Recovery from anorexia is hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was the most physically and mentally painful experience of my life, this time around more so than ever, because I actually committed to it in a way I never have before.
There were countless times where it felt like it was completely impossible and that giving up was the easier option, but I’m so glad I persevered. Here are some things I remind myself when it gets difficult.
Your eating disorder isn’t on your side
I know that’s hard to believe when it constantly tells you the opposite. You think you will be lost without it, and that it keeps you safe and secure. It convinces you that you need it and that it’s the most important thing in your life. I promise you that isn’t true. An eating disorder will take and take and take until you have nothing left to give. It’s not keeping you safe, it’s keeping you trapped.
Recovery isn’t a straight line
There will be so many peaks and troughs that you’ll lose count. It’s an absolute rollercoaster and one day you will wake up feeling like you’ve beat it, the next you might feel completely caught up in its grasp again. The important thing to remember is that as you get further along in your recovery, the dips will be shallower and the highs will last much longer and happen much more frequently. It’s almost a year since I’ve been discharged from services and although I still have difficult moments, it’s incredibly rare that I ever have a whole day that’s taken over by my eating disorder. Maybe the odd hour here and there. But I’ve never felt so free as I do now.
It doesn’t look like it does on Instagram
I find there seems to be two types of ‘recovery’ content on Instagram. The first is the sort of toxic positivity accounts full of beautiful smoothie bowls, regular gym trips, cute quotes and avocado toast. The second is people at the very extreme end of unwell who are in hospital, sometimes NG fed, talking about all the gruesome ins and outs of being unwell. Neither of these, in my opinion, are overly helpful. The first genre I believe paints an artificial sense of how it feels to go through recovery, and the second provides an unrealistic snapshot of most people’s experience of living with an eating disorder. I personally have always tried to aim my content about my journey somewhere in the middle. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of my meal plan or my blood test results or what BMI I got my period back. But equally my recovery hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, and I have always been upfront about the fact that some days, most days in fact in the early stages, it was fucking horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Don’t believe everything you see on social media – your recovery is your own.
It gets better
It really, truly does. It doesn’t feel like it in the early stages of refeeding or during weight restoration or when you’re trying to stop using coping mechanisms that you’ve used for months and years on end. But just stick with it. Keep going. One meal, one day, one week at a time.
You exist outside of your eating disorder
When you are unwell, you often feel like that’s who you are. How can you not feel that way when it becomes your entire life? It’s all you think about and dream about and talk about, so of course you feel like it makes up your entire personality. But you at some point existed before you had an eating disorder, and you will continue to exist after one too. You might not be the person you were before and that’s okay, because recovery is about growth and learning, and with that comes discovering things about yourself that you didn’t know about before. New likes and interests and hobbies and friends. Life is waiting on the other side of recovery.
A lapse doesn’t have to be a relapse
I don’t necessarily like the phrase that ‘relapse is part of recovery’. Because it doesn’t have to be. Not everyone has to be unwell more than once, or have treatment multiple times. Many of us do and that’s okay, but it’s also totally okay to respond well to treatment, recover and never relapse again. However, I think lapses are part of most people’s journey. Not full relapses into illness, but days where things feel like they’re going backwards and you’re falling back into old habits. These are just part of the recovery experience, and as long as you pick yourself up again or stop before things get worse, you’re still heading in the right direction.
Sometimes resting is still progress
There’s a lot of negativity around quasi recovery, but I personally think it has it’s place. Recovery is exhausting, you can’t always be going full steam ahead. There have been multiple weeks and months at a time where I’ve considered myself to be very stuck and have felt incredibly frustrated with myself, but in hindsight I needed to take my foot off the gas and just rest for a little while. Pausing is not the same thing as going backwards, and it’s not always realistic to be making tangible progress every day. Sometimes stopping yourself lapsing or relapsing is progress in and of itself, even if you don’t feel like you’re going anywhere. It’s okay to stop and take a breath if you need to.
I hope some of these suggestions might be helpful. Remember that it won’t last forever, and that it does get easier with time.