I just want to start this post by thanking every person who’s been part of the NEDA week dialog over the last five days, both here on the blog and over social media. I feel so blessed to be celebrating recovery in your company.
“Keep faith” is the final of my five eating disorder recovery affirmations. When I talk about faith, I mean a sense of trust that change is possible and a willingness to let the process happen in its own time. I’m not sure I have too much to say about it that I didn’t say in this post from a couple years ago, so I’ll reprint a few of my thoughts from there:
. . . over time, simply through the act of my forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other, things actually did shift.
Growth can be like this. I’m starting to wonder if maybe growth is always like this: not neat and linear, as we’d like it to be, and not circumscribed by deep insights or obvious wisdom, as we think it should be. Rather, it’s a cluttered and confusing process that we survive only by mustering up a mixture of faith and determination . . .
Don’t get me wrong: I learned many deep and important lessons along my path to recovery, and over time I did gain certain insights that put the process into perspective. But the insights aren’t what happened first, and I don’t think they’d have been possible without a certain amount of plain persistence in the face of tedium and difficulty . . .
I guess this is what I mean by calling ED recovery a “practice.” What I’m trying to say is that recovery is often something we show up and do every day before it becomes a part of who we are or how we feel. We sit down with food and we face our stuff—whatever stuff it is we need to face—long before we can call ourselves transformed.
Back when I was in a precontemplative state about recovery, I knew that it would be hard, but I also hoped that it would feel corrective. I’d finally been able to recognize my eating disorder as a problem, and I hoped that recovery would somehow bring my life into a state of balance and peace.
I was surprised to find out that recovery didn’t feel curative, at least not at first. Anorexia was a fundamental part of my identity; healing was only possible through loss. It was a messy and sometimes agonizing process—the opposite of peaceful, at least at first.
When things were really bad, I often wondered what I was doing. If recovery was so good for me, why was it so arduous? And why did anorexia feel so right? Why was disordered eating, which I was trying so hard to let go of, the only thing that seemed to bring my life into focus?
Obviously, things changed. With time, I was able to recognize that the disorder had protected me and given me a sense of purpose, but only at the expense of my freedom. It was great company, but it was also greedy. When I was sick, I used to take pride in how ably I could juggle seemingly impossible levels of self-deprivation with academic performance, professionalism, and some semblance of a social life. But the truth is that anorexia never gave me the space or or freedom to give myself fully to anything else. It’s telling that, when I look back on the years in which I was at my worst, the only things I remember in detail are how much I weighed and what my food rituals were at the time.
I’ve asked myself why I ultimately stuck with it, since I had relapsed twice already. I think I sensed that a more meaningful and mature relationship with food was possible, if only I could tolerate the growing pains of getting there. And I knew that there were things I wanted from life—freedom, boldness, connection, growth—that I would never have if I stayed trapped within the disorder.
These convictions gave me faith. They gave me something to hold onto as I let go of the rest.
Of all the things I’ve learned from recovery, this is the lesson, or the paradigm, that I most often “export” to other areas of my life. Last year, as I struggled to let go of my relationship and the life I’d envisioned around it, I reminded myself that it’s not always necessary to have a roadmap for healing. All that’s necessary is a sense of faith and trust that something different is possible.
If you’re grappling with some part of the recovery process right now, I hope that this post gives you a little faith, or that you’ll accept my offering of faith in you and your healing. I spend a lot of time writing about how hard recovery is, because it is, and I think it’s actually reassuring to have an open dialog about that. But I also believe that recovery is possible for everyone, no matter how personally we define and experience it.
Even if eating disorder recovery is a foreign concept, I hope that the idea of faith and gentle persistence might resonate in some way. I’m allowing it to lift me up as I enter the weekend, and I’m so grateful to you for reading this week. It’ll be back to business as usual on Sunday!
This week, I’m working with GoFundMe to raise money for the National Eating Disorder Association and the work it does for people with eating disorders and their families. Your contribution will help to keep NEDA’s helpline, referral system, and legislative advocacy going, and I’d be so grateful for any show of support that feels right to you. You can learn more and donate here.