The word “recovery” gets thrown about a bit flippantly sometimes like dirty underwear into the laundry basket. But this small nine-letter word is deceptive. It’s meaning stretches on for years. It’s truth lies only in your own heart. What I mean by this is that yes, there is a “prescription” for recovery from an eating disorder like anorexia: follow a dietician prescribed meal plan, see a clinical therapist that specializes in eating disorders, join an eating disorder support group, work on creating better boundaries, work on bolstering your self-esteem, work on getting comfortable in your body, work on attaining peace of mind and work on sustaining a healthy relationship with food. But these words don’t do justice to the act of recovery, which is a verb. Recovery only works if you put everything you once put into your eating disorder, all that energy, all that steam, all that devotion into your recovery until you feel… “normal”.
I’m writing this during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week to raise awareness around recovery because so often people think if they can just get to the point where they can begin recovery, then all will be well. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. First you must make the decision that you want to be well, then you begin recovery and then all the demons that ever haunted you, surface. Then the real, hard work begins. And it gets ugly, it gets dirty, and uncomfortable to start working through all that stuff but there is no other way to the other side than to enter it.
I was trying to remember what prompted the desire for recovery for me and I think it was two things. One that I was burnt out. I had cross-addicted, over-exercised and starved to the best of my abilities and there was nothing more to do, no deeper hole to fall into. Plus there was a spiritual fire, ever so slight, that got lit inside of me, that eventually became my guiding light to my recovery path. But another reason why I chose to begin recovery when I did was that I had fallen in love. Of course, in retrospect it wasn’t a healthy love. It couldn’t have been since I would not have attracted a healthy love while still in a self-destructive space myself. But whatever it was, I wanted it. Someone told me at the time that there was no way this love would continue unless I was recovered, and that this guy would not be the love of my life. This person was right on both counts. But it opened something in me, a tiny hope for inviting my then warped notion of love into my heart.
I think, to a large extent, it was the desire to love and be loved that drove me to begin to brave recovery.
Looking back I know this guy wasn’t the love of my life although it felt like it at the time. He was a catalyst. He was the first person in all the years of my anorexia that I connected with on a deeper level. And for that I am grateful. All it takes is one person or thing or idea or hope that offers you a glimpse of what’s possible on the other side of an eating disorder. Something that creates a small flutter in your heart that you may not recognize at the time as desire but it is. It’s the desire, no matter how small or faint, for love. It’s our human nature to want to love and be loved. Anorexia has an amazing way of denying this. But if someone in your life comes your way to show you a glimmer of what’s possible in your own heart, trust it and know that that may well be the seed for your recovery. That may be all you need to say yes to another way of life.
Recognize too that what you are actually saying yes to when you feel this tiny pang in your heart is the desire to love yourself first. Almost everyone in this New Age era would agree that you cannot love another unless you can love yourself first. And that’s what the journey of recovery is all about, in essence. It’s a journey of learning to love yourself. Learning to have what all people with eating disorders lack during their disorders—self-worth. And once you find it, and begin to nurture it, that’s when real recovery begins. That’s when all the dirty stuff comes pouring out. A therapist I once saw said to me, “Recovery is all about fattening up your sense of self” and all these years later I now know what she meant.
Be brave. Listen to your heart. Recognize the desire to love and be loved. And you will find your self-worth.