Following last Friday’s post, we keep looking in retrospective to the past 2 years I’ve been recovering from anorexia nervosa, since I decided to begin it on December 27th 2016. This time I’m going to review some of the most important things I’ve learned through my personal journey, that hasn’t always been the same I’d read or listened from others (even professionals). I hope some of them can light a sparkle inside you and help you.
It’s more worth it to look to the future than to the past
It makes no sense to constantly stir up possible causes, hidden traumas, your family, your environment… That’s what many psychologists like to do. Trying it isn’t bad, perhaps you see a very specific cause and you have to act on it. But I believe that, when it isn’t obvious, it’s not worth it to insist and reopen old issues.
Instead, moving on is much more fruitful. The thing is, you are where you are, what are you going to do to move forward? Coming up with ideas of practical things, of the next right step you can take. Leaving the past behind and not throwing pity parties. Learning to live again, strategies to cope with your daily fights, goals and dreams to achieve, finding a meaning and a direction and figuring out how to get there. How to survive to the attacks every day, first, and how to fully live, later.
That’s why I liked to read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, whose psychological approach invites more to search and to hit the road, rather than to lament your past. I also needed to find a meaning after the only one I had ever known was torn to pieces.
It’s also the story of Ruth Soukup, the creator of the blogging course I’m following —Elite Blog Academy—. She suffered a series of terrible episodes of depression, and when she finally decided to get out of it, she said to her therapist that she didn’t want to talk about the past or explore her traumas; that hadn’t worked all the previous times. She wanted to know how to live from then on, how to rebuild her life from the state she was in, looking forward. And thanks to that, she could little by little get out of the hole.
Say things out loud
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. That doesn’t make you weak, just the opposite. And once you have it, be honest, very honest. Just having the humility and courage to say the thoughts out loud weakens the ED a lot. That’s one of the first things I learned. I realized that what was more characteristic of this illness was secrecy, the lies, and therefore now I had to do things the other way around in order to recover. So from the first moment I was very honest with the people that were helping me.
When I had the worst thoughts, the ones I would never want anyone to find out about, I told them. Overcoming the fear that they could believe (or discover) that I was a horrible person, that I was crazy or anything worse. That way, I showed the ED that it didn’t have me tied, intimidated and submissive anymore; that it wasn’t going to shut me up. Sacrifice the “what will they think”: salve your body and your soul.
Own your faults. But turn the page
We always have freedom. No matter how under attack we are. And responsibility. There’s a trend to diminish people’s freedom, to justify their worst actions because of the hard circumstances they’ve had to live (like the obsession in the movies that all the villains from traditional tales deep down are good). But we mustn’t accept a role of victims, as if we were subdued by superior forces that decide our actions. No. We’ve done bad things in our eating disorder, and it’s us who have done them, not it. Deceived, manipulated, yes, but we always had a choice.
This is the way to assume too that now we have a choice and we have a responsibility. It’s important to have blind trust in the people who are guiding us through this journey, yes, knowing that we can’t trust our judgment and believing what everything inside us screams it’s a lie, and doing what makes us feel awful. But that doesn’t mean passivity. We need to choose recovery every day, actively. The constant guidance, letting others lead us by the hand, must be a temporary stage; at some point you’ll have to take charge.
That’s what happens, unfortunately, to many people at inpatient treatment. They get used to a situation in which what they do doesn’t matter, whether they cooperate or resist, whether they work at getting better or they’re just there, because at the end of the day the doctors are going to make sure they’re kept alive. When they go home, they aren’t able to continue recovery there, and they enter a vicious cycle of inpatient and relapse. Only when they choose recovery consciously and actively (even in the context of being inpatient, which can be useful), they’re able to break it.
This also means you can’t treat people as you fancy just because you’re in pain. You have no right to take out your anger on others and believe they always have to excuse you because you’re sick. It’s not even good for yourself, it depersonifies you.
But don’t beat yourself up. Don’t enter a spiral of self-hatred. Sometimes you’re going to lose your nerves, make mistakes, relapse into ED behaviors, do what you know you mustn’t do. Own it. Fix it as far as possible, but don’t get frustrated if you can do that completely.
Jesus Christ has already paid for you, because He loves you and wants you to keep going. The same thing applies when you see the horror of the things you’ve done. They’re in the past. Own them, take them to Confession, and leave them behind. You don’t have to add more burdens to the heavy one you’re already carrying.
Everything doesn’t work for everyone
Take from each person (including me) whatever helps you. There are as many distinct ways to recover as people in recovery. There are very dogmatic people who believe everyone has to follow a method to the letter: eating a certain number of calories, not counting calories, being inpatient no matter what, x meals per day…
I think that each case is different and it’s great to share what has helped you most so those who come later can take ideas, but not for them to copy us, just for them to discover their own model by taking things from several sources.
For example, there are several things in which my recovery hasn’t been conventional (and that doesn’t make it better or worse, there are people who thrive in conventional advice, but no one should feel guilty if that doesn’t work for them):
A lot of times, it’s said that people in recovery shouldn’t work out until they reach a healthy weight. For me, however, it’s been really helpful. The key is learning to use it to build and not to destroy, as the purging method it used to be.
It must be adapted to the state of the body and only increased with supervision. It’s a privilege, not a right. But it’s served me to release stress, to improve my mood, to appreciate my body for what it can do and look to be stronger to overcome new challenges and, together with that, to improve my body image
Sometimes the person in recovery is expelled from the kitchen, to prevent her from becoming nervous when she sees the ingredients used (such as the amount of oil) and so there aren’t conflicts or she tries to impose her will over the food that’s cooked.
But I think it’s worth it to put up with the tantrums. At first, my mother and I always ended up crying in the kitchen. But now I’m glad to have been there, so it’s become a natural process. I love to eat things I’ve cooked with my own hands, especially when they are fear foods such as sweets. It’s therapeutic.
People usually frown when someone in recovery wants to learn about nutrition, as if it was just another facet of her obsession. For me, on the contrary, it’s been very helpful, since it’s served me to demystify food, get rid of false beliefs, and have solid arguments to refute my thoughts. Also to get fascinated by how the human body works, so I want to honor it better.
Having knowledge empowers me since now I don’t just have to follow rules, but I understand the reason behind them and I can be more in charge of my own recovery.
Choosing isn’t restricting:
I’m a firm advocate of the idea that one should try all the foods at the beginning of recovery, since usually almost every reason to refuse to eat something is an excuse because you’re scared of that food. You must be careful not to go from one disorder to another and fall into orthorexia. It must be taught that there aren’t bad foods in themselves and help the person to relax their customs.
But, as the process goes forward, the person in recovery can be allowed to make her own decisions. For example, I first decided to choose real food over ultra-processed food, being careful not to turn that into an obsession. And now I’m opting too for a more sustainable way of eating that takes into account animal wellbeing.
Obviously, these two changes have limited the amount of food options among which I can choose. However, I don’t feel inhibited or restricted at all, because I’ve made these choices freely, with knowledge and because of a personal conviction. Freedom isn’t exercised by keeping open the more options the better, but by choosing the ones you perceive as better.
Knowing your weight:
Another thing that’s usually contraindicated is to weight yourself. I, however, know I’d have gone crazy if I hadn’t known my weight throughout the whole process. Then, I’d have believed all the time that I was gaining weight too fast.
Knowing the number has helped me to be more objective and that way not to let body dysmorphia totally deceive me. Again, there’s no reason to be scared of a number, it’s just one more piece of information, and knowing it allows you to be more in charge of your recovery.
It’s ok to take a break
Recovery requires, at many moments, 100% of your attention and energy. It will drain your time and strength. Therefore, don’t demand yourself to have the same pace of life as others who don’t have to carry this heavy additional burden. You aren’t weak for having to take your time and set your own pace. Prioritize your health, especially your mental health.
I always think I should have taken some time off college, it was a mistake to push myself to the limit. I did slow down the pace in the last quarter, leaving some subjects to the extra exam session… but it would have been good to have some more peace. So, if something is affecting your mental balance, cut it off or pause it for a while.
And if you haven’t started recovery yet, don’t worry, you don’t need to figure out now how exactly the journey is going to be like, which of these guidelines you’re going to apply or not. Don’t wait to have everything clear in order to start. What matters is to take the first step asap, to jump and get help. The rest of things are going to be revealed to you by the Spirit along the way.
You can download below my guide with “10 challenges to get you started on ED recovery” and subscribe to my email list. Or contact me whenever you want. I’m also on instagram. I’m always glad to be able to offer a bit of light to a fellow fighter or her loved ones.
Don’t miss the third part of the 2nd recovery anniversary series next Friday!!! Update: PART 3 HERE.