I’m often asked the question “what does recovery feel like?” What does it look like? How does it smell / taste?
…Ok I don’t get that one.
But much like any city, movie, food or situation you have yet to experience first hand, it’s almost impossible to truly relate to it. It’s hard to KNOW what it’s going to be like – what to prepare for, and how to decipher if you’ve reached it- and I understand that. But trust me, it’s a new sensory experience.
I can’t help but be reminded of a scene from last season of The Bachelor with Nick Viall.
Before you think… Seriously, Kate?!? Hear me out…
Does anyone remember last season when Kristina described her childhood and experience immigrating to the United States? How she felt scared to leave Russia because it was familiar, and seemingly safe? Yet it was as if she was living in black and white. And remember how she shared with Nick (and a tearful audience of millions in their living rooms) that her teacher told her at 16 “in America you’ll live in color”?
Obviously the circumstances and challenges are different in this comparison, but overall I think THAT is a great description of what it is like to shed an eating disorder, and live without one.
It’s more colorful.
So in 5 simple but powerful words, this is what I have found recovery to “look” / feel like.
It looks like…Willingness.
Recovering from an eating disorder requires a lot of this. More often than not, overcoming an ED means tackling much more than the physical. It’s not always about weight maintenance – in fact, usually that’s secondary to the “root” of what caused someone to react to life through disordered eating and negative body image / body dysmorphia. I want to take a second and get statistical about the prevalence of these mental illnesses, and then back to willingness.
- At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
- More Statistics here.
Often times, recovery requires letting go of something. Letting go of past resentments, and/or forgiving yourself. This can be some heavy shit. It’s not easy, it’s certainly not fun, and it’s truly work to learn where anxiety around food or a negative body image stem from. So it comes down to being willing and receptive to the process, a willingness to let go of the familiar.
Those in recovery typically need a strong support system throughout – be that family, friends and/or significant other + the guidance from mental health professionals. Why? Because overcoming disordered eating takes repeatedly doing something that is the OPPOSITE of what you want to do or what feels familiar, safe and “black and white”.
Repeat after me: “I’m willing. I know that recovery takes strength”.
Seriously, willingness to work on yourself is bad ass.
A HUGE piece to the puzzle (in my opinion) is gratitude. Gratitude and any form of spirituality is extremely personal. I used to have no form of spiritual practice or belief. It was not until I realized I couldn’t recover alone that I allowed myself to have faith in something larger than myself. Today I choose to not so much subscribe to a religion, but rather believe in something powerful as guidance. Call it the universe, spirit, or anything you’d like, but I have found comfort in finding gratitude despite the difficulties and pain that my eating disorder caused me.
Simple ways to easeee into living from a place of gratitude includes writing gratitude lists, meditation, practicing mindfulness and finding the beauty in things (nature, pets, love, music,) things OUTSIDE yourself.
I also like to practice gratitude for my ability to own and reside in a healthy, capable body.
It’s humbling to remember how valuable our health is, how LUCKY we can be to move our legs (rather than hate their size) and remain thankful as health is truly never guaranteed.
YAY! Here comes the fun stuff. I started heavy but what about JOY AND FUN AND FREEDOM? Those come with recovery as well. You can enjoy your favorite food without looming anxiety, laugh (genuinely), admire and support another woman’s beauty without comparing it to your own, go out with friends on a Friday night, or vacation with your sweetheart without thinking about your weight or calories, or “diets” or gyms, or secrecy or shame.
AHHH. Incredible, genuine, REAL (!) joy.
Joy is the most rewarding part of the process, I believe. It’s what makes you sit back and say to yourself “THANK GOD I did this for me.”
Repeat after me: “I deserve a life full of joy and fun and freedom, without disordered thoughts or behaviors.”
Let me just say, I have my bad days. There are days I look in the mirror and say “Ugh. What. The. Hell!” I’ve cried (more than a few times), felt angry at my new body, discouraged with the process, and then I refer back to number 3, and get back to gratitude.
Repeat after me: “I am perfectly imperfect.”
Above all – recovery is colorfully hopeful.
Your heart and mind widen to the possibilities of your future. You’re more present. You’re more excited about the opportunities ahead rather than being laser-focused on the contents of the next meal or the details of an anticipated workout.
You create room in your life to live your truth rather than define yourself by restrictive details such as weight, size or shape. Life becomes MORE than the numbers, your appearance, and quite honestly yourself. Being stuck in an eating disorder often feels isolating, lonely, and pretty self centered, sometimes. If we’re lucky enough to be human beings , (which by the way my favorite business hardass to follow, Gary Vee, often reminds his audience that the chances of being human are 400 TRILLION TO 1. Yup.) don’t we want to, and deserve to, feel anything but isolated?
Repeat after me: “I choose to feel more hopeful about my colorful future, rather than live in fear of what’s to come.”
There you have it. The way I’ve defined recovery in 5 words… simple? Not really.
Worth it? Very.