“There is no right way to recovery, but you’ll know it when you’re there.”
Every blogger will understand me when I say the fun in blog maintenance is looking at the search terms people used on Google to find your blog.
It used to be that all the search terms people used to find my blog were either disturbingly perverse (like “fat naked girls have fun burping”) or annoying (“why are Koreans so stinky”– You’re stinky!!!) or funny (“cocky journalists who hate PR”). And then there are also quite a few people who apparently desperately want to impress their ladies with “sexiest dessert for the lady,” and more people who are obsessed with Kiki Kannibal’s apparent sluttiness.
For the past several months, ever since I wrote this post about weight gain in recovery, I’ve been getting a lot of search terms that circle around a confused fear over gaining weight and recovery. And I’ve been getting increasingly concerned.
A look into my site stats: Alarmingly, a lot of search terms dwell around a refusal to gain weight during recovery: “how not to gain weight but recover from anorexia” or “I’m anorexic but don’t want to gain weight” or “how to restrict again after anorexia weight gain.” And just as grieving are the search terms that ask the wrong questions: “2500 calories too many in anorexia weight gain?” or “anorexia recovery diet plan” or “how much weight a day must I gain during anorexia recovery.”
I’m hoping those individuals will also find this post. Because there’s something I realized during the course of my recovery–and even now–and that’s that it is very, very hard to recover if you’re constantly thinking about recovering.
Take me, for example. I have thought and planned and agitated over recovery for years. Guess what? I never did. I might have made the right steps to gain the weight, but mentally, I just never recovered because I was still stuck in “recovery” mode: aka NOT NORMAL. And because my thoughts were still systemized in recovery/abnormal mode, at some point my self-will faltered– and it will someday, because we all have our weak moments– and I crashed back into relapse.
Of course, recovery is a war. You’re fighting against all your “natural” impulses. You’re defying your mind’s dictates to cut calories here, throw that food away, run in place to burn more calories, and ultimately crumble in petrification and despair. You have to be alert constantly. You have to catch yourself from succumbing to eating disordered desires. You have to forcefully change a lot of unhealthy habits.
But. Here’s the Catch-22: At some point in recovery, you need to live more than fight. Because nobody can fight forever.
The ultimate goal of recovery is not to survive. It’s not even to gain back the weight you need. It’s not just about becoming physically healthy. At the tip of it, it’s about gaining back your life. It’s about regaining the same opportunities other people have in pursuit of our dreams, and the same rights other people have to enjoy happiness. We want to be human.
Recovery won’t solve all our life’s problems (life without problems is not worth living), but that’s the whole point of it! Being recovered also means dealing with life’s other problems! We want to cry over break-ups like a normal human being who experienced love. We want to deal with disappointments that don’t have anything to do with food or weight. We want to get mad at people and resolve complicated relationships that are outside of ED’s web-fingers. That’s all part of life, and we want to be involved in it.
I remember during my struggles with recovery, every tear I shed had to do with my ED. It was due to frustration over my inability to recover, or anger that someone made me eat something I didn’t want to, or self-pity that I’m wasting away my youth at home with no friends and no hope. Every minute, I was planning recovery. After breakfast, I was planning lunch. After lunch, I was planning dinner. After dinner, I was planning how not to overeat before bed. Repeat the next day.
Okay, not everything was physical. I even sought God with the main motive to recover. I read my bible every day, hungering over words that I felt fed me strength to recover. I listened to sermons on podcast, tuning into topics that inspired me to recover. I wrote eloquent posts on my blog (not this one), all about how I must recover, want to recover, or can’t recover. I told myself I want to repair my relationship with God, but honestly, I just wanted to use Him to recover (And thus became utterly bitter towards Him when I relapsed).
I had “recovery” programmed into my mind and body. That kind of mentality just cycled me continuously round and round the ED circle.
It’s not easy to shed that “ED recovery” mentality. There isn’t a switch you can just click to turn it off when you feel you’re at a good place. It took quite a while for me before one day, I realized that I haven’t thought about ED for a long time. It’s just…not part of my life anymore, at least not a central part, because I have bigger fish to fry.
When I came back to the United States after my extended stay in Singapore, I thought I was in a very good place. Singapore was the turning point of my recovery, and I had stopped counting calories, started eating out more, conquered a lot of food fears, and gained some weight. I came back home all rah-rah, wanting to demonstrate to everyone how recovered I am.
But real life doesn’t work like the structured days I had in Singapore, where dining was planned and people tried to cater to my preferences. I found myself freaking out whenever I had to enter a situation not knowing what or where we’re going to eat.
I still remember the weekly Friday Bible studies with my church friends, and how much I agonized over the fact that nobody factored meal plans into that meeting. My friends would say, “Okay, let’s meet at 7 p.m.” And that left me flabbergasted! 7 pm?! That’s dinner time! So are we going to eat together? Should I eat before? But that’s too early! After? But it’ll be 9 p.m. when we’re done! And so I haggled them, “What about dinner? Should we just have dinner together? Should I prepare something?” And inside, I was boiling with self-righteous indignation. HOW can they be so insensitive?! I fumed. Don’t they know that I still have to gain xx lbs? Don’t they know I have to eat constantly? I can’t just skip a meal like they can!
And then one friend finally told me: “Sophia, I feel like you’re always fixated on the meal. That’s not the focus of our meeting. Relax. We’ll deal with the meal situation when we come to it. Nobody else is worrying about dinner, just you.”
God. How I reddened up then! Of course. Here I was, thinking I was recovering by following the precise steps of recovery, but missing the whole point of it. I still had ED in the brain. I was still acting like a patient obeying prescriptions for pills and bedtimes. But at some point, I needed to get out of the ED hospital, and enter society in the real world.
I have received a lot of emails, and a huge chunk of them have to do with questions such as “What do I eat? How much? When? What happens when I eat xx calories? Is xx lbs too much? Can I eat this and that?” And I tend not to directly answer those questions, because I feel that it just leads the person in the wrong direction. Instead, I really want to emphasize the whole purpose of recovery: living outside of the ED bubble.
We know what it is like to live with ED. Our mind is constantly fogged and buzzing with questions, fears, anxieties. What’s the good in loading it with more questions? There is no right way to recovery, but I know recovery when I see it.
I know how hard it is to have to deal with the constant questions that pop into our heads. But I feel that you don’t have to deal with all of them. Sometimes, you just need to tune them out because they are meaningless distractions from life. Turn on the music, dance wackily, and laugh at yourself in the mirror. Go out with friends and listen to their problems. Get your hands busy in clay, paint, knitting, whatever.
And at every moment that you can, marvel at the miracle of life, and the awesomeness of God. Smile at the people around you, because they are precious. Enjoy simple self-pampers like slathering your hands with sweet-smelling lotion. Read the Bible because God’s Word is sweet, not because you think it’s the weapon to recovery. You’re not just regaining your health and future with recovery. You’re regaining the ability to give thanks and pleasure in the daily moments of life, right now and then.
From my experience, when you find that first, recovery will find you. But for now, keep calm and live on.
P.S. I blabbered so much in this post, yet I know I’ve missed many significant things. If you’ve got any more to contribute, please do.