I've been thinking even further about the whole concept of recovery recently. Through observing my own process and a little of that of others', I wonder how much of our recoveries we do not define ourselves. When I left for treatment, I went with the intention of getting well and never going back to the eating disorder. I decided that despite stats and “facts” and all other external sources, I was going to achieve a solid and complete recovery.
When I indicate that I am “not there” yet in my posts, it is the very end of all this that I speak of. The end of MY journey towards MY idea of wellness. According to any diagnostic manual, I am recovered from anorexia/bulimia. I suppose I would have to maintain it for 6 months outside of a program for that claim to be supported. I will do that and six months from now I may have achieved what I want in my mind too. I know that a big part of the next while is practice of what I have been brought to understand.
There were times when I felt that I had “maxed out” my process; I would have settled and been okay with the degree of wellness I had at many points because it was just so drastically better than when I was sick. I felt often that different emotional places were “good enough” for me and I would just have to accept feeling really crummy sometimes in exchange for the really good days. True, I will have bad days just like any other human for the rest of my life. I will have days where I feel insecure and nights that I cry myself to sleep. I will be disappointed and heartbroken. I will not always love my body or all parts of my body everyday. The thing is: that's all okay!! None of those days mean that I'm relapsing or even at risk. I have been proving to myself since I've been home the kind of emotional resources I have developed and the strength I have. The biggest difference is that I allow these days without them really taking away from the peace/happiness/contentment that I feel inside. That is nearly a constant at this point. Moods come and go and experiences vary, but the good is never completely out weighed by the negative.
This does not mean that every moment of everyday is easy. I have days that are a mental struggle still, where I fight off self deprecating thoughts and making myself tired with efforts to affirm the positive and true. It takes effort still but just a bit less, and less often. However, because I have set my standards high for wellness, I take on these days as challenges. Can I do today better than the last time I felt this way? Will today be easier than last time? Have I learned anything recently that can help me get through this faster and more smoothly than last time? The answer is nearly always, yes!
I have my days of severe doubt but what I am proving to myself is that those thoughts have no place in my world. Sometimes I cannot even believe how much more distance I am putting between myself and the ED as days go on.
I know people who stop at certain points and decide, like I did at various times, that enough is enough and that place will be good enough for them. They applaud themselves – with good reason – for all the positive changes they have made in thought and behaviours but they stop. I suppose no one can be truly stagnant but it seems that there comes a time when one needs to decide within themselves that despite it still hurting after all they have already endured, they need to push a little harder to get a little further. This comes along with a similar blind hope that got me to treatment in the first place. I had no idea that this was actually possible but it was worth a shot. Why does anyone involve themselves in treatment voluntarily? Because they want something more – somewhere within them is a drive and desire for something greater.
Not everyone wants to do that and I do not judge a single person who chooses to hold onto small aspects of their eating disorder be it in behaviour or thought. It is comfortable to an extent; it is familiar; and to be truly without it is completely unknown. Unknown, I have learned, does not have to mean impossible. Unknown can also mean extremely beautiful! I didn't know for a long time how things could get better for me. I accepted my bad days and looked forward to the better days and that was “good enough”. I had other people telling me that it got better yet and that was nice to hear but I believed I would only improve marginally over a very long period of time.
Then something switched again a few months ago. I realized that I was not accepting, I was resolving to slow change/progress and I had given up on my idea of wellness that I had arrived in Portugal with. When that came into my awareness, I gave myself a kick in the butt and chose to change my perspective. I brought myself back to the place of possibility and hope. As I said to a friend around that time: accept for today, hope for tomorrow. Then, I again allowed myself to notice my progress as it occurred. It's been completely different than concrete overcoming of ED behaviours/patterns/and some thoughts. It's not about counting berries and measuring protein and making sure I'm drinking enough and exercising in moderation. Though everyone seems to have to start there, eventually it becomes a lot more interesting and also less distressing (a long eventually after the behaviuors are gone). It becomes far more about bettering myself as a person – the kind of growth I have written about that I believe will carry on for life! It is accompanied with slight lingering negative thoughts and that is exactly what intend to shake further.
The biggest part of this was allowing myself the value that I would extend to someone else. Would where I was at, emotionally, be okay in my mind for a good friend or sister? No - then it's not good enough for me. So I kept moving forward. At this point, I would want the place I am at for many people but not without the desire for improvement.
So the whole point of this, is to express that I haven't settled yet. I set out with the intention of becoming fully well and fully myself and I am going to attain that. Probably faster than I think, though I feel sometimes that I'm making very little forward movement. I think anyone can define the recovery they want and work towards it. If one chooses to place the bar low, they can attain that. There comes a time in the recovery process where we choose what our success looks like. I've placed my standards high in the most positive ways and I'm excited to keep working towards the awareness that I want, need, and can achieve.
I'm sure people will say, “It's not that simple”. Honestly, I believe that once one has been supported through the earlier parts of recovery, it really is that simple. Simple does not mean easy as I have written before. My process right now is not always easy and does not always feel good but it continues to be expontentially worth it. I choose to take what happens today, get through it, learn from it, and apply my knowledge tomorrow. In the words of Maya Angelou:
Choose your recovery, define it, learn and apply, and don't stop until you have exactly what you want.
Edit: I suppose I need to clarify a little further. I should say, also, that it cannot be expected that one leaves treatment “cured”. The thing about this time, for me, it is not a "struggle". It is a continued work in progress towards the same goal as day 1. Some days are harder than other in various ways but it is not necessarily a fight, more of a challenge. During this time of transition, I am faced with more choices – to keep walking down the path to wellness as I desire it with both feet, or to dabble in the old path be it in thought or behaviour a bit longer or even once in a while. There are more difficult and thus interesting questions: Am I happy with me? Am I happy with how I act/react in situations? Do I like how I interact? What can I improve on? What would I like to change? How can I make the changes? Is my way of being consistent with what I encourage in others? Is it bringing me peace?
I have to take all these questions and many more and be honest with myself even when I don't like the answer. Then I have a choice of what to do about it. If I cannot change something concrete, can I change my attitude? And so on...
So, it's just a few words to the concept that to get to recovered (however one defines that) is going to take some time. I still believe that the end result, my goal, is completely personal, chosen, and is going to be more wonderful than I can imagine.