There are a few things that I’ve learned since the beginning of my recovery journey. These are important things that I learned along the way, and things that I have discovered to be helpful to me. If there is anything that I can do to help others or give them a bit of helpful suggestion, I am more than happy to do so. But, that being said, what works for me may not always work for others. Just because I have benefited from certain things does not mean everyone will. However, I think there can still be some information that can be gleaned, in some regard, to some extent, by the things I’ve learned.
1 – I think one of the biggest things you can do for yourself in order to move successfully down the path of recovery is to make you of the people in your life. Whether it be your family or friends (or both), open up to the people you love (and who love you!) and will be there for you during times of struggle and hardship. Eating disorders can be so isolating. The disorder, regardless of which you are plagued with, thrive on isolation and shame, guilt, embarrassment, or secrecy. One of the biggest things you can do to challenge your eating disorder is to learn to SPEAK about it. Let people in. The minute you let yourself open up and be real with others about the challenges and difficulties you face and experience, that is the minute you really take a stand for your recovery. It shows that you are not willing to let your eating disorder silence you, nor keep you locked in its grasp. Taking that step is a very empowering experience. Doing so allows you to take back some control over your life and challenge your eating disorders right to dictate your life. It can be a very difficult thing to do, though.
It’s hard to share with others something that is so private, intimate and often not easily understandable by others. In fact, the people you share any information with will no doubt never understand fully what it is you are struggling with. Especially so with the most complex and twisted thoughts that your eating disorder makes you think about or focus on. To outsiders, it may seem “strange” or “weird” or “messed-up”. But they aren’t viewing you that way. They aren’t upset with YOU for having an eating disorder or being plagued with such all-encompassing thoughts. They are mad at the disorder for having such a firm grasp on you. I had always kept things to myself when I was growing up. I never spoke openly about my feelings, thoughts, fears, concerns, etc. I kept all of that inside, which allowed me to really settle in nice and cozy into my eating disorder. I used food instead of words to deal with the things that were going on in my mind and in my world, instead of communicating with others. I internalized everything and overate when I was younger. Conversely, when I really got into the depths of my eating disorder, restriction was a means of silencing the emotion and feelings that I had. It numbed me to the things that I was struggling with and the feelings that were suppressed inside of me.
One of the biggest things I learned in recovery and therapy was how to open up. At first it was SO difficult. It literally felt like pulling teeth. I resisted. I offered as little as I possibly could in therapy (especially in group therapy) because I didn’t feel comfortable opening up, nor did I really know how to do so. Yet slowly but surely, I started to learn. And slowly but surely, I started to really open up. It was probably one of the most important lessons I learned and one of the best coping mechanisms or skills. Communication is such a powerful tool. But don’t despair if communication is not your strong point. I can promise you, I never thought that I’d be the type of person who would speak openly about my feelings or thoughts. But now, it’s almost impossible for me not to. Yes, you read that right! Now, speaking up and speaking out is my norm. (When I struggle the most with recovery or face setbacks and challenges, I notice that my communication is suffering. I’m not speaking openly with others, I’m not trying to reach out to others. I keep to myself, which just allows the struggle to continue to worsen.) If you think you will never be able to open up, don’t lose hope. Communication is a skill, but it is one that can be acquired!
If the thought of speaking outloud to someone about your innermost thoughts and feelings is a bit intimidating and a little too overwhelming for you at first, perhaps you may benefit from writing it out instead of saying it directly to the person. This is something that I’ve done countless times in the past. Sending an email to my parents has often been the easies approach for me to take. It gives me the chance to formulate my thoughts and figure out exactly what and how I want to say something. It’s also a much less confrontational way of communicating. So if fear or nerves hold you back, this may be a great first step. Once you start having that openness and dialogue with another person, it will become much easier to communicate, and soon you may even discover that you want to be able to talk face-to-face with that person, or start branching out to talk to others by informal methods.
2 – There is such power in positive thinking. Eating disorders can be the darkest, deepest depressing places to be. It can totally suck the life out of you, leaving you feeling hopeless, despondent, or trapped. It can often feel overwhelming and as if life will forever be a miserable place to be in. I know I have felt this way in the past. I’ve felt like my eating disorder would never improve. I felt like I would be dealing with the extremes of my disorder for the rest of my life. It can be all too easy to allow yourself to fall into a pit of emptiness and desperation. If you allow those negative thoughts to enter, they took root quickly. Oftentimes one lacks the ability to try and challenge all of the negative thoughts, and just allows them to sit and multiply. But this is a dangerous place to be. The more you let the negative in, the more it takes over, and the farther away any positive thoughts are. Pretty soon you end up isolating yourself and being stuck in your head, which is one of the worst place to be when you have an eating disorder. Those thoughts become uglier and scarier and more twisted and distorted.
The challenge is, then, to remove the negative thoughts one by one. Or, if you sense that you’re letting your thoughts travel to a negative place, try and shut it down before even fully letting it into your mind. The minute you shut it out and silence that negative thought or voice, is the minute you prevent yourself from slipping further into the grasp of your eating disorder. It is hard though, don’t get me wrong. I won’t sit here and say that it’s going to be wonderful the minute you tell yourself that you’re going to try and be more positive. The reality is, the negative thoughts will be there for a long, LONG time. They may be there years into recovery. But the more you learn to challenge those negative thoughts, the more you learn to shut those negative thoughts down before letting them take root, the easier it becomes. And, the less likely they will be. Swapping in positive thoughts where the negative once lived, is hard. Yet I encourage you to keep trying to counter the negative with a positive. The more effort you put into actively trying to think positively, the less likely the negative will filter in. You will be so busy trying to think positive that the negative will slowly work itself out. Slowly.
3 – Inspiration is a beautiful and powerful thing. It can muster up a fire within you to do something you never thought you could normally do. It can create feelings of strength, ability, mental-awareness, and zest that never existed before. Inspiration has such a wonderful way of taking the dark and turning it into light. It’s hard to seek out inspiration at times, though. Eating disorders are isolating. They are the type of disorders where you distance yourself from loved ones, or the rest of the world in general. You + your mind is the extent of it. So seeking out an inspirational source it not very likely…at least initially. But I’ve found such benefit in doing so. Even in the moments where I feel like all is hopeless, if I look for a form of inspiration, I note the benefits right away. The negative is challenged, and there is such a change in mentality. For me, I have found inspiration in reading and hearing the stories of those who have been in my shoes, have experienced an eating disorder in their lives, and are either currently challenging themselves in recovery, taking bold and daring steps that counter the eating disorder, or those who have found a place of peace and contentment and are in a place of full health. I also love reading about confident, beautiful, talented women who are proud of who they are, proud of the bodies they have, and establish themselves as real, talented, raw humans with more to offer than a slender frame. These women inspire me to realize that I am more than my body. I am more than flesh and bone.
I have also thrived when reading inspirational quotes, or quotes solely relating to recovery. Something so simple as a single sentence quote can oftentimes transport me from a negative, self-defeating, hopeless place, to providing me with a glimmer of hope. It can be compared to a candle in the darkest room. It is just enough to get you out of a negative place. My mom used to share quotes with me all of the time. She’d send me multiple ones a day. Those aided me so much. There were times when I remember rolling my eyes and thinking “Oh, please, mom. Another one? Really?!” But even as I thought that to myself, I did reap the benefits. I did end up finding that even when my thoughts were negative and I didn’t feel like choosing recovery, those little bits of hope started to creep in and push down the walls my eating disorder built up.
I find it so important now, now more than ever, to keep focusing on inspirational things. Even if you are well along the road in recovery, you can become complacent. You can reach a point where you are coasting along and not really struggling, but also not really pushing forward in recovery either. It can be easy to just ‘get by’ where you’re at. Inspiration is so important, no matter where you are at in your recovery journey. It adds a little fuel to the fire. It gives you a little extra spring in your step. Find the things that offer inspiration or touch you on a personal level.
Another form of inspiration can be the things that you enjoy or want to enjoy as a result of being in a healthier place. Are there certain hobbies that just speak to you or that form an identity for you outside of eating disorder? If so, focus on those things. Keep exploring your identity in those areas. I think one of the most crucial parts of the recovery process is being able to find who you are without your eating disorder. Oftentimes, the first thing that comes to mind when we’re in the thick of our eating disorders is how we are eating disordered individuals. But a key component in your recovery is establishing an identity independent of anything associated with your eating disorder. For me, I have recently fallen in love with photography. It’s something I’m truly passionate about and that makes me feel absolutely wonderful and at peace. This has been the only thing, to date, that has given me the same benefits of engaging in eating disorder behaviors. Exercise had always been my favorite thing to do, and while I still love to exercise, I can understand and appreciate that photography is a passion of mine not motivated from any place other than sheer passion for it. With exercise, I find that I always question my true motives for wanting to exercise. With photography, it’s a completely different animal. And an animal that I can’t wait to unleash even more in the future.
Truthfully, we each have different things that speak to us or contribute to our recovery process. What works for me, may not work for you. Or, there may be elements that you can appreciate and understand and identify with. Whatever it is, I encourage you to find the things that help you the most and to really grab hold of them. Don’t let go of what helps you or encourages you to recover. Make it your priority, no matter where you are in your recovery journey. I guarantee you will reap the benefits.
Much love ❤