not only is the situation around the group resolved, but our relationship has been restored as well.  Honesty really does rock.

This is one of my favorite pics from an area flower garden I go to.  I think we can all agree that the woman depicted is not real.  Real as in “alive, breathing, an individual capable of thought, etc” type of real.  She’s a statue, made out of concrete, fixed in time in this eternal pose.  She will not talk back to you–and no, I haven’t tried talking to her.  But I’m assuming she wouldn’t talk to me.  At least not outside of my own head.

But through conversations with friends and comments here, there has been this idea of “what is recovery” and, more specifically, “real recovery” floating about in my head.  So I want to put my two cents in.  Again, keep in mind, this is based on my own personal experience.  The criteria I hold up for my own personal recovery may not be your definition of recovery, and that is fine.

Is there such a thing as “real” recovery?  I mean, we can’t take a blood test and find out if we’re still anorexic, bulimic, or a compulsive overeater.  And we can be symptom free but still really stuck in the eating disorder.  Or we could be struggling with some behaviors and be in the best spot we’ve been in mentally for a long time.

There is no set description of what recovery from an eating disorder is or is not.  Partly because for so long the idea held by all professionals was that you never could fully recover, that you would always be guarding against a relapse or behaviors and that you would always struggle with disordered thoughts.  That view is changing.  And I am so glad, because I was told this whole “never recover” line and thought “If I can’t really recover, then why bother trying at all?”  Which then turned into the other end of black-and-white thinking and I decided to settle for nothing LESS than full recovery.  And I’ve learned that thinking like that may not have been the best thing, either.

I consider myself fully recovered.  In fact, I consider myself on stronger ground than when I left treatment in February.  I am back to intuitive eating, and I have a healthy relationship with exercise (well.  I did. Now I have a healthy relationship with my bed and pillows to prop up my leg!), and I’ve even come to accept the new body I have as a result of the thyroid problems. All of this is tempered with the knowledge that I may struggle with the desire to restrict at some point in the future.  two years ago I didn’t think I would/could ever struggle again.  That was before my life was turned upside down and everything I had come to define myself by was changed in some way by the cardiac diagnosis.  So I have learned that there may be times in my life where everything feels completely out of my control and I need comfort and restricting may seem tempting.  At the same time, I also know, more than anything else, that I cannot relapse.  Not as in “I don’t want to go through that hell again” but as in, my body–my heart–could not handle a relapse.

For me, recovery has meant this amazing experience of learning that life is actually really awesome when I’m not sick.  That even life’s sucky parts are better than “life” with an eating disorder.  That freedom is an absolutely thrilling thing.  I am now fully participating in life, which is something I couldn’t when I was tethered to the eating disorder.  I can enjoy each little moment for what it has to offer me, for what I have to offer it.

Recovery does not mean life is perfect.  I still struggle with depression, as I have Bipolar Disorder.  I still have bad days–just like every single human on this earth.  Sometimes I don’t want to work or go to school or see people.  While I have accepted the fact that I weigh more now, and that I may not ever get back down to my “ideal weight” because of the thyroid problem, I have yet to fully love this new body.  I think I will in time, because I had learned to love my body after being at my ideal weight for awhile.  I have a feeling it will happen on the yoga mat again, once my knee heels.  For me, yoga has been the most amazing tool for recovery.  It was on the yoga mat that I first felt this sense of awe at the power and strength in my very own body.  I’d been a competitive athlete since I was a child, but it was yoga that taught me to love my body for all it could do for me.

I have known people who really have recovered–no desires, thoughts or behaviors–and never looked back and it’s been a matter of several years.  It really is possible.

But I’ve known more people for whom we have yet another eating disorder duality: the stage of recovery where A) you realize life is much better without the eating disorder and you aren’t engaging in behaviors or letting thoughts stop you from doing anything and B) you still think about the ED all the time.  Either because you want to lose weight, you want to use a behavior to feel the same old comfort/release, or you’re just not sure who you are yet without the eating disorder.  You love recovery but still think about the eating disorder.

I think that a lot of people get “stuck” in that stage for longer than they thought they would, and I don’t think people talk about it that much.  There is a *new* (meaning it wasn’t there when I was active on the forums) forum at Something Fishy called “Advanced Recovery” and when I first saw that forum I thought, “why?” but I think that forum exists for people in the stage I’m describing.  I was in that stage for about a year, after my first time at Sheppard Pratt and before my “Holy crap, I’m no longer anorexic WTF am I supposed to do now?” freak out/relapse.  It was not a fun time.  I felt pulled in two directions constantly.  I knew I wanted recovery.  And I was not engaging in any behaviors and was healthy.  But my mind kept going back to the ED somehow.

I don’t think people in this stage are “less recovered” than I am.  I think that recovery is a continuum.  One that is different for each person.  And if you’re fighting those thoughts and resisting behaviors, you should be damn proud of yourself.  Berating yourself or feeling guilty for having thoughts is not going to help you (in my opinion).  Recovery is a process.  Again, each person spends a different amount of time in each stage.  Some people skip over stages.  Some people spend a couple of years in one spot and then make a sudden leap forward.

I think that once you start living life and letting go of that eating disorder identity, and you’re not engaging in behaviors, you are further along on that recovery continuum than you may think you are.  Thoughts are only thoughts.  Acting on the thoughts is a different thing.  Having a thought and then saying, “I am NOT going to give in” or “I am NOT going to let this thought determine what I do” is a very difficult thing and an extremely healthy thing.

I’m recovered.  My body image isn’t all that great again now that the whole thyroid thing/not being allowed to run has changed my general shape.  But the midwest is a bit hotter than northeastern PA.  And i decided that I was going to buy –and wear– shorts this summer.  And have discovered that wearing shorts in 100 degree weather is SO much nicer than wearing jeans.  And that allowing myself to put on a bathing suit and go down to the pool is a welcome relief on hot days, and worth telling myself, “I don’t care if I don’t think I “should” wear a two piece, I’m going to and I’m going to relax by the pool and cool off and have fun anyway.”

So throw the idea of “real recovery” out the window.  Define recovery for yourself.  Decide for yourself what you want your recovery to look like.  Give yourself time to get there.  And be damn proud of yourself for each and every little victory along the way.  How long did you have the eating disorder?  It’s not going to go away over night, or in one week.  It takes time.  And just because you aren’t what you call “fully recovered” doesn’t mean you don’t get to celebrate where you are now.

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July 23, 2010 - Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Comments »

  1. “And just because you aren’t what you call “fully recovered” doesn’t mean you don’t get to celebrate where you are now.”
    Amen and amen!

    Comment by marisa | July 23, 2010 | Reply

  2. I love the concept of celebrating where you are in recovery and embracing that. There is good happening TODAY–don’t miss it by thinking of where you aren’t!
    Things to celebrate? Days of sunshine. Days of rain. Coffee. A great book. Freedom to write and paint, even if I don’t feel like I’m “talented”. Watering my plant. When your favorite song comes on the radio. Freedom to eat ice cream if I want to (and I want it often). Freedom TO work out and trust I can do it in a moderate and healthy way. Freedom to wear short sleeves, because my arms are not “too fat”. These are all awesome things to celebrate-some are related to the eating disorder, some are not. But I never noticed any of them when I was sick.

    Comment by Mindy | July 23, 2010 | Reply

    • this had got to be one of the best comments ever. I am so happy to read all of these things. And I DO think they are ed-related. because when we were really sick with the eating disorder, we couldn’t feel the joy in a day of sunshine or a cup of good coffee. Being free of the eating disorder has allowed me to feel so many good things again, and I am free to enjoy so much more. So going to the garden and taking pictures like the one in this entry IS eating disorder related because did I take time to really look around me like that while I was sick? Nope. Now I can see beauty.

      And this note is filled with beauty.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 23, 2010 | Reply

      • This may sound strange, but while I couldn’t feel true joy, I couldn’t feel true sadness (I’m not referring to depression, just the pure emotion) as well – or true anything that wasn’t tainted by the ED. It doesn’t have to be limited to positive emotions – the ED blunted everything for me, so that I couldn’t feel the whole range of human emotions. I love this line from Billy Joel’s “All About Soul”:

        “it’s all about soul
        it’s all about joy that comes out of sorrow”

        That’s what the ED took away from me – my SOUL – my passion, the range of human emotions from joy to sorrow, what makes me ME.

        Comment by anon | July 23, 2010

      • To anon: I think when I was at my sickest, I felt nothing. No joy, no sadness, nothing. Just numbness. Which was nice for awhile, but then got to be it’s own sort of pain to carry around.

        I like that “getting your soul back” idea.

        Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 23, 2010

  3. ?real? recovery…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by Mental Disorders 101 | July 23, 2010 | Reply

  4. hey i struggle daily. but i still consider myself in recovery. sure there are still behaviors. yeah sometimes it’s hard to pull myself out of a cycle of episodes.
    i, however, can never go back to that place i was in before i started my journey. tasting healthiness makes me want it more. and i could never convince myself to go back to that pattern of killing myself.
    struggles are part of my recovery. but my mind is feeling good. and if i keep trekking, i’ll make it to where everything feels good: self confidence, body, mind, and spirit.
    i’m recovered because i’m still trying.

    Comment by wednesday v | July 23, 2010 | Reply

    • When I first gained that knowledge, that I couldn’t go back to killing myeslf, it was both terrifying and freeing,and I wonder if you feel both things? I have no doubt that you will get to where you want to be, Wednesday, for your spirit won’t let you give up.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 23, 2010 | Reply

  5. I love this post- thank you SO much for it. I am in that stage that you are describing- I’m not engaging in behaviors (for the most part) and I want recovery, but I also am being weighed down by the constant ED thoughts beckoning me to return to the self-destruction that I am fighting so hard against. Thank you for reassuring me that I can and should be proud of where I am…that I am still in recovery and doing a damn good job 🙂

    Comment by Anon | July 24, 2010 | Reply

  6. […] After Silence looks at “real recovery” from both Bipolar and an eating […]

    Pingback by Manic Monday Returns « Necessary Therapy | July 26, 2010 | Reply


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