Amongst the community of eating disorder recovery warriors, there are more than a few misconceptions – one of the biggest of these being that recovery is a quick process that will zoom by lightning fast.
The reality of recovery couldn’t be more polar opposite.
Everyone’s recovery journey is as individual as they are, and unfortunately I can’t give you the exact blueprint for the recovery tactics that will work best for you. But, what I can do is help to shatter some of the common myths around recovery that ultimately make an already tough journey even harder.
MYTH #1: Eating disorder recovery is easy.
“Just start eating!”
“Eat anything, it doesn’t matter!”
“Just stop having disordered thoughts!”
Oh, if only it were that simple! You’ve gotta remember – you’re dealing with a mental illness, here. And most illnesses are hard to treat.
Colds & flus don’t just vanish overnight. Broken bones don’t just magically fuse in a day. Cancers don’t just pick up and leave of their own accord. Mental illnesses, much like physical illnesses, have some real staying power.
And that’s not to say that it’s impossible to banish them and get them under control – because you totally can! But you’ve gotta know what you’re going up against.
Many lovely people that I talk to who’re recovering (particularly those in self-managed recovery) make the mistake of not taking their disorder seriously enough. They do a few affirmations, they try to eat some nutrient-dense food and they think that’ll be enough.
You’re dealing with a demon of the mind that wants so desperately to win.
The prize? Your life.
Don’t let that demon win. You can’t let it win.
And in order to beat it, you’ve gotta outsmart it. You need a comprehensive plan. You need to throw your best strategies at it from all angles and you need to be prepared for the fact that you’ll get tired and exhausted and sometimes it won’t always feel like you’re winning – and you’ll have to keep going.
You’re the hero of this story, and you have to fight to reclaim yourself. I promise you, it’s 1,000,000% worth it.
Your worst day in recovery is better than your best day with an ED.
MYTH #2: You need to love yourself unconditionally right away.
I’m all about loving yourself and loving your body unconditionally – BUT, and this is a gigantic but – unconditional body love won’t come overnight.
It just won’t.
And so many people in recovery face this overwhelming sense of defeat and disappointment when they’re trying so damn hard to get better and love themselves unconditionally and they just can’t get it. That feeling can be incredibly deterring and can make you want to quit recovery.
But you mustn’t.
Think of it this way: you’re trying to make a MASSIVE leap without putting in the middle steps.
Going from body hate straight to body love is like a baby going straight from crawling to running an olympic marathon. Or someone learning a language going from knowing only 1 word to suddenly being able to speak fluently.
It’s just not realistic.
Before you can run, you’ve gotta learn to walk.
The middle ground in ED recovery lies not in body love, but in body acceptance.
If you can first learn to feel neutral about your body – see it as just your body, with no emotional values or connotations attached to it; simply the thing that carries you around – once you get to that place, you can then slowly start to work on body love.
MYTH #3: Recovery is a destination.
This one is tricky because when we work towards a goal, we generally have a clear, defined end point in mind.
But what signifies a full recovery?
Weight restoration? Healthy eating habits? An absense of relapses for X amount of days?
For many recoverers (including myself), placing a fixed definition on “recovery” is just not realistic because recovery isn’t a final destination.
It’s a lifelong journey.
Relapses are real and sometimes no matter how well you think you’re doing, those old thoughts and habits can infiltrate your mindset. With many cases of Anorexia Nervosa, even when a sufferer has “recovered” there will still be old thought patterns and pathways within the mind. I say many cases because in some ED sufferers, the triggers for their ED are largely internal but for most, external variables are merely the catalyst that sparks an internal imbalance caused by a complex series of processes in the brain that misinterpret hunger and emotional cues, to name just a few elements.
Knowing this, relapses are inevitable and for me, knowing that my ED is always going to be a part of me, it’s about prevention. If I can take steps to minimize the impact of relapses, they’re usually much less severe.
Long ago, after the first time I relapsed, I decided to personally redefine it. Instead of considering it as a relapse, I referred to it as “a setback.” This simple act of changing my own dialogue and modifying how I viewed my mental health made such a huge difference. Instead of relapse being a scary monster that would surely consume me, it was just one bad day.
There’s always tomorrow.
Recovery is a lifelong journey and you need to embrace that and do everything that you can to get yourself to a mentally healthy place – because setbacks and challenges will always come your way, and you’re going to need to be able to handle them.
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