Maybe you just relapsed and the thought of starting over in the recovery process feels painful. Or perhaps you had changes in your weight, which is causing you to want to “throw in the towel.”
It is so normal to be in a place where you feel caught between wanting to maintain your eating disorder and a desire to continue to seek recovery. Ambivalence and denial of the severity of the illness are common aspects of having an eating disorder.
You likely have used eating disorder behaviors in an attempt to “feel better.” Behaviors like binging, purging, and/or restricting, may temporarily cause you to “feel better” and calmer. However, in the long run they only bury your underlying issues and cause you to feel even worse.
Your eating disorder may help you to feel “in control,” or “special,” however these are false illusions. The reality is, the deeper that you are into your eating disorder, the less “in control” you actually are. Rather, the eating disorder begins to completely consume your life and often becomes your primary relationship.
“An eating disorder hijacks your true sense of self and identity and replaces it with an illness.”
Some may argue that their eating disorder is the only thing that makes them “special” and are afraid to give up that identity. The truth is that the deeper one is in their eating disorder, the more one becomes a carbon copy of everyone else who is struggling with an eating disorder. An eating disorder hijacks your true sense of self and identity and replaces it with an illness. I guarantee that there are other traits or qualities about yourself that make you special and unique, which the eating disorder is currently masking.
If you are struggling with wanting to give up on recovery, I would urge you to recall what caused you to seek recovery in the first place. Living with an eating disorder is like having an abusive partner. Often your life becomes completely taken over by 24/7 thoughts about food, your body, and exercise. Many will find that they become increasingly isolated, depressed, and that their relationships suffer.
When you look back on your life at age 80, do you think that you will be fondly reminiscing about the amount of time you spent counting calories, avoiding social events, running obsessively on the treadmill, or hiding empty cartons of food in shame? Living trapped in an eating disorder is ultimately not a fulfilling life.
So what does recovery feel like? Just as no two people’s experiences of an eating disorder are the same, recovery may look different for everyone. However, ultimately recovery is when food and your body take a more normal place in your life. Recovery is when you can explore new passions (outside of food/exercise/your body) and build strong relationships with people who matter. Recovery is being able to explore the world and travel, savoring the food and taking in the culture of a new place.
“Recovery is truly living again. You deserve a full life, one that you cannot have if you are still trapped in your eating disorder.”
Recovery is laughing and losing track of time with friends and family because you are having such a great time. Recovery is also feeling sad or angry sometimes and dealing with disappointment and heartbreak. Recovery is feeling all of your feelings both pleasant and unpleasant. Recovery is truly living again. You deserve a full life, one that you cannot have if you are still trapped in your eating disorder.
It’s important to note that recovery is not a linear process. No matter where you are in your journey, it’s important to practice being kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can given the coping skills that you have, and you can also work to change and improve. It’s normal to have setbacks and to make mistakes, but what matters is that you learn from them and continue to work towards recovery.
I’d also recommend making a list of what your life could look like five years from now if you choose recovery and five years from now if you are still trapped in your eating disorder. If you are not working with a treatment team, it is also important that you identify specialists in your area that can help you. No one should go through the recovery process alone.
You didn’t choose to have an eating disorder, but you can make the choice to continue on the path towards recovery. No matter what lies your eating disorder may be telling you, your life is worth so much more than obsessing about food and your body. Imagine all of the amazing things you could accomplish if you devoted this time and energy to something positive. It may take some time, but I believe you will find a fulfilling and passion-driven life, one where you can finally say, “I am recovered.”
Marya Hornbacher, an author who recovered from an eating disorder, says,
I don’t remember when I stopped counting, or when I stopped caring what size my pants were, or when I started ordering what I wanted to eat and not what seemed ‘safe,’ or when I started just eating when I got hungry, instead of questioning it, obsessing about it, dithering and freaking out, as I’d done for nearly my whole life. I don’t remember exactly when recovery took hold, and went from being something I both fought and wanted, to being simply a way of life. A way of life that is, let me tell you, infinitely more peaceful, infinitely happier, and infinitely more free than life with an eating disorder. And I wouldn’t give up this life of freedom for the world.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer has a private practice specializing in working with adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders (including binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and OSFED), body image issues, anxiety, and survivors of trauma. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD. Jennifer offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website at www.jenniferrollin.com
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.