To all who struggle with an eating disorder: an open letter about recovery.
Recovery is a process, and it's messy.
Recovery is not just about the food.
OK, it is a little bit.
It’s about the late-night pizza runs with your partner, the bonding over pancakes and omelets, and recounting the night before with your friends.
It’s about sharing a spoon and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s over a movie, or buying chocolate at the gas station just because you feel like it. It’s about trying something new when you’re out to dinner because you feel adventurous and you aren’t worried about the fat or calories.
Recovery is about donuts and chips and all the things you used to cringe about in your disorder.
It’s about noticing that your body is hungry, and even though you’re feeling tired, busy, or emotional, you grab something quick and easy so you don’t feel hunger pains like you used to. It’s nourishing your body not because you need to, but because you want to. It’s about loving food again.
But really, it’s also not just about the food.
Recovery is about being free from the bondage of rules and numbers and rituals. It’s letting go of things that aren’t just right. It’s taking a nap on the couch when the dishes aren’t done and the house isn’t clean and you haven’t gone to the gym yet because a nap is what you need. It’s actually resting when you are sick. It’s shedding your old beliefs about yourself and creating a new future.
It’s standing up for yourself.
Recovery is safety and control. Not the safety of dormancy and controlling of numbers like you used to.
It’s safety in knowing that no matter what happens in life, you will be OK. It’s safety in knowing who you are and being proud of it.
It’s not the illusion of control that you had when you were counting calories or losing weight. It’s knowing that without those behaviors, you are the one in the driver’s seat. The disorder doesn’t control you anymore.
It’s making choices that are healthy for you because for once, you are actually in control.
Recovery is taking risks and making mistakes. It’s vulnerability. It’s laughing too loud at a joke that wasn’t that funny to begin with. It’s honesty. It’s crying in front of your partner and getting a hug instead of running to the other room and burying your face in a pillow.
Recovery is experiencing life.
It’s going to more places than just work or home. It’s making coffee plans with someone you never really knew before. It’s taking your dog on a different route for her walk because sometimes routine is boring. It’s traveling, even though you’re usually a homebody. It’s riding a rollercoaster so fast that you lose your breath. It’s finding a new hobby because now you have the time to.
It’s finally “leaving the nest.”
Recovery is standing on your own and being OK with it.
It’s looking back at your time in treatment and being grateful for all the people you met and things you learned. It’s knowing that for now, that part of your life is over. It’s learning how to be there for yourself. It’s the fear and anxiety that comes when you become more independent and stray away from your outpatient team, but the pride that comes with feeling like you don’t need to see them as much as you used to.
Recovery is welcoming all emotions and committing to growth. It’s honoring the human experience and vowing to live in the present moment. It’s experiencing all of your emotions, even if they are uncomfortable. It’s being rational.
Recovery is a process, and it’s messy.
It’s waking up every day with a commitment to do the best you can, and letting go of expectations. It’s being patient and trusting that wherever you are in this moment is exactly where you are meant to be. It’s seeing recovery as a journey and not a nuisance. It’s not wishing you were further along or somewhere else — it’s meeting yourself where you are.
It’s looking back at the past and being able to say, “Wow, I may not be where I want to be yet, but I sure have grown.”
Sometimes, it’s also relapse and slips and intermittent hospital stays for “tune-ups.” It is not contingent on where you are financially or physically. It’s not one event, but rather a series of happenings over time. It’s admitting that you are one human being — one of many human beings — who are just living their lives the best they can.
Recovery can be book deals and song-writing and motivational speaking to massive crowds, or it can be a quiet confidence that you carry with you every day. You can tell people you are in recovery and be proud of it, or you can move on as if the disorder never existed.
That’s the amazing thing about recovery: There are no rules.
Recovery is choosing to no longer be a victim, saying enough is enough, and doing the work, over and over and over, until it feels natural. Recovery is not unattainable, but don’t be confused: Recovery is not something given to us. It’s not passive in the least. It is brave. It is hard. It is worth it.
To all who struggle with an eating disorder, there is a whole other world out there waiting for you. Please, come visit.