The Grey Part of Recovery
Recovery is so weird: it seems as though one minute you’re living in residential with five other girls like you, and the next, you’re nearly three years into recovery trying to navigate the world with this new, almost completely (we all have those rough days…) recovery oriented, confusing identity.
I first went to treatment in September of 2017. I discharged Clementine Malibou Lake Residential Eating Disorder Treatment Center for the last time in August 2018, and discharged my final IOP in March 2019. Now, it’s March 2020, a year after I discharged treatment completely, and this part of recovery is hella confusing. You’ve done the hard work, you’re pretty much (again, we all have those rough days…) consistently following your meal plan, you’re maintaining your weight, you see your therapist once a week or so, you’re back in school, etc. So what is recovery supposed to look like a year out of treatment? Trick question! There is no right answer; it looks different for every single person, and your recovery may not look the same as I describe in this article (which is perfectly okay). But if you feel like you’re in that weird grey area of recovery where you’re not fully recovered, yet overall doing well in recovery, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I’m right there with you.
It’s hard to figure out my new identity; my whole world, fortunately, is no longer completely absorbed by my eating disorder, but parts of it still are. I don’t hesitate to eat my meal plan, in fact, I’m starting to find myself eating outside of meal and snack times. If I get a burger and fries for lunch at In-N-Out, I usually eat all of it, regardless if my meal plan only calls for 75% of the meal. And then for afternoon snack, if I’m still full from In-N-Out, I might eat a little less than my normal snack since I ate a bit more at lunch. I am truly, and honestly, honoring my body and how much it needs in the moment. (Disclaimer: always talk to your dietitian first before being this flexible with your meal plan. It’s taken me years to get to this point, and the timeline is always different for everyone. This is just my unique experience.)
So that sounds great, right? It is great… but I’m not going to lie and say that’s how my recovery looks everyday. The truth is, I still struggle every now and then. When I’m anxious, overwhelmed, or my depression starts slipping in, restricting is the first thing to come to my mind. I know it will make me feel calm and numb my feelings. And it will- for like an hour until I’m dizzy and realizing that restriction is not the life I want anymore; restricting is just not worth it. It’s not worth the constant fear of food, the panic attacks at the sight of ice cream, the dizzy spells, the residential stays, the absolute horror an eating disorder brings in its victim. I don’t want that anymore; I want a life filled with summer ice cream cones, beach days without fear of how my body looks in a bathing suit, baking cupcakes and actually eating them, getting married one day, having tons of kids, writing a novel, becoming an English teacher… all of that is not possible if I chose my eating disorder, which is why I chose recovery everyday.
So now what? You eat your meal plan and you still struggle sometimes, but you know you want recovery. Maybe now you’re starting to experience “normal people problems?” (You know… those problems your friends tell you about in their emails to you in treatment, and all you can think about is how stupid and minute they are compared to LIVING IN RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT AND FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE.) I remember my first normal person problem after discharging Clementine- I wore a long gown to winter formal when every other girl was wearing a short one. I was HORRIFIED. I was totally freaking out, thinking that my choice in dress would determine the rest of my highschool career. Obviously, I was wrong. Ten minutes after I got there and realized everyone was wearing short dresses, I forgot about the whole thing and got spray-on temporary tattoos with my friends. Moral of the story- it’s okay to have normal person problems now. In fact, I find it kinda awesome that I cared more about the length of my dress than what food would be at the dance. Just another sign that you’re eating disorder is consuming less and less of your life by the day.
I had an interesting challenge last year: something came up in my life that could have easily been the catalyst for me to slip back into my eating disorder. For a few months, it almost did. I realized that my eating disorder truly is my brain's “go-to” coping mechanism. What came up in my life was totally unexpected, out of my control, and left me with a major depressive episode and PTSD. Immediately, I started restricting. It felt as though I couldn’t help it, that choosing to eat wasn’t even under my control (spoiler alert: it was and always is). My eating disorder had completely different goals than it previously had. This time, it had nothing to do with body image, and had everything to do with wanting to feel safe in my body and numb unwanted emotions. About two months into my semi-lapse and dabble with disordered behaviors, my therapist, who is recovered from her own eating disorder, said “True recovery is going through the hard things and still choosing to eat.” It took blood, sweat, and tears, but I did it. I didn’t let my challenge be the reason I chose my eating disorder over my recovery. And now I know that I am SO capable of full recovery, because despite unexpected challenges and a little lapse, I ate, I did the work, and I stayed true to my recovery. I’m still in the middle of a major challenge that, in essence, doesn’t entirely have to do with my eating disorder. Of course it has added an extra element to recovery, but I have learned that unexpected challenges, related to your ED or not, do not give you permission to go back to your eating disorder.
I hope my words stuck in some way with you. Maybe they didn’t, but if you take anything out of this, just know that I’ve been where you are. I’m a Clementine alumni. I’m a student. I’m a writer. I’m a singer. I’m a survivor. I’m a daughter. I’m a friend. I’m in recovery from an eating disorder, and being in that weird, grey, middle part of recovery is totally okay.