What would I have wanted to know when I was starting recovery? What would I tell my past self now that I am recovered? What advice or tips do I have for others starting recovery?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it was like to start recovery and what helped me (or could have helped me more) to move through that difficult time. Someone recently asked me, “What do you wish you could tell your past self?” and it got me to thinking…
Things that helped me in recovery or that I wish I would have trusted more:
- Recovery is possible.
While this may be hard to see from within the disorder, once on the “other side” of this journey, recovery is the obvious and very possible path.
I know that the eating disorder voice in your head or even a part of your self does not want to believe me. However, I am living proof that recovery is possible. I understand the fears that cloud the pathway towards recovery. I know the fear of weight gain, eating fear foods, and not having control, which can corrode your resolve to get better. I know the mistrust you have of yourself and others. I understand the feeling that it is all a trick…a horrible anxiety-provoking joke to make you fat. I know the thoughts of recovery being worse than where you are now. I understand where you are at, because I have been there too.
I know that feeling of not being able to escape; damned if you do and damned if you do not.
However, I also know successful recovery and would like to challenge you to think about what you could have. In recovery you can let go of fear, you can experience life fully without limiting yourself, you can love your body, yourself, and your life, and you can truly be free from those fears. I understand that those things may seem too far off and scary to risk the comfort and safety of the eating disorder to pursue them. I understand that it is extremely difficult to believe that recovery is possible…and, more importantly, believe that recovery is what you want. Even if you cannot see it now, from the “other side” (once you are no longer suffering from a severe mental disorder) I can tell you not only that recovery is possible but also that recovery is worthwhile! Yes, recovery is a lot of hard work! Nonetheless, I promise that the self-awareness, self-acceptance, and freedom to experience life fully that you gain from recovery are entirely worth the effort! Take the leap! Believe in recovery!
- Talking to others helps, a lot.
Even now I find myself learning and relearning that just by getting the eating disorder thoughts out of my head I take away at least 50% of their power! Although it can be scary and feel shameful to say aloud some of the things our eating disorders cause us to think and feel, externalizing those things can help us to see them for what they are, question their validity, and lessen their influence on our behavior.
Go talk to others who have recovered! Although I find it helpful to talk to my family and friends, it has been most powerful and inspiring for me to talk to those who have recovered or are farther along in recovery than me. Even though I understand that perfectionism and comparison make it hard to reach out to others who are experiencing a different part of the journey, I believe this is one of the most helpful things you can do. Being able to talk to someone who truly understands what you are going through without you explaining everything helps profoundly. You can feel connected and understood instead of alone and isolated. I know it is hard to let people in and I highly suggest pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. The first time I did this it was terrifying and every time after that it got easier. Connection heals.
If you do not feel you are ready to talk to someone face-to-face, try externalizing your thoughts by journaling, letter writing, recording voice memos on your phone, or just talking aloud in your car. Talk to yourself or pretend you are talking to a friend. Think about what your best friend would tell you if they were there with you. Be your own best friend!
Build up a support network. Challenge yourself to tell people you trust and trust people who love you.
- Recovery is a way to get to know yourself and to finally live the life you want to live.
I know a part of you probably thinks that you are living the life you want to live. Perhaps, constantly striving for thinness and attempting to be your most perfect self are what you believe you want. Or, maybe there is a part of you that believes that if you let yourself live how you actually want to live, you will turn into a lazy blimp, never do anything with your life, and be horribly miserable. I understand that those beliefs can feel like your own.
I am going to pop that bubble; those beliefs come from the voice of the eating disorder. Although it sounds scary to get to know who you really are instead of only push for who you want to be, I promise it will make you happier. This deeper happiness and fulfillment may not happen right away because this is hard work and I will not hide from you that it is a challenging struggle. However, eventually you can get in touch with and fully accept yourself for who you are and what you want. It is terrifying, yes! It is also exhilarating and deeply fulfilling!
As strange as it sounds, I am actually extremely grateful to my eating disorder for all it has taught me and continues to teach me!
- Recovery is messy.
I will not deny it: recovery can suck.
You will have bad days. You will progress and regress, progress and regress and progress again. Your emotions will be all over the place. You may not feel like yourself as you work hard to find yourself. It will be uncomfortable. It will be hard. You will most likely cry, a lot.
It will also be freeing, enlightening, and exciting! You will feel joy and passion, pain and love, sadness and contentment! You will connect and grow in deep ways. You will not be ruled by the disorder anymore. With baby step and bravery you will muddle and soar through the mess!