When I first entered recovery, I thought it would take maybe six or seven months — a year at most. I knew it would be difficult, but I had no way of knowing how extremely grueling, exhausting and overwhelming the process would be. Now, almost six years into my recovery, my life is no longer overtaken by an eating disorder. I go out with my friends, complete my schoolwork, have great relationships with my family members and make decisions based on what I want to do, not what a disordered voice tells me.
I thought at this point in my recovery everything would be OK. That I wouldn’t ever hear that terrible voice in my ear, encouraging me to engage in behaviors or make decisions I knew were not beneficial to my well being. The harsh reality of recovery is that everything doesn’t just become “OK.”
While I no longer engage in behaviors, other aspects of my recovery have remained a struggle. I still spend a significant amount of time and energy thinking about food — when I’m going to eat, what I’m going to eat, if I’m eating too much, if I’m not eating enough, if I’m eating too late at night, if I’m eating too clean, if I’m not eating clean enough — and frankly it’s exhausting. I still have days and weeks when looking in the mirror at myself makes me cry, and I promise myself I’ll restrict the next day.
Despite these struggles (and many others), the amazing thing about being this far into recovery is that the next morning I don’t restrict. There are days when I eat whatever I want and don’t think twice. I say yes to ice cream with a friend and don’t count the calories. I look in the mirror and smile because I love my body and all the experiences it allows me to have. Six years ago, these experiences would not have been possible.
As a perfectionist, it’s so easy for me to get caught up in all the “supposed to’s” of recovery. As far as I know there isn’t a list of specific requisites for being in the sixth year of recovery, so in reality I know that most of the expectations I set for myself are unrealistic, and at times, downright silly.
Lately one of my teachers has been stressing the importance of being where you are and appreciating the present, as opposed to getting stuck in the past or anxiously anticipating the future. This certainly rings true in my recovery as well. Positive change is not always linear, and acknowledging that is so important to continuing in the best direction for myself. It is imperative for me to remember I have come so far, and even more, that ups and downs are a part of life, period. Recovering or not, everyone has darker times and more joyful times.
Now I know that recovering from my eating disorder will not happen overnight, it absolutely will not be easy in any sense and there will be times when I feel as if I am never getting better. That being said, I also now know that recovery is the best, albeit hardest, thing I will ever do for myself, and it will bring me far more joy and life than hardship. Six years ago I never could’ve imagined I would go weeks without counting calories and think nothing of it, or cancel a workout because my body wasn’t feeling it (and not spend days punishing myself for it), or overeat and not force myself to purge afterwards.
Ask anyone who knew me while I was in the dark depths of my illness; light has since returned to my eyes, and my spirit has once more been ignited. The next time you feel like recovery is pointless, hopeless, impossible or all of the above, remember that it’s a process. It’s long, it’s grueling and most importantly, it’s possible.