I am at a weird part in my recovery right now.
I feel like I am very much living alongside anorexia rather than with it, and it’s kind of lonely. It’s voice is still there but it’s quieter, and I am able to ignore it for probably 80% of the time, which is a place I never thought I’d get to. I still have strong urges to restrict what I am eating and to lose weight, but I am able to override them with an urge to live a fuller and happier life.
The problem with succeeding at recovery however, is that it also means failing at having an eating disorder, and every step away from it I take, the more I feel like I am letting it down. I feel guilty for failing it, something that has been so consistently reliable in my life. Gradually, as I move further away from being ‘sick’, the pride and the support from people around me reduces. Once you stop crying over dinner or beating yourself up over breakfast, people forget just how hard it is to fight against that voice every day. Your recovery stops being interesting and starts becoming the norm as you grit your teeth and force your way through your meals on autopilot.
Anorexia, however, doesn’t ever lose interest in you once it has you. It grips you entirely and feels proud of you every time you lose weight or skip a meal or walk until your joints hurt. It’s easy to focus of these feelings of pride and find the idea of relapse tempting, because eating disorders are very good at blinkering you to the bad parts. Yes, you might get feelings of achievement and success but they are fleeting and short lived, because anorexia spends 99% of its existence telling you that you are a failure, worthless, not good enough. On reflection, for me it isn’t worth the trade off anymore. That feeling of pride isn’t worth how terrible the experience of being unwell is, and this is something I have to remind myself of every day.
People don’t congratulate me for finishing a meal anymore, and taking time to decide on what to eat can now be met with annoyance rather than sympathy. I am expected to eat my three meals and three snacks a day and to exercise a normal amount and to smile while I do it – I should be over this by now after a year of treatment. My body is too healthy to warrant crying over yogurt anymore. People are moving on now that I am no longer completely imprisoned, while I am still stuck trying to navigate life with a demon in my brain that though quieter than it has been in years, is still very good at making itself known from dawn until dusk.
I spoke with my therapist about the grief I am feeling at this stage in my recovery, and we tried to find out what it is that I need to do to finally lay anorexia in the ground. But I just don’t know the answer. I had hoped that it would happen organically as I move on and start filling my life with different things, but he has given me a gentle reminder that up until now, the only thing that happens organically to me is relapse. This means that I cannot expect my recovery to ‘just happen’, I need to continue taking an active role in it no matter how much it exhausts me.
I think this time of year is making me feel reflective – it’s now a year since I started day patient at one of the lowest points (physically and mentally) that I’ve ever been at in my life. I feel like a completely different person to who I was a year ago, but with that comes it’s own anxieties as I try to navigate life as somebody without an eating disorder – something that feels alien to me right now. Finding a new identity, or unearthing your old one, is scary and tiring, and is definitely one of the rarely talked about but most difficult parts of recovery.
I think I share this today mostly because it helps me to unscramble and make sense of a lot of what I am feeling right now, but also because I want people to know that these feelings are okay and that they’re normal. My therapist tells me that many people in my stage of recovery experience grief and nostalgia, but we must hold on to our rational brains and not let our emotional brains hijack our progress.
No matter what stage of your journey you are at right now, there will be a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings. This is all part of the process and doesn’t mean that your recovery won’t be successful. I still feel ambivalent much of the time about where I am at and the progress I have made. I miss anorexia deeply, but I also know that missing something doesn’t mean you have to run back to it, as tempting as that may sometimes be.
There may always be a part of me that feels nostalgic for the days I was absorbed in my eating disorder, but I know that back then I wanted nothing more than to be free from it, and the more I try to ignore it’s calls the freer I get.
One day, maybe it will stop calling me back altogether. Until that time all I can do is accept my emotions for what they are and keep moving forward.