Sat in the car with Ben driving me to my first ED therapy session was the scariest day of my life, but it was also the beginning of my life. Sounds dramatic, well it was.
I sobbed the entire way, I yelled at him when we got stuck in traffic and the prospect of missing this appointment. The extreme reaction came from utter terror that if I missed this appointment I might never be able to re-find the courage that was leading me there and fear of starting the hardest battle of my life.
I had been to therapy before, when I was 7 and struggling with OCD and again a couple of times as an adult but I’d never talked about the eating disorder.
I remember the room and the welcoming demeanour of my then therapist who went about my intake assessment, I recall the paper questionnaire she had me fill, (EDE-Q) exploring my relationship with food body and mood. Distinctly I remember the battle in my head about how honest to be.
The room was cold and it was pitch black outside and I’d rushed from work, because I didn’t feel I could attend this appointment in work hours. At the end of the session I remember telling the therapist “please don’t label me”
She replied with a sentence that changed my life. “You have anorexia, restrictive type”
I felt a rush of complex feelings, Shame, disgust, denial and most prominent RELIEF. Relief I might not have to do this anymore.
Relief that now it was out in the open I couldn’t completely deny it anymore. Although at that very moment in time there was no part of me that felt “ready to give this part of me up” I also knew I couldn’t keep it up either.
The weigh in, which would become a regular feature of our sessions following, made the ED scream. I wanted to leave and not return for my second session but the present but quiet healthy voice would make me show up.
And three years on, that quiet healthy voice is now the predominant voice and I’m grateful to her.
I went back 3 weeks later and started CBT-E. It was the toughest and still remains the hardest thing I’ve ever done, hands down. I affirm it saved my life, in every sense. But 3 years on from that first meeting I wanted to share some hard truths.
1. Recovery isn’t a quick process. When I wrote a blog last “year- two years in recovery”, a large part of me hoped and thought by now I’d be saying I was fully recovered. In some ways this black and white all or nothing thinking kept me stuck. It was putting an unnecessary pressure on myself. There’s not magic crossing line.
2. You don’t always have to want to recover in order to do it. I mean when I reflect on that first appointment I certainly didn’t, but I started it anyway. There are days now, where the constant of my eating disorder feels like an easier option than recovering. But when it comes down to it, I hated my life with an ED far more than in recovery. Recovery will also not be forever, whereas an ED would be or a race for death. I don’t want to die and so even on the days where the ED comes knocking it no longer has as much power.
3. My definition/expectations of recovery have changed with time. Like I said, I no longer have a self determined end date for recovery. Instead it’s a commitment I make to myself over and over, with the hope and expectation that one day I will confidently exclaim I am free.
4. Slips, lapses happen. I’d be completely disingenuous if I pretended recovery has been linear. I’ve probably had more slips in the last 12 months than the 12 months prior to that, but each slip/ lapse has given me much needed information and education. I’ve gotten to learn so much about myself and it’s been generally easier to pull myself out of each one. It’s shown me areas of recovery that require my attention and focus to move forward and prevent the same slips later.
5. Self compassion. As a typical ‘all or nothing’ thinker and perfectionist tendencies it’s been one of my biggest challenges to learn to be self forgiving, to show myself kindness and compassion particularly in moments of struggle. But eating disorders feed on this inability to be kind to ourselves and practicing these have been by far one of the most powerful tools I’ve found in my recovery. This includes learning to talk back to the negative critic with kinder & gentler affirmations. Often, accepting what the eating disorder tells me and countering those thoughts with a healthy alternative. This continues to be something I work on. My journal is full of dialogues between my healthy self and the eating disorder voice and I gain insights to recurring themes or things that are keeping me stuck.
6. There are many beautiful things in recovery. My husband recently sent me a text “do you know what I really love? That the real Nikki is almost fully back, despite the shit that goes on in your head, the goofy girl that’s always been there is coming back more and more”
I screen shot that text and in moments where the ED is screaming at me, I read it and use it to motivate me to make the right decision. Finding something that can help motivate you in tough moments can really help, whether it’s a post card or somewhere you want to visit, an affirmation or a text from a relative can often empower you to fight back.
Now here’s where I highlight once more, I don’t always like recovery but if I want to stay that “goofball” my husband, family and friends love, I have to fight that voice, sometimes many times in a day. And this lends me on to another recovery tid bit.
Connection. Connecting with others in recovery, connecting with those that have trodden the path before you and connecting to your why’s is like an eating disorder recovery essential survival kit.
Connecting with people who ‘get it’ has helped me more than I can express in a simple blog. But if it’s something you’ve been reluctant or afraid to do, please consider it. Talking to people who ‘get it’ often without having to say what “it” is, really helps in several fronts; feeling seen, not alone or crazy. Not to mention the unwritten support and etiquette that most people in recovery show each other (I.e automatically knowing what Info is harmful, like numbers etc) without having to ask someone not to share things likes diets etc that is normalised outside of the ED recovery community. This can also lead to a level of accountability the “wanting to set an good example or help others” can inadvertently push you forward.
7. Connecting to my why. If I was to share what my why was three years ago, it would be very different today. The only thing I knew then was I couldn’t live that way any longer. Now, my why remains dynamic but is also much broader. I’m no longer a one dimensional figure where my life revolves around food and exercise.
What has recovery taught you?
That’s it my reflections on the last three years in recovery, who knows what I’ll find in the next 12 months, but I know one thing I’m letting go of the pressure of setting myself a recovery deadline and I’m just going with it.