There are several times in your recovery journey when you have a eureka moment and go “hey, I have been doing it all wrong!” These moments are key. They’re the recovery milestones of your journey. And each one is equally as important.
For me, they fall into three main types:
The first of the recovery milestones is the obvious one. It is the conscious decision (serious this time) to get better.
This may happen on your own or with help. You might be outpatient in inpatient. It may happen on the way downhill or when you have smashed at the bottom. Hopefully though, it will happen.
This is the first step of recovery. The part where you say, “I have had enough. I am terrified and mostly unwilling, but I have to do this. Even if I don’t know how.” It’s a tentative step. And without doubt, the bravest you will make in recovery.
You know, deep down, that the journey from here will be a huge struggle. It seems daunting and scary. But if this first milestone does happen- then this is the beginning of the end of your eating disorder.
My nutritionist has told me, “there are nutritionally significant gains and there are psychologically significant gains.” This stage is purely psychological.
You won’t suddenly gain weight. But hopefully, you will gain hope.
This may be a little more tenuous, but the second milestone may happen quite a few times. The second milestone is the collection of all the “nutritionally and psychologically significant gains” that occur in the beginning of recovery.
These are the points where you finally begin to implement the changes that your therapists suggest, but which you have previously ignored.
For me, one of these turning points was with weighing my food.
My therapist kept telling me “you have to stop weighing everything” and I would just think “ummmm- no.” But then one, day a light bulb went off in my head (cheesy, I know). Suddenly, I wanted to stop weighing my food.
It was liberating.
Even though I knew this was a step I had to make, until I actually felt the desire to make it, the turning point would never have occurred.
During this stage, you may have to make changes that don’t feel right to start with, but which are nutritionally significant. For example, it may be adding something to your meal plan. Even though these are small milestones, if you chose to implement them they are still vitally important to your recovery.
This second recovery milestone(s) is the hardest and requires the most effort. But in the long term, it’s the building blocks of your recovery.
We’re not done yet. There is the third of the recovery milestones. I know this because I just hit it.
The third one is the best one, the one that brings the most fulfillment and most joy.
It’s the point where you start taking your life back.
Unlike the first two milestones (which can feel forced), every bit of this one feels right. For the first time you want to do it, not just part want to, or feel obliged to. This is the point where you suddenly think “Hey, I want to live. I want more from my life.” Which then becomes- “Give me food!”
I reached this point after a period of relapse and restricting during my exams. It was easier, more comfortable and safer to restrict during these stressful times. As a result, I hadn’t managed to gain any weight. In fact, I had done a bit of the opposite.
Then, after the exams were over, my therapist said “So, what now? You can’t just stay the same forever. What are you going to do now to make a difference?”
I sort of glared at her unwillingly and then said this (partly just to please her) “Fine. I’ll eat pizza on Friday.”
But underneath my grudging glare, some part of my non-ED me had driven me to say that.
Some internal impulse that said, “Hey, wait, you actually can get better!” It was the first time I’d really felt that.
I actually wanted to try to eat something that scared me. And not just for someone else’s sake, but for me.
On the path
Since that day, I’ve gripped recovery with both hands. I’m slowly ticking off my fear foods as if they were merely items on a to-do list.
I decided to create a “Pledge Friday” – the one day a week when I would be curious and adventurous and try foods that have been on me “do not eat” list. After a few weeks of this, I actually started to get excited about it and was always planning for the next Friday.
And then, suddenly, I was eating these foods on Thursdays or Saturdays. And then, I was eating these kinds of foods any day I felt like eating them.
Now, every time I challenge myself it just gets a tiny bit easier. And more fun.
These challenges make me stronger – they empower me.
I’m learning to love food again, and my life feels like it’s brightening. I feel like the future is mine to take.
Hope that these recovery milestones have helped inspire you to take charge of your own recovery and to keep fighting. The path might not always be straight, but there are milestones along the way to help you stay on the path.