I am currently on the closing margins of recovery from an anorexia nervosa relapse.
How I Coped
Seeking solace through written word, I started journaling during this relapse. What I found difficult to write was even harder to verbally articulate. Heightened by the emotive nature of a topic of which I felt so intimately acquainted, speaking of my eating disorder with any level of meaningful fluency left me feeling vulnerable and exposed, and was not something I often attempted.
“Yes, having an eating disorder is awful”, I would say. “Truly, awful.”
But a headache can be awful, so too can the weather, a difficult conversation, a Monday morning job to grind – what kind of awful are we talking?
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The Brutal Truth
As anyone touched by an eating disorder can attest, it is a journey of inexplicable brutality.
And whilst the devastation imposed by the illness itself is harsh, its realities do not offset or cushion the suffering of recovery.
Indeed, opposing our acutely attuned and deeply entrenched disordered thoughts and behaviours – the ones through which we experience joy, control, purpose, life – means the difficult complexities presented by our illness extend themselves well into the recovery phase.
Avoidance Is Not Realistic
For me, it seemed, many of the complexities inherent to an eating disorder’s pathological profile were illuminated in the very act of trying not to have the illness.
They were, in fact in the savagery that was recovery:
- They were in the dizzying sense that the foundation upon which my life was hinged upon was crumbling under me.
- They were in the vulnerability I felt in having to entrust a process not grounded in the security of specifics, certainties and control.
- They were in the fragility of my faith that I couldn’t find joy in anything other than the pursuit of weight control, and the shame I felt that this was something even compelling my contemplation.
- They were in the profound abhorrence I felt for my body’s expanding parameters, and the swelling disconnect between its rapid rate of restoration relative to the well-protracted crawl of my mind’s.
- They were reflecting on life’s beautiful, precious moments, already so finite and fleeting, that my illness had reduced to little more than opportunity to earn, evade or expend caloric intake.
- They were being at the mercy of my emotions which, no longer safely suppressed through restriction, were awakening with an intensity and ferocity that demanded they be felt to their fullest, most penetrating breadth.
- They were living as a fractured entity, my mind and body conversing in conflicting expressions, their inconsistent discourse amassing into a confusion that prevailed with disorienting force.
- They were in the clothes that no longer fit and the perverse, and no less unnerving, power of their oppressive dimensions. And they were in the overwhelming guilt and shame I felt for being so emotionally tethered to my wardrobe when I could very rationally recognize the blessings and privilege that made up the fabric of my life.
Yes, the illness, whilst not a journey embellished with ease, was only half the battle. Merely there a contender, it was in the recovery I was called upon to become champion.
To those brave warriors in recovery right now, my message is this:
That which falls between the boundaries of ill and recovered is both inherent and fundamentally key to the process: it is where recovery happens.
In echo of an esteemed and meritorious recovery mantra – the only way out is through.
Please stick with it. Dig deep.
Believe that the journey is worth it, and – more importantly – that you are worthy of the journey.