Climbing the Spiral Staircase of ED Recovery

ED recovery - image of back woman in dress standing at the top of a stairway outside with a brick wall beside her

Halfway up the winding spiral staircase, I hunched over attempting to catch my breathe. Gazing around I was overcome with a feeling of deja vu. “I’ve been here before,” I thought. And it dawned on me suddenly that ED recovery is similar to climbing a spiral staircase.

ED recovery as a spiral staircase

There is something whimsical and exciting about the bottom of a spiral staircase. Gazing upwards from the very first step reminds me of a fairy tale where the heroine courageously treads into the unknown. From the very first step, you’re unable to see a clear path to the top. Much like the beginning of ED recovery. You know it leads somewhere into the unknown, and standing there piques your curiosity.

The initial excitement at climbing the staircase may wain as a hint of fatigue sets in. After a while, it feels like you’re just doing the same motions, over and over again. One step at a time, around and around you go. Just like parts of ED recovery, when over and over again the monotony of pushing through fear begins to feel exhausting. Making the meal. Eating the meal. Making the snack, eating the snack. Around and around you go continuously putting one foot in front of the other. Wondering if you will ever “get there.” Wanting to stop. But not wanting to be stuck halfway up the staircase.

“I’ve already been here”

As you climb around, and around, and around… it feels like you’re just going in circles. Seeing the same spots, over and over again.

How many times in ED recovery have you felt you were right back in the same place? Maybe you “lost control” and binged again. Perhaps you felt unable to tolerate the sensation of fullness and instead used a symptom. Or once again you find yourself fighting a battle at the dinner table.Trying to force your mouth open so you can swallow the food before you change your mind. Silently trying to will yourself to eat can feel like the worst tension in the world.

Throughout my journey of recovery, I’ve often caught myself thinking, “How am I here AGAIN? I should be over this by now.” I’ve thought, “I know better than this. Haven’t I learned anything at all?” And “Why am I right back in the same place? Again?” Through relapses, struggles, and slips, I became proficient at beating myself up and sinking into shame and guilt.

The problem is, this negative thinking only propels the eating disorder further.

And it isn’t even true.

A new perspective on ED recovery

You see, just because I recognize the surroundings, and feel like I’ve been in this exact same spot before… the truth is, I haven’t. I am not actually simply going in circles; I am climbing upwards.

Every single step I take in recovery, whether I define it as “good” or “bad,” takes me up a tiny bit higher on this spiral.

I may have been here before, but I am a little bit higher on the spiral staircase, and from this new height, I have a new perspective.

Maybe I need to make the “same” mistake one time, five times, or 100 times. The number doesn’t matter (they never really do). But every single time I make any choice, I am learning a little bit more. And as long as I keep taking steps, with self compassion and forgiveness, I will keep going higher on the staircase.

When ED recovery makes you dizzy

Trying to rush too quickly up a spiral staircase will make anyone dizzy. It’s important to pace yourself and realize that slow and steady will get you to the top. Much like ED recovery- it is important to simply focus on the next single step in front of you.

Taking one step at a time makes the journey less overwhelming and keeps your head from spinning.

So the next time you catch yourself feeling shame and guilt thinking you are “right back in the same place,” remind yourself that you are climbing a spiral staircase. And keep going in your ED recovery. Up that staircase, keep moving.

One step at a time.

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