The Curse Word of Recovery.
There is one word that has been the BANE of my recovery existence. To me this word is worse than most of the four letter words we KNOW we shouldn’t say. When I hear this word I cringe. It brings every bad emotion out in me. When I hear it my palms start sweating, my heart starts racing, I can literally feel my eyes roll ALL OF THE WAY back into my head.
What word is this you might ask?
Drum roll please...........
Can I get an AMEN from my fellow recoverers??? I KNOW you know what I’m talking about!
Ok, for real though.
Why do I hate this word?
Well, to start, acceptance in recovery means accepting what we believe to be the unacceptable. (Did that just make sense?) It means accepting weight gain, swelling, eating food through tears, the idea that we have NO control over what our body is doing or how long it will take to do it.
Acceptance is scary.
I’ll never forget the first time my therapist tried to talk to me about accepting my body where it was at (which at the time was pushing my one hundred pound recovery weight gain). I honestly didn’t know whether to cry, laugh or just straight slap her for asking me to consider such an abhorrent idea as to accept myself at this monstrous, telletubie weight. To me, it was UNACCEPTABLE. Also, for most of society that type of weight gain is unacceptable so it’s kind of rude to suggest I just be cool with it right?
Since that first ridiculous time I was asked to consider accepting myself, I have learned a lot about what acceptance does and does not mean. I DO truly get it at this point in my treatment/recovery. However, it’s VERY hard work and I’m honestly not sure I agree with 100% of it.
On the one hand, I completely understand why acceptance is important. I truly need to accept where my body is at during the recovery process because I need to live life! At the beginning of treatment I kid you not, I would BARELY leave my house. I didn’t want to see or be seen. I wouldn’t go on vacations. I wouldn’t go to family weddings. I truly wouldn’t do anything unless it had to do with work and church. I shut myself off out of disgust for how I looked and the weight I was rapidly putting on. (There was also crippling anxiety and depression and swelling, but you know!) Accepting where my body is at in recovery allows me to have the strength I need to get out of the house and participate in life, even if my body is not where I want it to be YET. This IS truly important in recovery and I get why therapists push it so much. It’s just REALLY REALLY REALLY hard. Most anorexics have a sense of perfectionism in them to begin with. I definitely do! So to accept something that is less then where we want to be feels like a straight up sin.
It takes a lot of hard work to figure out how to practice acceptance in recovery. The good news however is that when acceptance is accomplished, freedom ensues.
For example, I was visiting my brother and sister-in-law in VA Beach. It was a bazillion degrees out, we were at an amazing lake, music was on, margaritas in hand, and my butt was sitting in a beach chair with a cover up on afraid to move because of my body image and well.....bathing suits. Everyone was in the water having and absolute blast and I’m sitting there sweating, anxious and wishing I could just be thin again.
Well, I certainly wasn’t going to lose my overshoot weight in the following 30 seconds or even 30 days. My choices were to stay in the seat, alone, with a hot cover up on, or accept where my body is, get up, expose my new beach body, walk quickly into the water and live life. After a short prayer and reminding myself that everyone knows I’m recovering and deciding it just is what it is, I got up, took off my cover up and got in the dang water....WITH my margarita of course. I had SO much fun! It felt so good to be in the water. I laughed and swam and it was wonderful! Without acceptance I would have NEVER done that.
Acceptance = Freedom
Accepting where you are at in recovery also helps with anxiety and depression. It allows us to be present in the moment instead of wishing we were back to normal or wishing we never started recovery to begin with. Recovery takes a long time and the body gains weight and it doesn’t do all this the time frame we want. Not EVEN CLOSE. So accepting each day as it is allows us to put in the work we need to and calm the heck down about it.
Now, another major thing I learned was acceptance does not mean I am ok with it, like it or must stop wanting it to change. That is where I got VERY stuck in the beginning of my acceptance journey. I thought accepting something meant that you thought it was totally fine and didn’t need to change at all. So I could never accept my recovering body because it was WAY far away from where I thought I should be. I just simply couldn’t understand how to accept something I hated and wanted to change so badly. If I don't like a paint color, I simply change it. If I don't like my recovering body, tough luck, this is where it is right now. That is a hard pill so swallow.
What I realized is simply that it means getting through the day, and even though I want it to change and am doing everything in my power to achieve that goal, I am where I am today and I still deserve to love myself and live a fulfilling life even if I’m not done yet.
One definition of acceptance is “the willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation.” Ummmm, last I checked, recovery is a difficult and unpleasant situation haha! It doesn’t say we have to love it, it’s that we tolerate it. We tolerate where we are at in recovery so we can swim with our friends and go on vacation. We accept so we can see a friend get married and make it through class the next day. We are willing because the other option is to sit at home with anxiety. We don’t do this because we love our bodies and gaining and overshooting is wow a really great feeling, (sarcasm), but we accept and tolerate them as they heal because it’s truly hard to love them in recovery!
Now, here is where the rubber meets the road for me, and I would LOVE any of your thoughts on this subject as well. I’m cool with being wrong or corrected! There is this idea with a LOT of treatment professionals that we have to FULLY accept where we are at and not care if it ever changes. To them this is TRUE recovery. It is TRUE body acceptance. This is the ONLY way your body will chill out and go back to normal. I find this to be unrealistic and untrue.
Recently I worked with a dietician (who I have since fired), who kind of set this defeating tone of acceptance with me. It actually onset more anxiety attacks and depression. It gave me the feeling of hopelessness. It’s one thing to accept where I am at right now but still have hope that my body will return to a normal weight and happy place. It’s an entirely OTHER thing to say well, we just don’t know what it will do so we will just have to be fine with this forever. WHAT?! I didn't recover to be in a body that went from one extreme to the other. I recovered to gain health and normalcy!
I also find that if HAES (Health At Every Size) professionals make me feel as if I am fat-phobic for wanting to lose my overshoot weight and not accepting myself “fully” at the weight I am at during overshoot. I think this is such an unfair assessment. I don’t judge anyone on their weight. I for one know that not all weight loss is good and not all weight gain is bad. Bigger bodies can in fact be healthy and many people live in bodies that are the way they are because of health issues or trauma. Just because I accept my body today, but I still want my body to be at a place that feels comfortable and like it is my own again, does not mean I’m fat-phobic. It means I want to be comfortable in my own body. I want to feel healthy in my own body. It has nothing to do with another persons journey or body. If you take away my ability to hope for full healing and weight restoration then that doesn’t feel like acceptance to me, that feels like straight giving up and that’s just not an option for me.
Yes, I need to learn to love and accept myself at any size my body is because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made and am also just straight awesome! (haha) But, I am also allowed to desire for my body to be in a place that feels more comfortable for me. I don’t think that means I’m not accepting, I just think it mean I have a goal and I hope to get there whilst accepting where I am at this moment. Does this make sense?! Am I rambling?!?!
Look, I’m not asking my dietician to look into a crystal ball and tell that my body will heal on a certain date and I will be back to my set point by this certain minute, BUT I am asking my dietician to help me get there while I practice accepting where I am at at the moment. Make sense? I cried once to my dietician saying if I was never anorexic this would have never happened. She said, “Well we don’t know that. We need to accept that we don’t have any control over where our body lands when we nourish it correctly” UMMMMMM what?! Look, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I do need to figure this out, but to me that was crazy talk. I can pretty much guarantee you that if I wasn’t anorexic my body would not currently be where it is at right now. This is just basic cause and effect. Telling me to accept that idea made and still makes no sense to me and left me with a sense of hopelessness for a while. Am I wrong? Can you explain it better to me?!
The other question is do we have to FULLY accept (as in not want our bodies to change) in order for full recovery to happen? There are a lot of opinions on this. I know for me that when my mind wasn’t on my weight and I was just living life, my body truly started to drop the overshoot weight. I also know that it’s basically impossible not to think about it because our bodies feel uncomfortable and foreign. Plus that idea completely leaves out other things like hormones, healing, intake etc. So I guess my answer is....kind of? I know, lame answer. I do truly get the idea. If we accept where we are then we just live life! Our bodies and ED’s don’t consume us. However, if feels like giving up hope that we will ever return to our “normal” place and that doesn’t seem right either.
Well, I’m hoping in the blog you all picked up what I was putting down.
Basically my thoughts are...
Acceptance is HARD. It is a very difficult idea to tackle in recovery and takes a lot of work. When someone brings it up to me I have a visceral reaction. I don’t even like to say the word in my support group because we all just want to cough and roll our eyes, even if it is needed.
Acceptance does not mean you like it and never want it to change. It means that you accept where you are at today, this moment.
Acceptance leads to an amount of freedom! When you accept where you are you live life. You aren’t held back because of body image or the number on the scale.
Just because you want your body to go back to a place you feel comfortable (as long as it is without restriction and/or ED behavior) I don’t think you are being fat-phobic.
I think acceptance is necessary to get through recovery and even for the body to feel safe to heal and let go, but I don’t think it is as black and white as some treatment centers want to say it is. (Then again, what do I know...I’m the one recovering and not the professional so maybe I’ll change my mind on this haha)
All in all, try to accept yourself where you are at in recovery today. Get to a place where although you still want it to change, you are able to live as freely as possible in the body you have right now. There are so many great things that can be missed out on because of our inability to accept where recovery takes us.
I know that most days I hope and pray that my hard work in recovery helps my body to heal and return back to a weight that I feel comfortable at and is also healthy. (For the record, I’m currently healthy. My blood work is pretty much the best it’s ever been). I do desire to lose more of my overshoot weight. I don’t feel fully comfortable in my body yet. However, most of the time I do accept that where I am at is where I am at, therefore I will get on stage and play keys in front of hundreds of people. I will put on my bathing suit and swim in the lake with my family. I will strut down the aisle at my sisters wedding in a dress I am tolerating. I will go on vacation and make friends and try to live life, because I don’t want it to pass me by because my current weight isn’t where I want to be.
THAT is the acceptance I’m cool with. THAT is the acceptance I can handle and talk about and doesn’t make me want to open palm slap a person :)
Wishing you all a little more acceptance this week. I know it’s hard. I truly do.
We got this! Keep going!