If I had to describe what recovery is like to someone my first thought would be to use the words, hell, awful, difficult, painful or long. This week I had a pretty rough recovery week. I had surgery on my foot and it’s amazing how quickly something can trigger me into “relapsy” (is that a word?!) thoughts and behavior. The thoughts of needing to compensate for the lack of exercise. The sudden and complete inability to listen to or even feel my hunger and fullness. The almost immediate ideas that I have gained all the weight back and the incessant body checking in any reflect-able surface to fight with myself over if it is true or not. The desire to just want to sleep all day so that I don’t have to fight with myself over food and body image. The truly even darker side of just wanting to give up all together and give in to the eating disorder because fighting one more moment for freedom from it is just too exhausting. I realized after the past few days that the word I would use this week to describe recovery is CHOICES.
Recovery = Choices.
The choice every day, every meal, every bite to eat when it gets hard. The choice to love myself at any size my body throws at me while I recover. The choice to block out all the diet talk that can’t be avoided. The choice to wake up and when that first E.D. thought hits, to slowly fight it off, as well as the next one, and the next one and even the next on after that until it’s time to go to bed again.
Making these choices seems easy to someone who has never struggled with an eating disorder. They say things like, just eat! Eat the burger! You’re not fat! Why would you want to end your life over your body size? That’s crazy! Ummm you just had surgery, not working out for a month or so is not the end of the world. What they don’t get is that it is a very long, very exhausting war that eventually you just want to stop fighting every once in a while. Oh and by the way, the other side of the war doesn’t just retreat or give up, it truly takes a fight to take it down.
Imagine waking up and from the moment your mind kicks into gear you are bombarded with thoughts of how gross you are, how it will never get better, how you have worked so hard but feel stuck and whether or not you should eat breakfast or put it off for an hour because that would make the thoughts stop for like fifteen minutes. You are hyper aware of every bite you are taking and your mind just starts counting and counting calories to make sure you are safe and ok to eat. It SUUUUUCKSSSS!
Whats crazy is only doing the opposite really is what gets you out of it. Not eating, counting, stressing, body checking, exercising, just feeds the eating disorder. Eating, resting, challenging the thoughts are what get you out of it. The hard part is making the draining choice when the thoughts are overwhelming to actually DO the eating, resting and thought work that it takes. In my five years of recovering I KNOW this to be true. Now, it takes a few days of making the right choices in order for the eating disorder to retreat and for me to feel normal again. Thankfully it is just a few days. There were times in my recovery that it took a straight year of therapy multiple times a week to get the eating disorder to even consider taking a hike.
I can’t believe at my worst this is how I lived every single day. I’m so grateful to God and my team for getting me to the point where weeks like this come a couple times a year and not all the time like they use to. I’m grateful for CBT and DBT skills that help remind me of my values and get my anxiety to CALM THE F DOWN. I’m blessed to have friends and family that support me and help me make choices that walk me back down the road of freedom instead of the ones that keep me stuck. Even yesterday I called me sister, listed what I ate that day and she said, NOT ENOUGH. It helps keep me on track.
Feeling this “relapsy” thankfully has become so rare that when it hits me it actually scares me a little bit. Is it possible I could dive right back down this road that easily? It feels like home sometimes because I was anorexic for so long. It would just be so easy to give up the fight and go full in on my eating disorder. I mean, I would be thin again, in control again, would feel better about myself again.... Then God steps in and reminds me where the anorexia road leads. Not thinness and control, but insecurity, failing organs and heart, my osteopenia will turn into full fledge osteoporosis. Obsessive thoughts, idolizing my size, my worth will be shallow again, and honestly death. Anorexia leads to death. Whether it be from my body shutting down or the thoughts being so much that suicide happens.
Making the CHOICE to eat, to challenge the thoughts, to rest, do self care and remember who GOD says I am not my eating disorder, leads down the road of compassion, health, joy, laughter, food freedom, confidence, and true WORTH.
So today, even though it took me a bit, and I had to spend about 20 minutes praying myself into doing it, I made the choice to get out of bed. Then I made the choice to put on clothes and makeup that would make me feel good about myself. Then I made the choice to eat breakfast even though it was four hours late and my eating disorder said it was a bad idea. After that I made the choice to not work out today because it would just feed the obsessiveness. I then made the choice to eat a cookie, a big F U to my ED. I then made the choice to reach out to a friend and tell her I was hurting, which helped because she was encouraging and gave me a boost to make the next right choice, which was to make plans to get out of the house and not be alone with my ED thoughts. My next good choice was to challenge my thoughts and see if there was any other reason I was feeling anxious or gross that would make my eating disorder believe starving would be the correct way to deal with it. I found those problems and realized healthier ways to deal with them. I then made the choice to write this blog. I had another one lined up for this Saturday, but sharing how my journey really twists and turns I think is more important then 5 ways to tell Aunt Mary to take a hike when she asks if you’ve gained weight.
I know that within a week of making all these right choices I will be feeling like a bad a$$ recovery warrior again. It will be draining, but God’s mercies are new every morning. Oh, speaking of, I can’t forget to mention how much more I try and spend time with God during these times too. Never forget, “He will fight for you, you need only be still.” Sometimes I just sit there and say, “God, I don’t want to eat this breakfast. I just DON’T. WANT. TO. EAT. THIS. BREAKFAST!! Help me eat this breakfast...,” and He does. He helps me remember all the things I learned at treatment and all the things He has taught me about His love for me and all the things that give me worth and I eat and soak in His encouragement and the counting and the shame slowly starts to give way to feeling firm in recovery again.
If someone you know is recovering (even if it has been for five years already like me) just know that every day they are making hundreds of little choices each hour and sometimes bite to bite in order to be free from their eating disorder. This gets draining. Take care of them. Encourage them. Let them know how amazing they are, even if you have said it to them for four years, they may need it for five or more. Fighting an eating disorder is depleting and we need your support. Pray with them. Pray for them. Don’t talk about dieting around them. Be the person that EATS with them. Cherish them for everything about them. If they have been going strong and something triggers a little “relapsy” behavior, be gentle with them. They are fighting a mental battle of epic proportions and need every bit of energy they can to get out of it.
If you are recovering and having a “relapsy” time. Take it slow and take every single choice one at a time. They will all add up and lead you down the road to freedom. I know this because I live this. I’m praying for each and every one of you. Hey, will you pray for me too?!?!?! I’m about to go eat lunch like a boss and if a number even THINKS about creeping into my head I’m going to tell it off in a way that might not be the BEST choice but the right one :)