By: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern
Confession: I have to admit on a personal level, I am uncomfortable with the term “recovery.” I think some of my uneasiness initially stemmed from the idea that I did not particularly want to go back to “life before my eating disorder.” My dealings with anorexia go back many years; as a 20-something, I could not identify with hoping to achieve a prior state of functioning. Despite a protracted length of illness, I still managed to be highly functional on a surface level for a significant length of time. Among other faulty core beliefs, I believed I could only succeed by continuing to measure how I stacked up to others. In turn, letting go of my eating disorder with its rules, order, safety – was a sign of failure. So why would I want to fall even farther from my ideal self?
Furthermore, to be completely honest – I broke a lot of things along the trail of self-destruction in my eating disorder. I am still haunted by this thought, even though on a rational level, I know swimming in regret achieves absolutely nothing. As I work toward learning to better live with myself, I affirm that self-forgiveness is part of the healing process. However, how could I recover when my disorder led me to repeatedly lose major opportunities I would never have again, wear relationships down to bare threads, and inflict lasting damage to my body? I honestly did not know how to “come back” from any of that, let alone live without my eating disorder.
But I had to reframe my thinking. Even if I did incur major losses along the way, having done so did not equate to having ruined my chances for having a life I actually wanted to live, as opposed to entertaining the distant idea of it. With a new conceptual framework, I decided I had to build upward; I still had the chance to actually create my life and take stock in myself as a person of worth. I still grapple with issues surrounding my value and personal abilities, but I have also become more confident. I step outside my comfort zone, which grows a little each time I say “yes” to life. I care less about what other people think about me. I am less afraid to voice my opinion. I open up more. And, I took the plunge and started graduate school. My life is still messy in some ways, probably more so than not, but I have “leaned in” to the chaos. It only really bothers me when I compare myself to other people who seem to be more outwardly “successful.” Let’s be real: no one has it all together. We are all still learning.
Welcome to being human.
Which brings me to my next point: I knew recovery was not a linear process, aware it would involve ups and downs, progression and regression. I suppose, broadly speaking, I have been taking steps in recovery for seven years. Everything I have learned, the work I have done with treatment professionals – all of it “counts.” But when I speak of my recovery, only the past year (and change) come to mind, when I firmly committed to pushing through the process – knowing that if I didn’t, it would prematurely cost me my life. Change or die.
As I mentioned, I started a program for a master’s in clinical social work this January. In adjusting to the workload, I often felt full of self-doubt, a fraud surrounded by an intelligent and accomplished cohort. In the meantime, I dealt with a number of other major stressors – a surgery, coping with a complex medical condition, financial instability, the death of a friend – all of which exacerbated my struggle with depression. My recovery took a backseat; my primary goal was to “get through.” I did not relapse, but I certainly struggled much more, as a product of insufficient self-care.
I do not think experiencing rough patches is necessarily indicative of not being in recovery. In fact, I think learning to navigate them is a crucial part of the process. To me, recovery is largely about coping with, accepting, and experiencing life in the broadest sense – and the spectrum of the emotions it evokes, good or bad. I also think it is important to recognize there are a lot of misconceptions floating around about recovery (even if these are subconscious), even within the eating disorder community. One of these irrational beliefs is that recovery needs to look a certain way – done neatly, perfect.
As time passes and I regain my footing, having better and worse days, I recognize major stressors – beyond more ordinary triggers – have reminded me everyone meets different challenges on their paths forward. My recovery is entirely unique to me. It does not need to fit within the confines of a cookie cutter story. As I work with Project HEAL, I more clearly see the value in showing others there is hope by discussing our individual journeys. So today, I acknowledge my truth and share with others that I am growing more comfortable in my own skin while “in recovery from an eating disorder” and all that it entails.