When I first went into treatment, I thought that because I hadn’t had an ED for so long, and because I wasn’t binging and purging every single meal, that I would recover before the summer was out. I thought treatment would magically work and I would be in recovery without having to even try to keep behaviors at bay. Oh boy, was I wrong.
The truth is that recovery is work. Very hard, long work. You have to take baby steps to get anywhere and for every two steps forward you take one step back. Treatment won’t cure you if you don’t put in the effort. This is unfortunate, because people with EDs are usually ambivalent about recovery so they have an natural disinclination to put in the work.
What kind of work?
Well. First, you have to keep stock of what you eat, but not too obsessively, or it will lead to bad things. You just need to make sure you’re eating enough and not overeating. Then, you have to challenge yourself to slowly go out of your comfort zone by eating foods you don’t think are safe. You have to prevent yourself from eating 10 cookies even when you feel like you’re about to cry. And worse, when you’ve eaten 10 cookies, you have to prevent yourself from purging.
You have to make sure that you don’t exercise too much.
You have to practice the skills you learn in treatment. Every day. And every single time you have an urge.
You have to cope with things without throwing up or eating or starving yourself. You have to deal with people without a crutch.
You have to face your demons. You think you’re uninteresting without your illness? Let’s find out.
You will hate yourself at first. Eating more always always always makes you think you’re fat. For a bit. But then when your body begins to calm down and you realize you’re not eating enough to gain weight, it will be okay.
But all this work will pay off, right?
Not necessarily. Recovery homework never stops and it never lightens. It probably gets easier to longer and more you do it, but just because you go through the motions does not mean you’re recovered. For example, I am constantly working towards recovery, trying to set goals to get better and battling inner thoughts. It gets better sometimes, and then sometimes it gets worse. Sometimes I feel like all my effort is for nothing. I believe that in the end, once I’m fully recovered, it will be worth it, but in the moment, I just feel cheated.
The bottom line is that treatment will not make you better. It will give you skills that you can use to get yourself better, and it will give you support. But recovery is about you and if you don’t decide to do what it takes, you won’t get better.
I wish it were different. I don’t feel capable of doing it myself. I wish there could be a guardian angel standing on my shoulder telling me what to eat and what to avoid and that I shouldn’t purge my breakfast. Or someone to chain me up whenever I want to binge.
But there’s not, so I have to do it. And I can do it. And I will do it. Even if it takes the rest of my life.