I remember sitting on the black leather couch in my therapist's office longing to be free from my eating disorder, when she said something to the tune of, "There is no recovered. You get there and then you keep going."
I didn't like that statement. I so desperately wanted to believe there was a finish line. If I went all the way I'd cross it, and the tape would rip and I could throw my arms up in victory and I'd be done, pau, finito.
It took me so long to recover because I didn't buy into the mentality of, "Once an ED person, always an ED person." Unlike substance abuse, eating disordered patients are not addicted to food, despite what the food might make us believe. We are addicted to numbing out.
I was only willing to go through the crap of digging through my entire self and my experience, if there was a finish line waiting for me. I wanted to step over to into a place where I could shrug the disorder off, like a coat no longer needed in the hot summer air.
It upset me when I'd hear people say that they were "in recovery for the rest of their lives." Is there a recovered? Do you have issues with food? Do you want to kill yourself? Do you hate your body? OR NOT?
Granted, some of my black and white, all-or-nothing thinking was in play here. I longed to arrange things in nice little boxes so I could breathe easy. In reality, things are more intricate than they appear. Stories are far more faceted than a single plot line.
I believed that when I was better, I'd be better and I could stay better. I believed in reaching a fulcrum point, when I'd know too much and the scales would tip and I'd laugh with a silly smile. "Why would I ever go back to that path full of briar patches and internal sadness," I'd say.
It took me so long to recover because I didn't want meal plans, and I didn't want to be medicated, and I didn't want to label myself as a disease and claim it forever as my true self in the world. (Note: I'm absolutely pro-medication and meal plans if they help ease the angst and/or become necessary. It's a personal choice, and I deeply support a person's individuality to choose what's right for them.)
The other day, as I was rushing out of my house, I picked up the trash from my husband's fast food dinner to toss in the garbage shoot. I held the bag and empty drink as I shuffled my purse and turned my key in the door. My mind was already down the stairs, in the car, and on the road to my destination. As I swiveled my purse over my shoulder and took my first step down the hallway, my attention catapulted like lightning towards the bag I'd forgotten I was holding.
In a split second my mind flooded with memories. I scrolled through images of my binges, of buying burgers even when I was a vegetarian and horrified at the way the animals were treated, of shoving fast food bags under my seat before anyone could see me pull up the driveway, of milkshakes that curdled, of the sickening feeling of my stomach taught and my mind terrified that it might not all come back up.
In the hallway, I held up the innocuous bag that I clutched with a closed fist. I pictured the tree it might have come from, the factory where they dyed the logo and printed on its sides. It had been a simple bag, spring loaded with strange memories.
But in my grasp, in that moment, it was JUST A BAG, and although the images flooded through me, I watched them from outside the room. I knew the person in the memories was me, but it wasn't. I didn't feel the rush of anxiety. I didn't feel the compressions in my heart, the tug of compulsion, the spinning of my mind. I didn't hear the voice whisper.
As I looked through the glass of memory with a half smile of amusement and wonder, it slammed against my face, and I realized that I was completely on the other side.
I am recovered, period.
I forget to appreciate this. I spent so many years with the sole goal of freedom that I sometimes forget that I've gotten what I sought for so long. I forget to appreciate the sheer magic and magnitude. With the great fortune of freedom, my life was given back to me. I fought hard, but I got it back.
In the hallway, I dropped my hand along my side remembering what my therapist had said. Maybe she didn't mean that recovery kept going, or that we are always branded by our past as thought it exists a hair under our skin. Maybe she meant that the journey to knowing ourselves never stops. Even though we recover from the eating disorder, we are still human works in progress. Maybe she meant that there is no destination, that there is only journey.
Yes, I consider myself completely recovered, with a period at the end. But I am not through growing.
I, we, cross the finish line, but then we keep going, with something new. Except this this time we move forward, minus the sweltering coat and plus the T-shirt that usually says we've survived.
Whatever stage of recovery you might be at, know that freedom from the eating disorder is possible. Freedom can be your reality. No matter where you have been or what you have suffered through, hold on. It gets better. There is a future with you in it that is bright and shining.
*Seeking loving support is one vital step towards healing. If you are looking for a therapist please see these helpful tips: How to Find a Therapist You Love.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.