As part of Eating Recovery Day, I have been asked to share some thoughts on eating disorder recovery. Specifically, what I would tell my “younger self” (I was 46 years old) just starting out in recovery. Today, I am just over nine years into recovery from eating disorders, primarily bulimia.
April 8, 2007: Sitting in my usual chair in my shrink’s office. A day after waking up on the back end of a drug and alcohol induced blackout. Confusion. Fear. Addiction. Bulimia. They have all been my friend for decades. Active bulimia since 1979. Years before singer Karen Carpenter would die from complications related to anorexia nervosa, bringing it into the pre-internet national spotlight. But, for women only. I am a guy with an eating disorder. I have no idea what that means. I know that I am ashamed. I know that I am tired. I am tired from hiding the truth from everyone including myself. My body is tired from the incredible strain I have put on it. It’s time to take that first step into recovery. That step into the unknown. I am terrified.
April 26, 2016: Over nine years in recovery from bulimia and addiction. Still working on it day by day. Moment by moment. That’s not a bad thing. Staying present in my recovery every moment is what takes me into the next moment. It allows me to look back with relative clarity and sit once again in that chair over nine years earlier. To talk to that relatively younger guy and tell him a few things. I talk to my inner-child all the time but he is no child. He is a middle-aged guy. Resistant to change. Set in routine. Afraid to give up his “normal” that had been part of him over one-half his life.
The first thing I’d want 46-year-old Brian to know is that it is okay to be afraid. Fear in recovery is not weakness. It’s normal at any age. There is no courage without fear. Recovery is courage.
I’d want younger Brian to know that the courageous first step into recovery does not have to be a big one. Even the smallest step forward is important.
I’d tell Brian that recovery does not mean being free of negative body image thoughts for life. Everyone has them. It’s how we react to them that matters. It’s okay to get “down” sometimes when they occur. It’s normal. That’s when recovery matters most.
I’d tell Brian that it is okay to love himself. Self-love is not a bad thing. It is not narcissistic. It is vital.
I’d tell Brian that it is okay to be vulnerable. It is okay to go back in time and be that bullied, 13-year-old boy. It’s okay to talk to that boy. Tell him he matters.
I’d tell the middle-aged Brian sitting in that chair in his shrink’s office that like that 13-year-old, he is enough. He is loved. He is capable of love, and with each small step forward his capacity to love and be loved will expand.
These are some of the things I’d want my younger self beginning recovery to know. It, of course, does not end there. Every day in recovery, I learn something new about myself that reshapes my goals. It’s not always blue skies but recovery rarely is. The Brian sitting in that chair knows that now, and that’s okay. Whether cloudy or clear, recovery is wonderful.