There are a lot of recovery mantras that say something like, “The worst day in recovery is still better than the best day in relapse.” There are bits of inspiration that float around Pinterest and Tumblr that say how recovery will bring you to love yourself, love your body, and embrace your imperfections. You will enjoy food again and never experience guilt and anxiety. According to this eating disorder community, life after recovery is just perfect.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that my recovery was nothing like this.
Three meals, two snacks, day-in and day-out. Constant guilt and anxiety. Panic attacks. Temper tantrums. Throwing things. Hiding food. This is a more accurate picture of recovery than the rainbows-and-sunshine version.
After nine months of this, I didn’t think I could do it anymore. I was being forced to recovery physically; I was gaining weight and challenging my fear of food on a daily basis. But mentally I felt ten times worse than I had even at the worst of my eating disorder.
Here’s a metaphor for you:
Imagine you’re in a relationship with a controlling, abusive boyfriend. You let him manipulate you. He puts you down, makes you feel worthless, and won’t ever allow you to stand up for yourself. Your whole life revolves around this guy, and he tries to make you believe that he’s the only person who can make you happy. As long as you do and say what he wants, everything his fine. But as soon as you take a stand or assert your opinion, he blows up at you.
This is exactly how recovery is. Even though he puts you down and manipulates your decisions, “Ed” is calm and rational as long as you do what he says. But when you challenge him by eating and refusing to purge or exercise, he blows up at you just like the abusive boyfriend.
You can’t expect Ed to go away without a fight. I spent nine months fighting him until God stepped in one night and spoke peace and freedom into my life. Since that day I’ve been a different person. I’m not controlled by Ed anymore and I’m not constantly pulled by the desire to please him.
Recovery is a process–sometimes a lifelong process. I firmly believe that I was delivered from my eating disorder that night, and I know that God is faithful to redeem my past and keep me from falling back. But I also know that my life isn’t perfect. “Ed” still sends me text messages sometimes. He says that he misses me and claims that he can make me happy and fulfilled. Sometimes he even shows up at my front door and reminds me of who I was when he was in my life.
In plainer terms, I have bad days. I don’t wake up loving myself and strut through my day with unwavering confidence. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with my body and sometimes eating is a mental battle. And I struggle with other things, completely unrelated to my eating disorder, that any other teenage girl struggles with. But I don’t think that these things negate my recovery or my deliverance.
Because I have changed.
Even though I’m still working through some of the thought patterns and physical issues that I developed over the past few years, I have grown into a better, stronger, wiser, happier person.
I don’t identify myself as being anorexic. That was a part of my past, and it’s not who I am anymore.
I don’t isolate myself anymore and spend my days counting calories and planning meals. I go out with friends, I eat ice-cream and pizza, I workout because I love it, I don’t weigh myself, and I’m not crushed when my pants feel a little more snug than usual.
I do believe that if I continue to refuse to accept Ed’s invitations and believe his lies, he will go away once and for all. I do believe in full recovery when every eating-disorder thought has been extinguished. But even when I reach that place, life isn’t going to be perfect. There is no such thing.
Being recovered doesn’t mean that you feel like a super model 24/7. It doesn’t mean eating McDonald’s every day like you did in middle-school. It doesn’t mean that Ed will never again whisper lies in your ear.
I’m sure you’ve heard that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the ability to do what’s right in the face of fear. Well recovery, or even being “recovered,” isn’t the absence of Ed. It’s having the strength to not open the metaphorical front door or respond to his text message.
Recovery brings about all kinds of wonderful things, but you can’t ignore the challenges that come with the process. Don’t be discouraged if recovery seems like the worst time of your life, because out of the dirt and grime of recovery springs all the joy and richness of living.
But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles;
They shall run and not be weary;
They shall walk and not faint.