I‘ve been told countless times that recovery isn’t linear. And that there is no perfect recovery. And that everyone’s recovery looks different. I’ve been told a lot of things. And I’ve received this information as willingly as a defiant child receives her mother’s “NO!”
What I don’t hear a lot of — perhaps because I’ve been distracted — is that recovery can be experienced moment by moment. And though I can acknowledge the validity of eating disorder recovery research, I need to fill my life with truths that feed my soul because it’s hungry.
As a consequence of having lived most of my life with my eating disorder, I’ve missed out on certain developmental stages. For instance, I never learned how to treat myself and my body as an adult should.
The ability to care for oneself requires self-awareness and a readiness to respond to the information the body provides.
Mindfulness practice has proven the most powerful tool I’ve encountered in my fight for recovery, as it brings me back to the moment. Otherwise, I gloss over things, details of the day, and opportunities to make pro-recovery choices by responding to my body’s signals. When I’m in mindless cruise-mode, I don’t experience discrete moments, but long stretches of time to look back on with indifference or regret, time that I easily lose track of, maybe because I find it even less glamorous than my eating disorder.
Mindfulness Self-Care 101
The mindfulness technique that I’ve been working on lately is truly Self-Care 101. I’m beginning to use it more fluidly now, and find it especially powerful when I’m feeling utterly wretched when everything is wrong and my eating disorder beckons, promising quick and lasting comfort. The steps are simple and easy to remember. Practicing them regularly does make it easier to access them during crises moments. There are two variations.
- After taking several deep breaths, use your sensory faculties and identify one thing that is giving you even the slightest bit of pleasure or comfort. If your body is going electric with anger as you sit in a traffic jam, for example, notice the color of the car in front of you. For example, it’s sparkly royal blue, a favorite. Then you notice how the cool air from the air conditioning lightly tickles the hairs on your arm. Take a moment to enjoy that feeling. If you can, continue the exercise, bringing focus to details of your physical experience that give comfort, pleasure or ease.
- Alternatively, or in combination, assess your discomfort and make one tiny adjustment to bring more softness to the moment. Returning to the sitting in traffic example, you might adjust the sun visor above the windshield when you realize you’ve been squinting. Or you might move the vents when you discover you were actually too cold. Once you’ve made a modification, take a few breaths to feel the effects of the changes you made. The key is to move slowly and with intention, taking time to feel what you feel. Continue making small adjustments until you experience some calmness.
I am no mindfulness posterchild. I forget to check in with my breathing, my ‘wise mind’, the present moment . . . all . . . of . . . the time. Moments quickly turn into hours, days and weeks. My thoughts converge on this one, sometimes fast, other times slow-moving, looping track. It goes something like this: “I am stuck. I don’t belong here. I don’t want to be here anymore.” Cutting a new groove is an inelegant and slow process, for all of us.
Our work is to reclaim the mind by just watching these thoughts, noticing them and naming them.
Then to let them be, let them go. For me, that’s the hardest part because I go on the offensive mode automatically, eager to kick my thoughts in the pants. I’m so sick of being sick. I’m sick of being sick of being sick of being sick. But I’m learning to accept that my recovery really isn’t going to go the way I expect it to.
It’s our job to soothe ourselves when we feel sad or mad, even when we don’t know why we’re upset in the first place. It’s our job to realize that that’s okay.