Today I want to highlight some of the great things recovery has brought to my life, and why you need to keep trusting even when everything seems dark. But with a couple of warnings, that aren’t meant to discourage you, but on the contrary, to help you not to give up even when you come across them.
When you think you have everything under control, it will attack you from where you least expect it
You can’t take anything for granted. So don’t be surprised, or at least don’t get frustrated, when suddenly a fire you thought was extinguished burns you again. It has happened to me especially when I’ve started to behave in a slightly prideful way, forgetting my total dependance on God’s grace. He has shown me many times that if it wasn’t for the mercy He is constantly pouring over me, I’d fall again and again.
You’ll have the most primitive thoughts again: such as clunky attacks of making me feel fat or like my stomach protrudes from my jeans, when it isn’t true, but I have that perception and it’s maddening…. that used to happen to me constantly in the beginning of recovery, and then I thought I had overcome it, but still some days it suddenly comes back.
You’ll fall in obvious things: such as reading triggering websites when you know they don’t do you any good, but you think that, bah, they aren’t going to affect you anymore…
You’ll realize how messed up society is
As you recover, you notice that many things that were part of your illness are totally accepted and praised by society. People boast about skipping meals, say they’re going to compensate, apply moral adjectives to food (speaking about temptations, saying “I’ve been bad”, etc.), restrict whole food groups, demonize sugar, carbs or fats, eat less in public and always complain that they’ve been served too much… Diet culture is really annoying. Once you recover, you’ll be better off than most people.
I feel I have the mission to educate, to fight against the alarming myths and lies that are spread through the media, against concepts such as applauding food restriction as if it denoted willpower, against the need to justify what you’re eating out of fear of being judged, etc. Eating disorders sprout from the disordered eating prevailing in society.
This includes the other extreme too: laughing at “healthy food” and exercise, eating whatever without thinking about its nutritional qualities, the epidemic of overweight and obesity… In fact, they’re two sides of the same coin. Balance and temperance have been lost.
I believe the solution to this implies restoring the order God-soul-body on which St. Augustine insists so much. That, when God reigns over our soul, we may learn how He guides it and takes care of it, and apply the same principles to the reign of the soul over the body.
God gives you the grace you need at each moment
Worrying beforehand isn’t worth it, you’re causing yourself an unnecessary suffering; the only one, in fact, because the rest of them —the ones in the present— can be offered and therefore aren’t lost, but this one is vacuous since it isn’t any cross we’ve come across, but one we’ve made ourselves.
Most of your fears will never come into reality, and even if they do, they won’t be as you had imagined them. There are things I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with, but when they’ve arrived, I had changed so much at that point that they haven’t even bothered me.
For example, being at the weight I’m at now is very different from what I had imagined. I thought I was going to see myself so horrible that I wouldn’t even be able to look at myself in the mirror, but my body image, despite being still distorted, is quite more decent than before.
I thought that I’d be stressed all day long, measuring everything to the millimeter out of fear of gaining more weight, but I had never felt as free around food as I do now.
I thought I’d have to restrict my intake massively to avoid overshooting, but it seems like my maintenance intake is going to be pretty similar to my current one.
I thought I’d need to stop a little bit below a healthy weight in order to know I have “a margin”, but now I can even begin to accept that the margin begins at the minimum healthy weight, not below it.
St. Augustine prayed: “Give what You command, and command what You will”. And that’s how He acts. But He doesn’t give you more either. Just what you need at each moment to take the next right step. One of the things that my spiritual director has had to repeat more to me is that, when you start thinking about problems of the future, it’s like if you were facing them without the divine grace for it, only with your own strength. That’s why they seem so unsurmountable. But, when they arrive, if they arrive, it’s completely different because at that moment you can count on grace.
Recovery doesn’t mean you stop suffering. But it’s wonderful
I love reading recovery stories, but sometimes you can get the impression that once you achieve it, you’re going to enjoy a perfect and stress-free life. It’s not like that. Don’t be disappointed when new desolations come. But it’s 100% worth it. Because it gives you a real life: the other thing is a life so full of lies that it can’t truly be called life.
Truth sets us free, because only with it can we achieve our full potential, fully develop, be who we’re called to be. Free to love, because we don’t have to devote our total attention to the food idol. Because we don’t have to be constantly lying to and hurting our loved ones. When our life dream ceases to be being sick and being left alone so we can be even sicker.
Evelyn Waugh, an English writer of the 20th century, said the following quote referring to his conversion to Catholicism, and I apply it to recovery too, which after all is another conversion:
“Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a looking-glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly”.
That’s the best definition I’ve found to date. That’s exactly what happens. Waugh also said that: “every hour you spend outside the Church is an hour lost”. And, in parallel, every hour you spend without undertaking recovery, or without taking it seriously, staying in a limb, is an hour lost. Because you’re living half-assed, wasting the time you have to that delicious limitless exploration, to expand your ability of loving and receiving love, to have the strength needed to fulfill your mission in this world.
Moreover, when we suffer, especially when we suffer for our mental health and enter semi-depressive or depressive states, the only thing that’s truly effective is to hold fast to objective truths. Not trying to motivate ourselves and feel better, that’s ephemeral. You need to hold fast to what doesn’t change, what’s immutable, and that offers the best consolation.
Recovery is so much more than gaining weight
It affects the person as a whole. I don’t recognize myself when I look back; yes, there are certain features, qualities and values that are the same. For the people outside, I think the transformation isn’t so notorious, that they think I’m the same person but I’ve removed something, the ED. They underestimate the place it had in my life. It was my whole life, it impregnated everything. I’ve had to build from scratch.
In fact, I don’t even know up to what point recovery is a precise name, because the prefix re- indicates “again” or “backwards”, while in this case you don’t go back to anywhere. You don’t end up as you were before going through this, especially when you’ve been sick for as many years as me, but I think even if you haven’t. I think it’s impossible to go through something as this (purifying) fire of recovery and come to the other side as you were before.
I’m still scared
I’m not recovered, I’m in recovery. My body is arriving to the goal (to the first goal, at least); my mind —despite all its progress— is still a bit behind.
Until now, when I had bad body image, I could tell myself that it wasn’t possible for me to be fat if my BMI was indicating that I was underweight. But, once I reach a normal BMI —I’m just half a kilo away from that—, I won’t be able to tell that to myself anymore. I won’t be able to oppose that reason against my thoughts.
Until now, when I saw other girls thinner than me, I knew that most likely they actually weren’t and it was just a distortion of mine, but that even if they were, then it was their problem because that would mean they were malnourished. Now I’m scared to face a situation in which I’m not the thinnest girl in a group.
Until some time ago, people saw that I needed to gain weight. Now, many people think I’m already healthy. So I’m scared that if I keep gaining people will start to think that I’ve gone too far, that I should stop now, that I’ve gone too much into the other side.
What’s next for me?
It scares me a lot to think that possibly I’ll need to reach a weight above the minimum healthy so it’s really healthy for me. I know the minimum one isn’t usually the optimal one. I still need to rebuild damaged parts of my body, especially my bones, and get my period back. I know that all the girls I follow as recovery inspirations aren’t at the minimum, and yet I think they’re perfect.
I know that the healthiest weight has to be also the most beautiful one, that God wouldn’t have created us in a way that we had to choose between those two goods, that they were contradictory. But what I know isn’t always what I feel. And what I feel is fear.
Fortunately, all those fears are physical ones. That’s why they can’t stop me. As I said in the first part of this series, what used to hold me back more were my spiritual and moral fears. Knowing that God is with me, that I’m not going against Him but with Him and towards Him, I know the fears don’t come from Him. They’re enemies to fight against. And if I’m good at something, that’s at fighting. Which isn’t a great merit either, since I’m enrolled in the best army.
If you’re in the same situation I was 2 years ago, it’s your moment to rebirth. I invite you to take the first step by downloading the guide “10 challenges to help you get started on ED recovery” that you’ll find below. Today. Remember, every hour you let pass without taking action is a lost hour. I can’t ask you not to be afraid, but I can ask you to jump, even if you’re afraid.