‘Recovery’ from anything is about taking steps - single steps - upward steps, downward steps, forward steps, backwards steps…Leaping forward or backward never gets you any closer to the end; we must see, hear, smell, taste and touch all that the word ‘Recovery’ encompasses; skipping or fast-forwarding through any of it will only prolong the journey.
‘Recovery’ is full of so many sensations: pain, pleasure, fear, confidence, hopelessness, hope, certainty, uncertainty, self-belief, self-doubt, yearning to die, yearning to live. The road through ‘Recovery’ is full of bumps, potholes, roundabouts, forks in the road, stop signs, loops backwards and bridges over and forward.
‘Recovery’, I believe, is not all about moving forward. If you move backwards in a moment or over the course of a day or a week or a month or any period of time - that does not mean you fail, so long as you reach a point where you turn yourself back around to move forward again, stronger than you were before. Hiding under covers for a day or a week or a month or any period of time, wishing for nothing more than to disappear does not mean you fail - so long as you reach a point where you peel the covers back and plant your feet on the floor and stand again, stronger than you were before.
The trick is to not get ‘caught in the moment’ and lose sight of hope. Even if ‘hope’ is a pinprick of light in a field of darkness - do not forget that it is there. ‘Recovery’ is not straight forward - but so long as you hold onto hope you will, eventually, achieve it. This, at least, is what I am holding onto to get me by right now; and I believe it is truth.
I am currently counting down days before I return to an inpatient eating disorder treatment program which I have gone through too many times before and so my mind is all over the place switching between reflections on past treatment, attempts at positive goal setting and trying to knock my mind into motivated recovery mode, and straight out anxiety and fear over what the coming weeks of treatment will bring.
In reflecting over past inpatient treatment I have concluded that, though each time I step into the strict environment of inpatient treatment - into a system where what I eat and how I act during and in the aftermath of eating is not completely in my control (or my eating disorder’s control, as would be argued) - I am overwhelmed with waves of anxiety and panic as my mind goes through all the possible ways I could flee this situation rather than fighting for recovery - the days spent inpatient earlier on in my eating disorder were really the most difficult.
When a person is put into a situation where they are basically forced to do everything their head is screaming at them not to do - of course they’re going to freak out. I think the most difficult part of early treatment is the plain and simple fact that you do not have any evidence that what your treatment team is telling you will happen is in fact the truth. I remember my doctor telling me that I would start to feel better – less depressed, stronger mentally and physically, more able to fight the anorexic thinking – once I stabilised my nutrition and began regaining weight. I thought he was insane – putting on weight could only make things worse – ‘fat’ was what I was running away from so how could more food and more weight make me feel better??? Eventually I was forced to regain weight, eventually I realised that my thoughts gradually became less impulsive, less rigid, less obsessive, less black and white, less hopelessly negative as I allowed my body nutrition; and eventually I accepted this as a fact.
I have the evidence now that my thinking does become clearer and I am more able to view my eating disorder objectively once my brain is receiving its required nutrition, and so it’s not quite as scary putting the weight back on – I have evidence that it will not cause an apocalypse. Entering inpatient treatment is no longer like stepping out of the cage of delusional comfort anorexia creates and into pitch blackness with no map and no real direction. I guess I’m in a different treatment stage now where rather than working on believing my treatment team when they tell me nutrition will enable me to live my life fully, I need to work out exactly what it is that makes me so scared of attempting to live my life fully that I run back to anorexia.
The route of recovery from an eating disorder is different for everyone, but only once those initial blind, terrifying steps are taken – once you accept that depriving your body of nutrition only negatively impacts not only your physical health but also your mental health – can you begin to attempt to uncover what your eating disorder really means to you and, at some point, hopefully decide you are ready to let it go and move forward with your life. I try to keep reminding myself to not become disillusioned over the numerous relapses marking my path to recovery – and if you’ve experienced relapse, don’t lose hope. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “That which does not kill you makes you stronger” and each time you fight back against your disorder you gain more inner strength to battle negativity and one day realise you are beautiful, you are worthy, and you are capable of achieving your dreams.
I find myself feeling increasingly frustrated with the lack of eating disorder treatment available in Australia and, for that matter, the world. Over the past six years I have been in and out of both inpatient and outpatient eating disorder programs for anorexia nervosa, binge/purge subtype. I have heard a lot of stories and have plenty of my own to draw information from and conclude that there is definitely not enough support out there for the amount of people affected by eating disorders, or appropriate to the array of symptoms ‘eating disorders’ can encompass. I have been consciously aware for the past few months that I’ve been slowly sliding down the slippery slope of relapse, and I have been honest with my psychiatrist about this fact. A month or two ago I was actually stating to my doctor that I needed some kind of support around meal times to bring balance back into my eating patterns before they became too out of control – I had a marked level of motivation to get back on track at this point but knew I needed some kind of assistance to do so. My doctor had to tell me that he could do nothing for me – this kind of support is not available where I live, and there are very few clinics in the world offering such support. Now, a few months further down the slippery slope, I have lost weight x amount of weight, my eating disordered thinking is much stronger and relentless, and my doctor is now suggesting inpatient treatment, which is targeted at weight gain through re-establishing healthy eating patterns. Essentially, I have had to fall to a point where my weight is unhealthy in order to ‘fit’ the requirements for treatment. One negative to this is the fact that as my weight has dropped, the rigidity of my eating disorder behaviours has risen, while my motivation for change has fallen along with the number on the scale. A second negative is that ‘my head’ now has more reason to believe that eating disorders are about weight – something therapy tries to teach is in fact not true. It is ridiculous that a person basically needs to be experiencing physical illness to receive any sort of intensive treatment for a disease which is in fact a mental illness. I will stop this rant now, but I’m sure it will be continued…
Taking a shower so that your tears mix with the streams of water and you don’t have to acknowledge that they are there…Applying makeup to cover the bags under your eyes from too much thinking and not enough sleep…Not eating because focusing on starving your body is a distraction from having to deal with real life…Mental Illness is just that, an illness - it is not something a person can switch on and off at will, if that were possible nobody would ‘choose’ to feel depressed, to feel hopeless, to feel like starving or bingeing and purging or self-harming or getting drunk or high or whatever they succumb to in an attempt to ‘feel better’…Just as we want others to understand we are not doing these things by choice, we need to believe it ourselves. Give yourself a break - you deserve it. You are doing the best that you can do in this moment, and that is enough. You are enough. Keep fighting.