On Monday morning, I realized that it was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2021, and I had completely forgotten about it. This came as no surprise, given how scatterbrained and forgetful I’ve been through all of quarantine. So I’m forgoing the usual musings and link roundup today to say something about recovery, especially as it relates to this unprecedented year.
My private practice is mostly focused on eating disorders and their afterlives, which means that I have a sense of how triggering the quarantine experience was for a lot of people. Sudden changes in routine, anxiety, health worry, and isolation are really hard for people with food struggles.
I’m grateful for the fact that I stayed solid in my recovery this year. Uncertainty, fear, and disruption have always been my triggers, and there was no shortage of them in 2020. But I didn’t feel triggered, thankfully.
This isn’t to say that my relationship with food was anything to write home about during the pandemic. It wasn’t. I baked and ate too much dessert. I lost interest in most foods that weren’t cake. My diet wasn’t nearly as nutrient-dense or well-rounded as it usually is. I abandoned my weekly meal prep. I lost interest in variety, relied heavily on the same few frozen foods. I gained a few pounds.
While everyone did a deep dive into quarantine cooking, I felt less and less motivated to cook. I had some great food highlights in 2020, of course—lasagna rolls, tempeh tacos, and broccoli Caesar have all become favorites—but most of the time I felt resentful about meal preparation.
Thanks ED recovery, I’m OK with all of this. I have a sense of perspective. I know what’s temporary. I recognize that my feelings about cooking make sense in the context of what’s happening in the world. I know that I’ll feel inspired in the kitchen again when my stress levels are lower and that my meals will have more variety and balance when my need for comfort and convenience has lessened.
What I won’t do in the meantime is beat myself up about my pandemic experience. I take notice without judgment or shame. This is what recovery has given me: the capacity to be self-aware, yet indefatigably gentle to myself. I didn’t handle all of the stressors of the pandemic as well as I’d like, but I was kind to my body, and I’m proud of that.
Like many people, I spent a lot of my long, repetitive quarantine hours thinking about how anything can change in an instant. I was reminded of how risky it is to delay things that feel important, to spend too much time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. I haven’t learned how to live in the moment at all, but I’m a lot more focused on trying.
This makes me think of a moment in my pre-contemplative stages of recovery when I asked myself, “is this my legacy? Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?”
I was tired of looking back on important moments and realizing that the only thing I could remember about the day in question was how much I’d weighed that morning. Food restraint and abstinence, once so satisfying, had started to feel sad and empty.
My recovery was fueled by the belief that I could have a more interesting and fully experienced life without my ED. There’s so much we can’t do or feel from within the four walls of food prison. Recovery asks us to open ourselves up to mess and vulnerability, to feel our biggest feelings, to surrender the illusion that we’re in control. It challenges us to be alive.
Has life ever felt more precious than it does right now? I’ve been writing about recovery for a while, but it feels so poignant this year. We can never protect ourselves from danger or guard ourselves against loss. But we can make sense of life’s hardships and suffering by cherishing the present, by showing up for it with our whole spirits.
My NEDA Week invitation to myself and to all of you this year is to love big, live boldly, and spend less time hiding. Life is precious, but we don’t have to be precious about living. Let’s take chances, make mistakes, learn, grow, and feel.
This courageous way of being is still very tricky for me, by the way. It’s so hard for me to step into the unknown, which is where most of the best things happen. But I made a promise to myself long ago that I would try, and the past year has made me recommit to that promise.
To any person out there who’s grappling with recovery, ED, or relapse, I’m sending you love and encouragement today. Stay open, stay brave. Healing takes as long as it takes, but it will happen with your willingness. Believe that a bigger and richer life is waiting for you on the other side of your recovery, because it is.
And no matter what, just keep going.
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