“Recovery” is the shiny beacon of hope that we see, a glimmer, when we first look to the end of the hellish dark tunnel that is eating disorder (ED). Yet sometimes it feels that the closer we get to it, the further away it really is. We keep pushing forward, seeing glimpses of this idealised state but never quite getting there. Is there something “wrong” with us? Do we need to try harder? Are we chronically doomed to reside in the dark tunnel?
I think a lot of this depends on your point of view. For example, let’s look at the someone with a severely injured leg (i.e. recovery from a physical illness). At first, this injury is debilitating; they find themselves ubable to do the things they used to take for granted like walking and taking care of themselves. Over time, they gradually become more and more able. Eventually, they get to a place where they have “recovered” from the injury. They are back to normality and are able to function again.
But what does this mean?
Are they the same as they were before the injury or have they just become able to cope with an added difficulty in their life? Are they perhaps more physically able as a result of physiotherapy exercises and life changes? Will they be OK until a situation like a seemingly minor fall means that they slide back into ill-health again (in this case, having difficulties with their leg). This will vary hugely from individual to individual even within this seemingly simple scenario.
This is because recovery is COMPLEX.
“Recovery” from anything is a very personal journey and I think this is something that many, including myself, are quick to forget. When we put this into the context of such a complex mental health issue as an eating disorder, it is no wonder that we never reach this shiny magazine image of recovery that we tease ourselves with. In fact, if that’s our view of recovery, maybe we truly will never “recover”.
I believe however, that recovery in some sense of the word is possible for everyone. Ironically, it is the idealisation of this state that holds people back from achieving their own personal version. One of our greatest mistakes when holding up the shiny image is to imagine that recovery means escape; some state of constant peace and tranquillity. So it hits us in the face when on the road to recovery, we’re faced with the complete opposite. Real life hits us with a smack on the face. It’s not all sunshine and roses. We have relationships to deal with, emotions to face and problems to resolve. If recovery was based on struggle, it will certainly feel like less of a struggle to go running back to the eating disorder and give him a cuddle.
I guess my old coping mechanism was to say that I’ll get there one day; that somehow this very difficult path would lead to the perfect endpoint. I think I had to believe that to keep going if I’m honest. These days, I’m beginning to realise that recovery isn’t a stopping point. We don’t stop at recovery, we start. Sometimes that will be awful and sometimes it’ll be great but the point is that we need to experience this as ourselves and not as the eating disorde. He might always be lurking round the corner waiting for us to become vulnerable and fall over, but for the most part, we’re done with him. He’s not ruling our lives any more. Over time, we’ve healed so much that he’s no more than a passing thought. But a thought nonetheless.
I don’t know, maybe I’ll still get there where a state of complete tranquillity will be mine. If I do, I’ll spread the word. I think for now I’m going to say recovery is possible but only if we are willing to embrace what that really means for us.
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