Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

cicadas and recovery


the shell

I was outside drinking my morning cup of coffee and noticed about thirty cicada shells and newly molted adult cicadas, stretching their wings and crawling on the ground, not yet strong enough to fly.  This may sound weird, but I thought of recovery from an eating disorder when I saw all of these insects (which are not related to locusts, by the way and a harmless to humans, although their noise can be annoying, and they do look kind of creepy).

Cicadas actually amaze me–how do they crawl out of their shell and leave the shell completely intact, as you can see in the first picture?  (Cicada shells are used in traditional medicines in China.) One cicada was in the process of crawling out of its shell, and I wanted to watch the process, but I quickly lost patience.  Apparently, it takes some time.  And this is when the eating disorder recovery metaphor hit me.  I know, it’s a strange metaphor.  Blame on the early morning hours.

How many of us have, at various points, decided to get better and went to treatment, had the support offered there, and came home expecting to continue on our merry ways of recovery only to find it wasn’t that easy?  And with a whole of “Is this possible?” questions?

And maybe in the process of recovery, you have asked, “I’ve had my eating disorder for so long, there’s nothing left but the eating disorder?”

And here is where we can learn something from these creepy looking but fascinating insects.  They spend most of their lives in hibernation of sorts  (The eating disorder), waiting to crawl out of their shells (recovery).  When they emerge from their shells, they need a little time to adjust to their new selves, stretching their wings, crawling before flying.  But there they are, adult cicadas, ready to face the world.

Recovering from an eating disorder is much like this.  We spend so much time with the eating disorder, that we lose sight of who we really are inside.  A great many of us doubt that there is something inside at all.  We crawl out of our shells, only to discover the world is a scary place, and we think maybe we aren’t ready for the world, or maybe the world is just too much for us.

We need time to stretch our wings, and we need to walk before we fly.  A lot of us get frustrated at this point; we lose patience–like I did while watching the cicada crawl from its shell this morning.  We lose faith that flying is possible.  But even after 17 years in it’s shell, the cicada keeps stretching its wings and walking and remembers it was born to fly and sing that annoying song of theirs.

Recovery takes time.  It doesn’t happen in the one or two months we spend in a treatment center.  Those months are the preparation.  They help get us stronger so we can emerge from our shells.  And then we rejoin the real world.  Yes, it is scary.  Yes, it is tempting to retreat back into our shells.  But if you retreat back into the shell, you will never stretch your wings and fly.  You will never feel the breeze on your skin, the pure joy of soaring through the sky.
If you don’t emerge from your shell, you will never know who you were meant to be.  And I promise you that there is someone waiting to emerge from that shell.  It may take time, and as you grow, you will continue to learn more and more about yourself and who you were meant to be.  You will find your place in this world.

Don’t give up.  Give yourself the same patience you would give others.  And leave that shell behind you and fly.

The adult cicada


May 25, 2011 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, faith, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I think it’s a brilliant metaphor. For SO many things in life.

    Comment by Kathryn Leigh | May 25, 2011 | Reply

  2. Alexis, I love the cicada metaphor for eating disorders recovery! That is one of the best descriptions I have ever seen. It requires both honesty and trust which are necessary as you mention in a previous blog.

    I wish all carers of people with eating disorders could read this so when they are feeling alarmed that their loved one is not “all better” after a month or two of treatment they can get a clearer picture of what is going on.

    I’ll definitely be sharing this on my Hope Network biz page on FB so more families can see your hard earned wisdom Alexis.
    Thank you,
    Becky Henry

    Comment by Becky Henry | May 25, 2011 | Reply

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