Mental Health

Recovery Is Not Pretty

Disclaimer: This post is about my eating disorder relapse; please do not read if this will trigger you. I have tried to avoid detailed descriptions of behaviours, but I know from personal experience anything can reinforce those beliefs. Please read at your caution—18+ only.

There’s a quote by a poet I like which says “I don’t know how to talk about the rabbit hole without accidentally inviting you to join me.” Writing about my eating disorder feels extremely dangerous. I don’t want to influence anyone else in that way. But I’m deathly aware of how easy it is to take something out of context and apply it to yourself. So I beg you if this will trigger you if food or body image is a sensitive topic if you are vulnerable or struggling today please leave this for a better time. This is my perspective on my experience. It is warped because of my disordered mind, not because I believe these things as a blanket statement.

There’s a little thing called recovery that follows me every day. Whether I’m doing well or not, I’m thinking about healing. Am I doing enough, is it my fault, or is it even possible?

Recovery is spoken about in the eating disorder community as something very black and white. You’re either recovered or not. The reality is quite different. I have to continually check in with myself that I’m still working on my recovery. Recovery is not the story of the very hungry caterpillar. It is not a matter of eating until you flourish into something beautiful. It is a gruelling transformation with many tears shed. That’s not to say it can’t become beautiful.

I have gone through so many phases in my eating disorder of presumed recovery. Moments where I’m eating what I want when I want with minimal rules. It looks healthy to everyone else; inside my mind, there’s so many thoughts and feelings bombarding me. With the freedom I’ve gained during the last year turning eighteen, not being bed-bound anymore and feeling well in my body many of my disordered behaviours have resurfaced. When I was bed-bound, I didn’t have the energy to engage in those things, so it was almost a forced recovery. My mind was a mess, but I had to eat for myself and others. Regaining independence, such as cooking for myself and spending a lot of time alone, has been fun but scary. There are far more opportunities for me to engage in those things now and I have. This relapse is significant. I’m struggling to be reasonable and healthy. I don’t feel bad, I’m not worried and I don’t want to change. But the healthy side of me is so scared of falling so far down this hole I can’t get out again. As much as I convince myself this helps me have control, there is a clear contradiction. I never chose to have an eating disorder – so I didn’t control that. I am harassed by these thoughts and feelings everyday that I can’t drown out – so I don’t control those. The more I engage in these behaviours the more addicted I get – another thing out of my control. My perception of this struggle has been warped by the struggle itself. What others see as painful and heart breaking, I perceive as a necessary process which is rewarding and euphoric. If it was somebody else I would feel heartbroken watching this happen. But I am so disconnected from myself that it doesn’t hurt anymore. Instead it makes me feel dirty to admit that I like this. I don’t know how I will ever reach true recovery when being this way is working for me.

A friend of mine Alice made which said “first it hurts, then it changes you” about her experience with recovery. And the former lawyer turned spiritualist Robin Sharma once said. Yes, your transformation will be hard. Yes, you will feel frightened, messed up and knocked down. Yes, you’ll want to stop. Yes, it’s the best work you’ll ever do.” And the author Victoria Erickson who wrote The Edge Of Wonder said “Transformation isn’t sweet and bright. It’s a dark and murky, painful pushing. An unraveling of the untruths you’ve carried in your body. A practice in facing your own created demons. A complete uprooting, before becoming.” My whole life has been a road of painful transformations. I’ve had to forgive myself for ending up at square one again, repeating the same transformation and going at the pace of a slug. No matter how much wisdom I have gathered I am still capable of falling into old habits.

After being bedbound for four years, becoming myself again was one of the strangest experiences of my life. I was expecting to be the old me, but I was an adult now not a child. The me that once existed although fun was far behind me. This path was not about finding myself but becoming who I am.

When you are consumed by how sick you are, whether it’s physically or mentally, you lose yourself all you see is your suffering. It’s hard to see anything else. Being sick becomes comfortable and the prospect of getting well is so daunting. The work that has to be done to recover was so painful with so many downfalls ahead that it seemed less painful to have nothing than to get things I could lose once more.

Within those positive transformations after my period of being bedbound, I also fell into my disordered eating. Despite all of the positivity coming at me, I felt an extreme level of uncertainty which horrified me as a control freak. As usual, I resorted to my body and food as means of control. Recovery is more than weight restoration. It’s about recovering healthy views, habits and thoughts. Not all eating disorders cause weight loss. For me, the way I’ve abused my body there’s never any noticeable difference in my weight because I flip between restricting and purging.

My self destruction makes me euphoric. It’s the only pain I’ve ever chosen and had control over. It’s the only way I’m able to control the prison of my body.

But these labels control, eating disorder, and whatever else are a means of distancing myself from the reality of this. Recovery is a label distancing myself from the suffering I face. Though I have had periods of recovery, those have not been pain free. The act of trying to heal and facing those new challenges is more painful than having an eating disorder will ever be. Every time I eat certain meals I cry. For days after I hate myself. I want the world to swallow me alive. My experiences of trying to heal have been scarier than anything I’ve ever known. Believing there is a possibility of things being good and remaining that way seems impossible when your experiences have made you so unsure of the world and yourself.

This journey is bleak. I have some hope, on some days. I doubt myself everyday. I still cry over my pain. I panic everytime my body feels different. Then I remember the meals I’ve shared with my family as we laugh, or the days out I have not let lunch ruin. The happiness flows through my mind pushing me to continue to heal despite the pain that appears alongside my healing. There will always be pain. But it doesn’t discount those moments I’m able to be free.

I’m grateful for the healthy part of myself who sees the potential. And I care so much about nurturing the unhealthy part of me until it becomes whole again. I’m not sure how but I’m starting from square one. Treating this body and mind the same way I would a child in my care. Giving it time, space and accommodating to its needs. Teaching it to be itself. Teaching it skills. Teaching it that it’s okay to ask for help. I want to feel worthy enough as a whole human that the pain is no longer something I find pleasure in but something I choose to treat in every area of my life. I deserve to care for myself enough that I don’t destroy me.

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