10 things I learned in my recovery
Updated: Jun 30, 2019
1. Don't let your eating disorder become how you define yourself
While it’s important to be able to admit that something is wrong, it shouldn't be the first on your list when you're describing yourself. You are so much more than “the Bulimic” or “the long term anorexic” Accepting that as your 'master label' from someone else, or, even worse, imposing it on yourself, affects your daily life, your self-esteem and vitally, your belief in your capacity to recover. You are every dream you’ve ever had or are yet to have, every cool thing you’ll ever achieve, every bad joke you'll ever make, every bridge you’ve ever burned and every connection you'll ever make.
2. Accept other people’s help.
There's no two ways about it,eating disorders make us isolate ourselves; they also involve varying degrees of self-disgust and shame. This can lead to us really struggling to cope, along with the “it’s my problem, so I’ll fix it myself” mentality. I can tell you first hand this leads to more isolation, loneliness and arguably, increases how long the process takes (or maybe it just feels that way). If you're lucky enough to find help you trust, use it. If someone offers to help, (even if it's really hard for you) believe that they genuinely want to make your life easier. Appreciate it. Accept it. And remember you will have the opportunity to return the favour when they're struggling-life pretty much guarantees it.
3. If you're struggling, help someone else.
A young student asked the Dalai Lama how to cope with her feelings of hopelessness. He answered that she should help someone going through the same thing. Please note, I am not suggesting for a moment that you should support someone else going through an eating disorder while you're in the early stages of your recovery- because of the nature of the illness, this could be harmful to you and your recovery.
The effect of helping someone going through a hard time, any sort of hard time, can be incredibly powerful: nurturing compassion has some remarkable psychological effects on the self, ( including activation in the areas of the brain associated with love, affiliation and positive emotion); it can help you learn more about other people and yourself, and, importantly, it can help get you out of your own head. I have always volunteered alongside my day job, it's a value I learned from my mum, and it really helped me during my recovery; it not only interrupted the vicious cycle of thoughts, bargaining and other crap for a while, but it also reminded me that I wasn't the only one in the world struggling.
4. Learn to apologise.
Eating disorders make us unreasonable, irritable and sometimes just downright nasty; and the frustration and anger we feel can frequently be thrown at our families and loved ones. There is no shame in learning to apologise. Your loved ones will really appreciate the effort this takes for you to step out of your eating disorder in this way, and they'll definitely respect you for being able to admit that you're in the wrong. I would feel really crappy every time I snapped or shouted or blamed, and apologising helps lift that feeling of guilt.
5. You need to learn to love yourself.
Yes, I know. What the hell does this even mean, really? basically it means confidence in your own worth or abilities; self-respect. I have to say this was a biggie for me, and to a certain extent, still is: It's an ongoing process and probably always will be; Low self-esteem, poor self-value, is a powerful common denominator with most of my clients.
It has been suggested that chronic low self-esteem is the final common pathway through which the many factors that create eating disorders act (1). Whether your low self-esteem precedes the eating disorder or arises from it, it's essential you address it. You're going to be selling yourself short in life, not trusting your ability to recover and thrive, and not living to your full, amazing potential if you don't. You can read one of my previous posts on self-esteem here.
6. Everything telling you what you 'should' look like is crap
Adverts, magazines, social media it can all become a deafening noise in your head telling you repeatedly that you're not ever 'enough'. The diet industry is a slippery beast and uses different language and advertising approaches to try and hold on to its control of the market in response to changes like body positivity ; ultimately, though, it is still spending around $72 billion annually in the US alone (2) (a significant percentage of the economy) to make us feel so insecure and/or inadequate about ourselves that we buy whatever they're selling.
Increasingly studies are showing the damaging effects of social media, especially, it seems Instagram, that gives us more opportunities to directly compare ourselves with celebrities, models etc.
Try not engaging in the comparisons, working on your self-esteem and learning to value how amazing you are, and what you love about your life right now, rather than obsessing about the small details in your life or your body that aren't 'perfect' (whatever that may really be). Celebrate yourself for what you are: unique.
7. You're never going to please everybody
Just like the struggle with low self-esteem, chronic people-pleasing is a huge issue for so many of us with eating disorder wiring. It's exhausting, frustrating, and means you put your own needs and wants right to the bottom of the list, and that can include your recovery.
You need to work on putting your needs on an equal footing with your loved ones, and when it comes to your recovery, putting that very firmly first. It's just simply impossible to be true to yourself and please everybody: as far as I can tell, the only group of people who try to do this routinely are politicians looking for election,and well, need I say more?
8. Just as every good day has it's bad moments, every bad day has it's good moments
You probably don't notice the bad things when you're having a good day- you're too relaxed or too busy enjoying yourself to really pay much attention to the irritating or negative moments. In just the same way, when you're having a bad day , you will miss the good, small moments that may have helped lift you, just a little, and remind you that the struggle really is worth it. Work on recognising them and holding on tight; but when all else fails, sometimes you need to go to bed at 3pm, and that's ok too. Tomorrow will be kinder.
9. Recovery is not, ever, a straight line
It'd be so great if it were : you commit to recovery and know every day will get just that bit better, consistently, until you're done. Unfortunately, know from the outset, it's not going to work that way. Things will get better, they will get worse and then, I promise, they will get better again. Having a really shit day, or having one slip, doesn't mean you're starting again from zero.
10. Remember where you’ve come from and why you don't want to go back
Recovery is a slow process and you can forget just how bloody awful you felt in the depths of your eating disorder: the isolation, the loneliness, the daily panic and the soul-crushing addiction to your routines and rituals. While your still in recovery it's good to remember all this for the times when you're tempted to give in to the noise in your head. If you're struggling at the moment to imagine what life might look like for you in the future, start by keeping in mind how liberating it will feel without all these symptoms of your eating disorder.
Take life one day,one mouthful, one meal, one hour at a time. Don’t spend so much time worrying about where you need to be tomorrow , or how how hard the next bit may be. Always remember- Now It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power (3)
(1) Is chronic low self-esteem the cause of eating disorders?
(2) Research and markets.com. Business Wire
(3) Leo Tolstoy