Recovery, year 3

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Uphill Battle?

There comes to be an odd point in recovery from an eating disorder where you don’t really know where you are. In treatment and immediately following treatment, you learn to discern healthy voice from eating disorder voice. You learn what an urge feels like for you, and more than anything you commit to following your meal plan and your activity plan as if your life depends on it (because it does). In this time, you eat things you never thought would pass your lips in your wildest dreams, or nightmares, as the case may be. You never, ever, skip a meal. You normalize your eating, in essence. When you leave treatment, you learn how to function in the “real world,” whatever that means. In the “real world,” you figure out how not to rely on your eating disorder to get through your normal day. You work, study, and hang out with friends. You take more challenges than you believed you could, enduring the heart palpitating anxiety and sucking it all up in the name of recovery. By learning to give less than 110%, you actually succeed to a higher degree than when you were busting your butt giving life/school/work every single ounce of your being. In recovery, you realize your full potential. When you get the chance to share your triumphs, you do. In early recovery, you have the full support of at least your closest friends to follow your discharge meal plan, to keep your exercise to a minimum, and to breathe and rest easy in the knowledge that you are still in recovery, so it is normal to be provoked every now and then by the myriad of negative messages that attack you from every corner of your social world. One year, two years… you let the time pass with relative ease, hanging on to the meal plan that works for you, not sweating the urges too much, reveling in your utter wellness. Not many people know what you went through, or they only suspect your prior struggles- generally, everyone is content to let you be well. There are struggles. Of course there are struggles. You can’t live somewhere like North America without people speaking of obesity epidemics and how they really need to cut back. You know, though, that if you divulge the length of your stay in treatment and how recently you were “inside,” (inside rehab. Yes, rehab. Where you had to go when you were 20 years old.) people will generally respect the fact that, unlike others, you actually do have to have that slice of cake. They are, in general, ok with the notion that you have to retain your vehemence in non-meal skipping, no matter how “good” the cause. Maybe fewer understand that instead of worrying about “fitting in” a certain amount of minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week, you have to worry about not surpassing the four hours a week that result in an increased relapse rate. No, early recovery is not easy. It is, in fact, probably the hardest thing you will ever do. Facing the society that shackled you is far from a proverbial walk in the park (a slow walk. And have an extra, while you’re at it.) You’ll find yourself in tears when you accidentally get an endorphin high, biking with your brother through Montreal. You’ll agonize over whether to start eating meat again, and over which choice of lunch is the perfect balance between challenge and complacency. You’ll still follow your meal plan- you are striving, as you knew you would, to be the model of recovery. By all objective measures, you will succeed (as you always do, you little perfectionist you!). Early recovery… has suddenly passed you by. Now you’re living in the real world. Not the “real world.” The. Real. World. Food no longer preoccupies you. Things are more natural, more normal. While you still (yes, still!!) follow your meal plan, there is a sense of ease and fluency- it’s as much second nature as putting on clothes in the morning (oh wait, that’s still sometimes an exercise in body acceptance…). You can attend a dance class and not scrutinize your body. You can attend a dance class at all, and take your extras like a pro, allowing your body to recover. You’re focused on your future. You’ve got your eyes on the prize, and the prize isn’t a number on the scale. But…

There are those days. There are those days where you remember (oh, so acutely) what got you there in the first place. What plunged you into the darkness, what drove you to seek the numb. What sucked you in and wouldn’t let you. There are still those days. Those days usually strike in a moment of anxiety, of stress. Jobs, school, love…

Maybe the worst part about those days is the annoyance they spark. “Should”ing yourself like you do (which you, ironically, shouldn’t do), you think about how this shouldn’t be happening. Honestly, Andrea. By this point triggers simply shouldn’t exist. Three years without a symptom, girl- get a grip. By this point, you rationalize, you should be a normal person.

Mid (late?) recovery is more laden with land-mines than you could have reasonably expected. It’s a surprise! And you aren’t the biggest fan of surprises. Those challenges are different than before- it’s more about figuring out your identity, and your place in the world. It’s about more than just being in recovery- it’s about determining the line between health and disorder. It’s about balancing normal and normalized. Nobody tells you about this part of recovery. You realize, at this point, that recovery is more of a sticky, tricky, elusive son-of-a-gun than you expected. Sometimes you feel like you’re hanging on for dear life. Yes, yes, the important thing is that at the end of the day, you are holding on. Like a cheap motivational poster, you’re hanging in. But it annoys the hell out of you that the burden of being “in recovery” still hangs over your shoulder. Now, more than ever, you have to keep challenging yourself. But now, less than ever, do you feel the “justification” to do so. You’re facing that distinction between a normal, never disordered, eater, and a normal, once disordered, eater. Now, you learn that normalized eating is, sadly, not the norm. You simply have to accept that you might be the only person you know who routinely and mechanically eats 3 meals and 2 snacks, at 3 to 4 hour intervals, every live-long day. You toy with the idea of intuitive eating, and get too scared of restricting to take the plunge. You arm yourself with the best knowledge about the realities of relapse and how to avoid it. You fight back against whatever the newest diet fad is. But you have to (you have no choice!) accept that those things will sometimes eat at you (haha). Sometimes, when you’re arguing with someone about the newest article spouting scientific evidence about the evils of carbs and/or sugar and/or whatever else is currently on the nutrition-outs, you’ll wonder if, now that you’re recovered (period.) you should try out what science is pointing to as your best functional option. Then you’ll reflect to yourself that this is, obviously, a bad idea that is more likely to lead you back to rehab than to the fountain of youth.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that in mid-to-late recovery, you face decisions daily about your health (mental and physical) that no one can decide but you. Maybe you will always (yes, for the rest of your life) have to actively choose to take days that are completely free of activity, despite the news article saying that sitting is killing us. Maybe, you will have to relish that extra slice of bread, though people are trying to convince you that if you went gluten free you would be completely physically healed of all ills that still plague you. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll win someone else over to the recovery side. But you could be in this alone- and you just have to be enough. 

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