What Does Recovery Look Like?

It’s that time of year again: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week! Seven days dedicated to awareness, telling stories, sharing information, and fostering support and community. I’ve told the story of my eating disorder many times. My story is very similar to ones told plenty of times before. We have seen the same representation of eating disorders in about 75 different Lifetime movies: a young, teenage white girl, possibly a dancer or a gymnast, who is already quite thin. She develops an eating disorder (usually anorexia, but occasionally bulimia, too), gets really skinny, and then in the last half hour is ready to recover. That’s where the movie always ends. Over time we have begun to see more and more people tell their own diverse stories about their experiences with an eating disorder and I’m very grateful for that. The one issue I rarely see discussed, however, is what happens after that last half hour of the Lifetime movie ends. What does recovery from an eating disorder look like?

I didn’t have a plan or a vision when I began recovering seven years ago. I had spent ten years of my life, my formative years, treating food and my body like my enemy. Spending all my time concentrating on what I’d be eating next, how I’d exercise, and how many times that day I’d weigh myself. The prospect of recovery was always a bit of a pipe dream; something I’d do one day but not today and not tomorrow, probably not even next year. Who would I even be if I didn’t have my eating disorder? Over a period of time soon after graduating college, I decided that I had had it with being sick. I was ready and I was willing to go in completely blind to what the future would hold in recovery. I had no guide. No Lifetime movie to reference. No books to read.

Recovery is like a New Jersey road in the winter time: fine, even smooth in some spots and in other spots completely riddled with pot holes. Recovery is bumpy. What happened to me is that I gained weight; many times a necessary step in one’s recovery. I slowly began treating food as a part of life and even an enjoyable part of living. I cultivated a huge obsession with French fries, for example. So delicious! So crispy! One day I decided to transition from skim milk to whole milk in my coffee when I felt it was the right time. Recovery is full of teeny tiny steps so be sure to recognize them and celebrate them. The tiny steps are just as important as the big leaps.

Because there is no real representation of what recovery looks like and because recovery looks different for all people, I’m often left questioning if what I’m doing is “right” or if other people in recovery feel the same way I do. Recovery is a journey full of ups and downs, tiny steps and big leaps, and good and bad days. There is no right way to be in recovery. Much like there is no one eating disorder experience, there is most certainly not one recovery experience that we all must emulate. In my experience, I do have a lot of good days. I know it’s a good day when I’m not second guessing my food intake or making cruel comments about my body. I do also have many bad days as well where I think about restricting, or I get a sudden and random urge to make myself vomit, or all I want to do is cry in my bed because how did my stomach get so large?! At the end of the day I tell myself that this is all part of the journey. It’s not pretty. It’s not tidy. It’s not even similar from day to day or minute by minute and that’s okay. I’ve always told others that recovery is not a linear process. It’s up and down, back and forth, and full of squiggly lines. You take care of yourself, your mind and body and soul as best as you can each day, but it’s okay if some days don’t go well. If Monday stinks and you don’t want to eat or get out of bed, make sure to tell yourself that Tuesday is another day. Don’t get mired in one day’s or a week’s negative feelings. If the negative feelings and the unhealthy urges continue, reach out to a supportive friend or family member or even a stranger on the Internet! There’s a wonderful network of recovery warriors all around you.

Just like we should encourage each other to tell the story of our eating disorder and leap into recovery, we shouldn’t stop there. Tell your recovery story. What’s your life like now that you’ve left your eating disorder in the past? Life isn’t a Lifetime movie and the journey doesn’t end when we decide to recover. That’s just the beginning.