Let’s face it, recovering from an eating disorder is HARD. Yes, it’s worth the fight. And of course I’m going to encourage you to keep working towards it. But I’ll never say it’s easy. So if you’re going to keep trudging forward in the sometimes terrifying, often overwhelming, and no doubt grueling path of recovery, make sure you understand just what exactly you’re working towards. What does the word recovery even mean?
What exactly does recovery actually mean?
In it’s simplest form, to recover means to go back and get something. Some ways the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word recover include: to get back, regain, rescue, make up for, find or identify again, save from loss, or restore to usefullness.
Imagine with me for a moment…
Picture this: after spending an hour catching up with a friend, you exit a local coffee shop. Driving home, your mind drifts to your never ending to-do list. Pulling your keys out of the ignition and grabbing your purse, you notice it feels lighter. Looking for your phone, you suddenly realize it’s not in your purse. You search the passenger seat, floor, and even your pockets hoping to find your phone. Thinking back to the last time you had it, you recall handing your phone to your friend to show her a picture. Had she set it down on the lumpy couch at the coffee shop? Maybe your phone’s still there?
Anxiously, you drive back, hoping you find your phone. What if someone took it? Your entire schedule, all of your photos, your contacts… so much is on that phone. Without it you feel sort of lost. As you rush through the entry of the shop, you see the friendly waitress who brought your coffee. Smiling she reaches into her pocket and says, “I think you left this here.”
Relief washes over you as she hands you the phone.
When you drove back to get your phone, you were actually recovering it.
Recovery seems easy when we look at it this way. Yes, there may be panic when you realize something’s been lost. Likely you have a strong desire to go back and get it. Because you feel lost with out it. And once you find it, you feel relief.
But what about when what you’ve lost isn’t as concrete or easy to find?
What does this even mean for ED Recovery?
In my example above, the lost item was a cell phone. But when thinking about ED recovery, what does this mean? What exactly has been lost that needs to be found, regained, rescued, or restored?
Your true authentic self
When we sink into an eating disorder, we become detached from who we truly are. We cut off communication to our bodies, which serve as our homes through this lifetime. Rejecting our bodies in their natural shapes and sizes, we ignore and hurt them while trying to mold them into what society deems attractive. Disconnected from our intuition, we search towards the outside world for acceptance, approval, and validation. In the process, we lose ourselves.
But just like a missing cell phone, at first we may not even realize something is lost. I spent decades of my life searching for perfection in my body, my work, and my relationships. Not ever realizing that by doing this, I had lost my true self. It wasn’t until I woke up one morning in my 40’s faced with another day I didn’t want to get out of bed, that I realized something was missing.
Noticing something is lost is just the first step in regaining it.
Next you have to figure out just where you may find it. Retracing your steps can help.
When was the last time you felt truly yourself? Who were with when you last spoke authentically from your heart? What were you doing the last time you felt connected to yourself? Where did you last feel your soul light up with passion? Have you ever lost track of time while doing something you love? What were you doing?
*Please note- if even answering these questions feels overwhelming and impossible- you’re not alone. For a long time I feared maybe underneath the eating disorder- I didn’t even have a true authentic self. This was a lie the eating disorder told me. We are each unique, bright, individual souls here on this earth with a purpose.
I was more than my eating disorder. And YOU are more than your eating disorder.
Do not give up if you answered, “I don’t know” to all of the above questions. Recovery can and will help you reconnect with your true authentic self.
Never too far gone
Once you realize what’s been lost, and how long it has been gone, it’s time to go back and get it.
Finding your true authentic self is the biggest gift that comes out of the work of recovery.
But this task isn’t easy. We often look in the wrong places for our true authentic selves. People with eating disorders mistakenly attach our weight and body size to who we truly are. We falsely believe our eating habits, body size, and food issues define us. They don’t. Eating disorders are complicated and caused by so many different factors, but they don’t ever define who we are.
Searching for meaning and ways to define ourselves is not unique to people with eating disorders. It’s the human condition to want to define/measure/evaluate ourselves. Many people attach their identity to their careers, their socioeconomic status, education, or family. While these are all ways to describe how we function in this world- they don’t define who our authentic selves are. That goes much deeper than the size of our bank accounts or our pants.
What ED recovery can really mean
Ed recovery is about recovering our true authentic selves. It’s about reclaiming a life worth living. With purpose and intention. We must go back and retrieve our talents, our desires, our passions, and our drives. They are there, I promise. Even if you have no idea where. Even if you can’t even remember the last time you had them.
In the school of recovery, Jessica Flint asked a question one day that blew my mind. Despite working towards recovery for years, I’d never once considered her question:
What are you recovering to?
Like most people drowning in an eating disorder, I’d spent early recovery focused on what I could NOT do anymore. I had to stop restricting, stop counting, stop engaging in other behaviors, and stop obsessing about the size of my stomach. In addition, I was focused on all of the things I had to do to heal. Follow a meal plan, attend therapy, set boundaries, face my demons. But Jessica’s question reminded me of the importance of focusing on what exactly I was recovering to.
All along, I was recovering back to myself.
Recovery is about going back to and regaining your true self. It’s about bringing your self into the present moment. Rescuing your authentic self. Finding your identity and owning it. Restoring yourself from loss and restoring yourself to usefulness. Reconnecting with your passions, your interests, and your purpose. Reclaiming yourself. Yes it’s terrifying, grueling, hard hard hard work. And it’s so worth it.