Updated: Dec 9, 2019
What I wish I had known before entering Eating Disorder recovery
“Look how big your arms are, what are you, a rugby player?”. That was the comment that led me to my first diet and eventually Bulimia at Anorexia at 19. I spent the next 6 years in a cycle of denial, self-loathing and blame, with many tried and failed attempts at recovery.
It took 10 years but I did it. I now consider myself fully recovered. Recovery can be a long process due to the complexity and individuality of EDs, taking 2-7 years on average to recover and sometimes even longer. As hard as that time was I believe it taught me so much about myself, eating disorders and the recovery journey. There are 10 vital lessons I want to share with you, which, looking back I wish I had known much earlier in my journey!
Lesson 1. Responsibility over blame
Responsibility is where we take 100% ownership for where we are in life and how we are going to move forwards.
HOWEVER. RESPONSIBILITY DOES NOT EQUAL FAULT.
I blamed myself for my ED for years and felt so much guilt over how it affected my family. All this did was send me spiralling into a deep place of self-loathing, rather than motivating and empowering me into recovery.
My message to you; your ED is not your fault. You had to cope with whatever was going on at that time, in the only way you knew how! However, you must take responsibility for where you are right now and make the commitment to yourself that things have to change!
Lesson 2. What does recovery mean to you?
I found trying to live up to some of the aspects of general recovery definitions very overwhelming and daunting. Things such as, knowing your purpose and personal growth I found began to improve, after I fully recovered and are still a never-ending work in progress.
My message to you; recovery can mean different things to different people. Think about you, your eating disorder and what being fully recovered means to you. This clarity will help keep you on track as it is personal to you and your journey.
Lesson 3. Start with realistic and achievable goals
Following on from lesson number 2, I would become overwhelmed trying to think long term, you know, the big picture stuff. It made me pull away from recovery, rather than lean into it. . I learnt that our minds can’t tell the different between getting to the top of the mountain (fully recovered), turning around and going; “YES, I DID IT” and walking 2 steps up the mountain, turning around and going; “YES, I DID IT”.
My message to you; start small , setting yourself something really realistic and totally achievable. It can be as small as; “just for today I set myself the goal of X”. This will help to nudge you in the right direction and build your confidence.
Lesson 4. What else is going on?
My recovery was impacted by my chronic illness, EDS which affects my digestive system. At the time I chose to focus on my EDS which delayed me getting help for my eating disorder. I did not appreciate that they had a huge effect on each other and until I addressed this, I spent way too long in denial.
My message to you; other issues and challenges may arise and this is very common. It is important to be aware of other factors which could impact your recovery and work closely with your therapist and support system to ensure that you can still make progress.
Lesson 5. There is always another option
Throughout my journey I had tried so many approaches and therapies with some progress, but I still felt stuck! Unfortunately, there is no consensus with treatment as EDs are so complex and personal, which makes it harder to know where to go next. I remember sticking with therapies I felt were not helping me in the way I wanted, but I just didn’t know what else to do!
My message to you; look at your current treatment plan and rate your satisfaction /10. Ask yourself what is working, what isn’t and what am I missing? You may need to combine approaches, build a support team or even change approaches in order to get the help that is right for you.
Lesson 6. You feed what you focus on
I had days in recovery where I was totally consumed by my ED. I learnt that what we direct our focus on, our attention feeds the energy and keeps it alive. On these days, focusing on food and my ED thoughts and feelings made everything feel worse.
My message to you; on the hard days, be selective in your focus and give your mind a break, focusing on activities, people, places which have no link to your ED; anything you do in your day that brings you good feelings, as these are the things you also want to grow and feed.
Lesson 7. Keep looking forwards
Following on from lesson 6, I found that once I had set goals for myself I had to keep bringing my awareness and attention to what I wanted to achieve. I learnt that in our minds we have a system called the ‘Reticular Activating System’ or ‘RAS’. This allows us to filter the immense amount of information flooding into our brain, in order to find what is important. The more you decide to focus on good things and where you want to be, the more these will show up, by the way of your RAS.
My message to you; it is so easy to get caught up in our ED problems and focus on reasons why we can’t achieve our goals. Your point of focus determines the thoughts that occupy your mind and if you chose to focus on reasons why you can recover, you will find them!
Lesson 8. Shift your focus internally
I spent years looking outside myself for solutions to ‘fix me’ and trying to control people, places and situations. Unfortunately, this was exhausting and took away even more of my strength. I started making real progress when I shifted my focus and begun working on resolving my inner emotional challenges first, in something I now called inside-out recovery.
My message to you; I know how exhausting it can feel trying to manage yourself and everything going on around you. That is ok, be kind to yourself. It so important to take some time for you. Bring the focus back on you and work building your inner resources. You are number one priority!
Lesson 9. Dig a little deeper
Whilst I felt like I was making progress, there was part of me which still felt stuck! I have now learnt that 90% of our daily behaviour comes from our subconscious minds, which holds our habits, beliefs, values and identity. I realised that my ED had become stored unconscious and was actually being fuelled by a deep belief that I was not enough.
My message to you; if you feel stuck, take some time for you and do some self-exploration. This is the question I asked myself to shed some light on what was driving my subconscious ED programme in my mind; “ if there was something I believed about myself that was at the root of my ED, what would it be? Beginning with I or I am?”
Lesson 10. You already have everything you need to recover
Coming out the other side, the biggest realisation was that, everything I did in recovery came from within me! I was the one who had to step up, do the work and make all the changes!
My message to you; although you may not realise it, you already have all the qualities, strengths and resources you need to be free from your ED! Going through recovery will just help you to build you an EVEN BIGGER toolbox to help you navigate through your life.
I totally believe there is always something we can take from the hardest times in our lives. There have been 10 key lessons from these 10 years, which I wanted to share in an attempt to help anyone else struggling:
1. Responsibility over blame
2. What does recovery mean to you?
3. Start with realistic and achievable goals
4. What else is going on?
5. There is always another option
6. You feed what you focus on
7. Keep looking forwards
8. Shift your focus internally
9. Dig a little deeper
10. You already have everything you need to recover
Yes, I consider myself completely recovered. But I am not through growing. I believe we are always a work in progress, constantly changing and evolving. For me, beating my Eating disorder was only the beginning. It gave me the freedom to find my voice, tap into my power and start to create a vision for what I wanted my life to be like. Something which I could never even contemplate before as my Eating Disorder was crushing my true self and any ambition I had. I now feel that literally anything is possible!
If I can do it, so can you!
What have you learnt along the way in your journey?
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