“Recovery is hard.”
“It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”
“You’re going to relapse. Recovery is hard.”
I see this kind of rhetoric all the time, and it frustrates me. I can’t stand the idea that recovery is hard. In fact, believing “recovery is hard” and that relapse was inevitable kept me from recovering for years.
“Recovery is hard,” you say? Well fuck that shit! I will stay in my disorder, thankyouverymuch, because at least I know what to expect. And I know that even though trying to eat as little as possible and lose a bunch of weight didn’t fix my life last time and I still binged until I couldn’t breathe, maybe it’ll work this time.
“Recovery is hard” made my eating disorder stand at attention. Because, after all, I was weak. I had no self-control. “Hard” was not for me.
Of course, staying in my disorder for years also ended up being hard: on my body, on my relationships, on my family’s food budget, on my ability to experience joy and wonder at the miracle of just being alive. It finally hit me that whatever this “hard” of recovery that everyone was talking about might be, it couldn’t be worse than the “hard” of always feeling afraid around food and distrusting my desires. And while it was true that I hadn’t done very many hard things in my life, I hadn’t done no hard things, either.
So I took a leap of faith and faced this unknown recovery-“hard,” with the understanding that I could wuss out at any time, if I really needed to.
I discovered very quickly that recovery is hard—but only because life is hard sometimes. It’s not recovery’s fault.
When I stopped binge-eating, stopped purging, stopped putting myself on restrictive food plans, and stopped punishing myself with exercise, I noticed something amazing. Everything else in my life stayed pretty much the same! I still had a yard overgrown with blackberry brambles; I still had two children who loved me and relied on me and often behaved ways that pushed buttons I didn’t know I had; I still had a devoted partner and a sneezy cat and piles of laundry and feelings of being not good enough and computer trouble and fuzzy boundaries with certain people and bouts of imposter syndrome…but I didn’t binge, purge, starve, or punish anymore.
Recovery—the decision to not do my disordered behaviors—was not hard. It took some effort and it wasn’t always comfortable, but I knew what I had to do. (Get rid of diet books, unfollow diet-promoters on social media, consciously avoid women’s magazines, politely exit fat- and food-shaming conversations, eat enough to fuel my current body and activities, trust that chips and cookies were not the boss of me…) “Recovery is hard” made me picture hacking and slashing through an uncharted wilderness. This felt more like navigating in an unfamiliar city: a little anxiety-provoking, sure, but there were paved roads and I had a pretty good map.
Dealing with the life stuff, though… I didn’t have a map for what to do when my children were fighting and I wanted to scream so loudly it might actually destroy everyone and everything within a three-mile radius. In the past, I might’ve stuffed my mouth with spoonfuls of peanut butter and maple syrup. Now what?
This is the territory I’m still charting. When my mind suggests that if I’m eating cake, I might as well eat all the cake, I pull out my map: eat one piece of cake, slowly and on purpose, and sit with any feelings of dissatisfaction that might come up, reminding yourself that you can have cake any time you want it, and you are allowed to want it. Breathe. When my mind tells me to lash out? Um…try not lash out? Unless I’m lashing out because I’m overly hungry (which rarely happens these days), a mouthful of peanut butter might help. But if I’m not hungry, food is not the answer. So what is? Go ahead and scream, three-mile-radius be damned? I don’t know exactly. (Right now, I freeze, feel my feet on the ground, maybe say in as calm a voice as I can muster, “I’m starting to feel angry and frustrated…” Breathe.)
Picturing my “fantasy-eater scenario”—answering the question, “How do I want to relate to food?”—was relatively simple. Picturing my fantasy-life scenario—”Who the hell am I, anyway? How do I want to relate to the world?”—is proving to be much more difficult to answer.
Recovery is easy. It’s showing me the real “hard”: filling in my world map.