Since I’ve been home and interacting with people who I haven’t seen in quite some time, I’ve been asked all sorts of questions ranging from “Where have you been the last three years?” to “You’ve gained so much weight! How did that happen?” (Talk about tactless and triggering, much? No gracias.)
The question that I’ve been asked most often in conversations where the topic of my recovery comes up is, “Do you believe you can fully recover or is this something you’re going to have to manage forever?”
In the recovery community, it sometimes feels like there are two camps when it comes to the answer to this question. There are those who are fully convinced and have seen evidence that full recovery is, indeed, a very attainable possibility, and then there are those who believe that while symptoms may be eliminated or highly reduced, there will always be little bit of the eating disorder just waiting for you to slip and fall into it’s waiting arms.
As for me, I ascribe to the ideology of camp number one. My response is a resounding yes. Yes, I absolutely believe that full recovery is possible. I have met too many recovered individuals to believe that they are the exception to the rule. For me, the notion of continual management of symptoms and hyper-vigilance of watching and preparing for the next relapse fills me with such a deep sense of hopelessness. I don’t want to think that all of my efforts have been for naught – all the meals that I’ve fought through and all the urges I’ve surfed (Sun wave, anyone? Shout out to Ali and Rachael at IOP if you see this.); the endless therapy sessions and the pain of buying clothes to fit my new body that I’m working hard to accept. I need to have an end in sight, and for me, that end is “recovered”.
One huge component to this discussion is the definition of recovery and recovered. Everyone has their own unique definition of recovery. I have thought about this long and hard. I have participated in plenty of group therapy sessions based around this topic. It’s very difficult to fight for something that you cannot even imagine.
When I say that I believe in being fully recovered, I think of life without an eating disorder. What does that mean though? In my mind, it is so much more than weight restoration and the cessation of behaviours. It’s choosing to reach out instead of reaching in. It is to eat more one day and less the next; to have a big brunch without worrying about how it fits in your meal plan. Self-compassion is no longer a treatment buzzword, rather it’s a reality that is lived out on a daily basis. It’s saying no to things that don’t satisfy you, and creating space for things that make you come alive. It’s establishing and maintaining real world relationships that are not wrapped up in the treatment and recovery circles. It is affording yourself the opportunity to make mistakes. I think it means embracing your inherent character traits and using your strengths to your benefit, rather than aiding in your self-destruction. It is living in the space between black and white. It is seeing yourself as a worthy human being, no questions asked. It is having healthy coping mechanisms that have simply turned into ways of life. It is structure and routine in combination with flexibility and relaxation.
Something that we talked a lot about in treatment was how both the eating disorder self and the healthy self come from within each of us, and the process of recovery means that we develop our healthy self so that it’s strong enough to absorb the eating disorder self back into us and take all the energy we spent waging war with our bodies and begin to fight together. What once was fragmented becomes whole.
From everyone I’ve talked to, I’ve learned that there’s no single moment where you realize you’re recovered. Eventually, the day will come when you realize that you’ve been so busy living that you haven’t thought about engaging in behaviours for over a year. There will be moments where you remember…maybe a familiar taste triggers something deep within the recesses of your memory and you thank God that you are no longer that person.
To get there takes work; it takes effort and energy.
Until it doesn’t.