I think it is important to acknowledge the truth of recovery. My fear in writing this blog is that it might scare someone out of recovering. On the other hand, it might help someone feel less alone and relate to me about recovery. Either way, PLEASE, if you choose to read this blog, read it all the way to the end. The reasons why recovery is worth it FAR surpass the reasons why it is hard. Sometimes the hardest trials make us the strongest.
To those who are struggling with an eating disorder...
To those who are deciding whether or not to recover...
To those who are recovering and want to quit...
Here are ten reasons why recovery is hard....and then TWENTY reasons why you should do it anyway!
Why it's hard...
10. Weight Gain. It's unavoidable. In anorexia recovery, we gain weight. Sometimes a lot of weight. Sometimes so much weight that we overshoot our normal weight until our body feels safe to go back. The weight gain is hard. It's feel bad. It causes insecurity. It causes shame. It's hard to find clothes. It's gained in random places so we feel like we have a weird shape. We live in a society that truly is anti-weight gain. Being overweight is shunned. It makes us want to hide until we recover. It's the worst.
9. Diet Culture. From keto to whole thirty. From organic to anti-sugar. From weight watchers to now an app for weight watchers kids. It is everywhere. Every January there is a new one. They always fail. Almost everyone is on a diet or has an opinion about food. Foods are labeled good and bad. It is annoying AF. There are rules about everything. It is so hard to live in freedom in a culture that finds pride in weight loss and restriction. We are up against a multi-billion dollar diet industry. It ain't easy. You can't turn on your TV, have a conversation or go on social media without someone telling you to go on a diet, how they are losing weight or that now carrots are bad because it's a carb. It's totally insane, and also totally hard to recover around.
8. You Get Sick. Re-feeding and healing doesn't feel good. Constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, muscle pain, bone pain, night sweats, extreme fatigue, edema, scary edema, swelling, chills, aches, heart burn, anxiety attacks, migraines, hormonal changes and more, the body while it recovers does NOT feel good. It is actually scary at times. It seems like it will never get better. It takes a lot of rest and eating for it to pass.
7. The ED Voice Doesn't Just Go Away. Your body might be healing and gaining, but your mind is a whole different ball game. ED will throw insult after insult at you about your new body, lack of exercise and new food choices. It is exhausting to battle and it often feels like one step forward and then two steps back a lot of the time. Over time you learn coping skills to deal with ED, but dang it if that little voice doesn't sneak up and smack you down at times. Gaining weight with a voice in your head that hates you is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, skills and hard work to sit ED in the corner and keep him there.
6. Loss Of Our Best Coping Skill. (Notice I didn't say our healthiest coping skill). Eating disorders are coping skills. Controlling what we eat, our calories, the number on the scale, how much we exercise is the way we cope with pain, disappointments, abuse, hurts, anxiety, stress, emotions, you name it. Someone said something rude? I can concentrate on counting, not the hurt from the words. You didn't get the test result you wanted? Just run the stress off until you don't feel it anymore. It's hard to let this coping skill go for ones that don't seem to feel as good. BUT you know you have to because this coping skill will kill you eventually, your health and life depends on it. So we try to let it go, and when we do we are faced with all the pain we had before with no new way to cope. Thank God for therapy, faith and support.
5. People Are Rude. "Are you expecting?" When your belly is big from re-feeding. "You know sugar will ruin your metabolism!" When you are challenging your ED by eating a dessert and following your meal plan. "Well, as long as you are losing weight," when you are trying to practice body acceptance. "You look so much better!" When you gain weight or even when you start to lose the overshoot weight. "I'm doing keto, I feel so much better!" When you are fighting the urge to restrict and even know deep down keto is garbage. People have opinions and seem to have no ability to keep them to themselves.
4. The Feeling You Have Lost Your Worth And Value. The one thing we felt we were perfect at was counting calories, or being perfectly fit, or never eating a carb, or maintaining the perfect weight. We took pride in the discipline because we didn't feel worth in anything else. When we enter recovery we felt completely lost. Who am I? Will people like me? Do I have anything to offer other then a perfect body. I can no longer hide myself in this ED or cope with everything through restriction. What do I do with all this anxiety? Who am I?
3. It Takes Insane Willpower And A Lot Of Faith. Recovery is HARD. Maybe the hardest thing you will ever do. I know it's the hardest thing I've ever done! It takes making the next right choice sometimes 30 times a day, every day, for months and years on end to get there. For me, it takes faith in God and healing because on my own I know I will and have relapsed. It takes choosing to eat the burger when everyone else is getting the salad. It's choosing to have your third snack when everyone else says they are SO full. It takes resting when everyone else wants to go on an adventure. It takes putting on the dang bathing suit when everyone else says this body shouldn't be seen in one. It takes trusting the process even when it doesn't seem like it will ever get better. It's HARD.
2. Lack Of Support/Isolation. You find out who your real friends are when you go to recover. Who will hang when you no longer want to work out every day, or talk about the new diet. Who will sit with you as you cry over the weight gain and the complete and total feeling of being lost? Who will check in on you when you have those suicidal thoughts of hopelessness. How will you go to the wedding now XXlbs heavier and look people in the face? How can we go to a party when we feel disgusting and get triggered everywhere we turn? Where are those family members that you cared about when they went through their trial? Recovery can be isolating. Is there anyone that has gone through this before? Anyone I can relate to or talk to?
1. It's Expensive. Treatment costs what?! Insurance doesn't cover it because why? You only will give me 10 therapy appointments and a dietician that doesn't understand or treat eating disorders? The best doctor is $400 an hour and still has not idea what they are talking about? My medication bill is how much? I make too much to get the sliding scale? Recovery isn't cheap, and that is utterly unbelievable.
Yes, the ten things I listed above are pretty true, and if you have ever recovered from anorexia or an eating disorder my guess is you have thought all of them. BUT, even though recovery is hard, it IS worth it. So here are TWENTY reasons why!
20. You Live! Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness. Every 62 minutes someone dies as a direct result of their eating disorder. Anorexia can and will kill you. If you recover, you LIVE! It's that simple! Life is worth living! Look around! Look at the beauty of this earth! You have worth, you have value, you are loved! You choose to recover so you can live! Don't let ED or your brain tell you otherwise (and I KNOW he does). Recover so you can have that relationship, that baby, that career, that goal accomplished. It's worth it!
19. You Find Your Worth Again. Yes, one of the hardest things about recovery is losing your worth, but, one of the best things about recovery is finding it again, and finding it in something that is SO much more rewarding. I use to only find my worth in what I looked like, the number on the scale, the calories I counted and the controlled diet I was on. I lost all of that in recovery. But I gained a deeper understanding of my worth instead. I'm a wife, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend worth having and a child of God. I have talent and skill that not everyone has. I have unique sense of humor that is fun to be around. I love a glass of wine with a friend and I can take pride in renovating my home. I know who I am in Gods eyes and what I bring to the table with him behind me. I'm so much more then my looks and what I eat and my BMI. I'm compassionate, generous, fun, empathetic, feisty, creative, sassy, a woman of God. I use to just say I'm pretty and fit and can run a lot.
18.You Are More Fun To Be Around. Ok, I'll admit, during recovery there ARE times that I'm not fun to be around. I can get very depressed. I now have all these emotions that are no longer suppressed that come out. You may have actual hormonal mood swings because your body works again. That's not necessarily fun, BUT the people who know me say I laugh freely now, I'm more present, I break actual bread with them, I'm less anxious, I'm more empathetic and can truly connect with them now.
17. You No Longer Have To Exercise Non-Stop! I went from running 6 miles a day then going to the gym, to working out a couple times a week IF I FEEL LIKE IT. Let that sink in. If I feel like it! That's so nice! I no longer feel the need to work off what I eat or the stress of staring at my watch making sure I hit the invisible goal I had to accomplish. I don't have to have anxiety over burning off my calories or feeling like the only way to deal with stress is to beat up my body endlessly. I can go on vacation without having to exercise every day and can come back from vacation not giving a crap if I ate a little more then usual. If I'm sore I get to rest and if I feel like moving I do. Do I still struggle with trusting my weight will go back to normal, yes! But, I don't feel like the only way to achieve that is to kill myself in the gym.
16. Your brain has more room to think and be creative because it isn't acting like a human calculator every minute counting calories. Seriously! There is SO much more to think about, ponder, and use our brains for then adding up and subtracting the energy we eat and burn? It's fabulous!
15. You get your sex drive back! Ok, this one is a bit TMI, but anyone with an eating disorder knows that you can't be truly vulnerable and intimate when you hate your body, are starving and have a voice telling you all dang day that you are a piece of garbage. Also, a lot of times we lose the hormones that would even allow us to get there and when you recover those hormones work again!
14. There is something freeing about learning to not give a care if someone likes or doesn't like how you look. You learn that you go to the beach to feel your feet in the sand, not for the viewing pleasure of everyone around you. The pressure is OFF, and it feels so good!
13. You get to eat! No seriously...this one is amazing. It takes time, it isn't easy, but when you get there you truly have the freedom to EAT FOOD! You taste it and enjoy it and you don't feel shame about it! You know those people you use to stare at with envy thinking "how can they eat that and not feel bad?" That person will be you! It's great!
12. Your body will work right again. The constipation, the aches and pains, the blacking out, the lack of sleep. It heals! Your body can sleep because it was fed. It can get strong because it's been fed. It can move food through it's system and absorb it normally because it no longer is like a dried up sponge working overtime to function correctly.
11. You can have a normal body temperature. You no longer have to be the frail one in 90 degree weather wearing a giant sweater. You can actually feel warmth and your hands will actually be able to move without feeling painful and rigid from how cold and brittle they are.
10. You can finally be authentic. Lets be honest. There is a certain amount of lying/secrecy that comes along with being anorexic. There is a sneakiness. When you recover, you no longer need to be that way. You are free to be yourself. You can be honest about what you eat and there isn't this weird hiding game to be played anymore.
9. You can finally stop wearing your ugly watch with all your amazing outfits! Ya I said it. Fitbits, apple watches, garmens...they are ugly and controlling. Since we don't feel the need to count calories, steps or close circles we are free to wear cute bracelets instead of giant watches that count our mileage and heart rates every second! You no longer have to check the contraption on your wrist for validation or worth. You just walk, and when you are tired, you stop walking!
8. You can enjoy meals with family and friends or maybe even a date! There is truth behind the idea that breaking bread with people brings us closer and allows us to connect! When you are anorexic meal time is a WAR ZONE and there is no ability to be present, engage in convo or even enjoy your moms delicious chicken parmesan. When you recover you can sit down at a meal with people and actually agree when they say this tastes amazing!
7. You can go to the bathroom without weight checking! Wouldn't it be amazing to go into a bathroom and not stand on a scale 30 times a day? You can just walk in, pee, wash your hands and walk out! When I was anorexic I would even step on scales in other peoples homes. It was crazy. Now The bathroom is a place to do what you do in a bathroom...sit on the toilet and scroll social media. It is no longer a place that will make or break your mood for the next hour.
6. The comparison game has been CANCELLED! As you recover you no longer feel the need to compare yourself with literally every single body you see, or meal someone else is eating, including children. I legit compared my plate to my nephews once. WTH?! You eat for yourself. You dress in what you like. You accept your weight. They look how they look, and you look how you look. Wouldn't that be nice?!
5. You can finally cope with the crap that life/people throw at you in healthy ways. When your family member is a class A d-bag you don't go home and restrict dinner, you stand confident and tell them to kindly take a hike. When something triggers your anxiety you learn to use a thought log or the stop method to calm down instead of punishing your beautiful and wonderfully made body through restriction.
4. You finally get to feel all the feels. When you first recover the emotions you feel are super overwhelming. Who knew a person could cry so much?! It's hard to feel anger, insecurity, sadness and pain again. After all, didn't we use our anorexia to numb out those feelings? But guess what? Now we get to feel joy, happiness, contentment and confidence. Feelings that our ED would NEVER allow.
3. You can actually go on vacation and enjoy the culture, food and REST! I kid you not, when I was anorexic I went to Italy for TWO WEEKS and I ate pasta ONCE! WTH?!?! Literally my eating disorder would only allow me to eat salad, plain chicken or fish and if I ate anything other then that you know I had to run. Which also was ridiculous. I was in Ireland once, literally running down one lane roads with big trucks flying by almost killing me. For what?! Recovery means eating pasta in Italy, going somewhere and resting, not fitting in a work out.
2. Your body is not longer your worst enemy. Instead of fighting against it, you learn to take care of it. It's the only body you are ever going to get and it's time to love it, nourish it, protect it. You learn to eat when it tells you it is needing some more energy. You learn to rest when it is telling you it is sore from yesterdays exercise. You learn that sometimes it just wants a donut and then the next day it's craving vegetables and both are ok because nothing crazy happened.
1. Because you deserve recovery. No one, and I mean NO ONE deserves to live in the hell that is anorexia. I have been there and I am fighting my way out of there. It is isolating, painful, scary and a living prison of numbers, anxiety, control and fear. We were made for SO much more then that. We should live lives full of joy, passion, faith, relationship, emotion, change, excitement and peace. These things are not fully possible when all our body can do is try to survive. There is so much more out there to do and it's time to do it.
How about one more for funsies? As a person of faith, you grow SO much closer to God and you are able to truly find your worth in His love for you. You learn to depend on Him in the lowest, even suicidal moments. You are able to see the purpose He has for you and know that it isn't to count calories, exercise and be the fittest, more beautiful person on the planet. You learn that when people disappoint you God still cherishes you and calls you His own. You learn that you can give all the control up to Him and you can lean into His word and promises when something bad happens. You learn to trust His promises and see yourself through His eyes. Your relationship grows in ways you never could have imagined you learn to actually believe He created you and you are good enough!
RECOVER! DO IT!
Recovery for me has been REALLY hard. Those first ten things that I listed I have felt and gone through myself and even still feel them a lot of the time. Recovery is scary, painful, long and 100% worth it. I am not fully recovered, but as I have healed I have seen glimpses of all 20 of the things I listed for why recovery is worth it. I've had moments of eating freely with family. I have traveled and not cared where the gym in the hotel is located. I have exercised because it felt good and not exercised because I just didn't want to that day. I have loved not being controlled by my watch and I have felt empowered by standing up for myself when needed instead of retreating and restricting.
Those 20 reasons why recovery is worth it are things that I never imagined would be true for me. But slowly they ARE becoming true. It has taken time. A lot of therapy. A lot of long talks/arguments with God, but I'm getting there and it feels really good when I get those small tastes of freedom. I know in time I will be fully recovered and man does this list give me motivation to get there. I hope it does for you too!
Let's eat the pasta in Italy. Let's be strong and not brittle. Let's find purpose. Let's be passionate and creative and feel all of the things. Let's laugh at the dinner table and eat the funnel cake. Lets let our bodies heal and our minds be free!
Let's RECOVER!! It's WORTH IT!
- Sara -