Today it’s my turn to talk about reasons for recovery! In case you didn’t know, I’m collaborating with some other writers in a blog series for the entire month of February. The theme is simple enough: reasons to recover. Special shout-out to Anne-Sophie over at Fighting Anorexia for starting the conversation that turned into this little project and for doing most of the organizing.
Beyond the guilt, shame, and self-hatred of any eating disorder is a person who is entirely capable and worthy of giving and receiving love, and fully capable of recovery. The eating disorder tries to convince you otherwise, and will do anything it can to stick around. It poses as your best friend, but in truth, it wants to kill you. In fact, eating disorders result in more deaths than any other mental health condition due to the physical effects they have on the body. Usually when someone enters recovery, there are a myriad of excuses, barriers, and reasons (some real, some exaggerated, some fabricated) which stand in their way. Let’s say someone had to go into a sixty day inpatient treatment program, how do you think that someone would react to such news? Most people do not respond with enthusiasm.
Whatever things came to mind about taking sixty days off of life to go inpatient, they’re probably many of the same things that others would think and say. Maybe it’s just working a support group into the schedule or going to therapy. What I have heard the most from others who are struggling in recovery is “I can’t” followed by a long list of obligations other than recovery. Things like work, school, or relationships are often at the top of the list. None of these reasons, though, address the most important factor:
An eating disorder left untreated has the potential to kill you.
You cannot work a job, go to school, pursue a career, or have friendships or relationships if you are dead. No amount of excuses or barriers changes this fact. When treatment is being considered and I hear someone say, “I can’t!” I want to shout back “Not only can you but you have to!” Setting aside barriers and excuses, recovery comes down to a simple choice: life or death. I don’t know anyone who can honestly say that their eating disorder has ever brought them happiness. If you are reading this and currently suffering from an eating disorder, ask yourself – how does your eating disorder make you feel? Does it bring you legitimate happiness? On the contrary, the responses I’ve gotten from others are that it has brought them nothing but misery and often has ruined their life. My experience was no different. So, when considering the pros and cons of recovery, it’s a matter of choosing between continuing to be miserable and possibly die, or to have a chance at being happy and living.
That was the turning point for me, anyway. The push to do all the work necessary to recover was that anorexia was turning me into the kind of person I didn’t want to be. I was hurting friendships and relationships with excuses and lies. My grades were falling. So much of my time and energy was devoted to losing weight that I didn’t have much time for anything else, and all I had to show for it was a sunken face and an aching pain in the muscles around my heart. The choice to recover was the choice to start living my life again, for me.
While the choice may be easy, however, carrying it out can be much harder. Once again, we encounter, “I can’t!” Early in recovery, it feels impossible to eat normally without giving into whatever disordered eating behavior one has been engaging in. No matter how difficult something may seem, though, it’s never impossible. That word is reserved for truly unachievable things. For example, I feel comfortable saying that it’s impossible for me to fly under my own power – I’m not a superhero. By comparison, eating three meals a day without purging them doesn’t seem quite so difficult.
A lot of people with eating disorders struggle with negative self-talk. I think this is one of the most important things one can do: to counter it with a correction and remind oneself of what’s true. The eating disorder makes you say, “I can’t do this! It’s impossible!” but we counter that with, “I’m having trouble doing this. It’s very hard for me, but it is not impossible.”
It’s almost like learning to speak a new language – the language of recovery. The eating disorder inserts its own voice into your mind and thoughts, masquerading them as one’s own. It has a very limited vocabulary, consisting of words and phrases to make one feel bad about themselves. You could almost say we get tricked into speaking this language, engaging in negative self-talk and focusing on arbitrary numbers like weight or caloric information instead of how we feel. The language of recovery, though, has no room for self-deprecation, negative self-talk, or the futile effort of measuring self-worth with a scale.
And it’s a language completely worth learning! I consistently find myself applying the things I learned in recovery to other parts of my life. The way I relate to people, the way I respond when others act unskillfully and feelings get hurt, and in my ability to challenge myself to do things while recognizing my own limitations.
It’s never too early to start recovery. Life is too short to spend another day, hour, or minute at war with your body, risking your health and possibly your life.