Do you want to know what Ed (for “eating disorder”) adores above all things?
Today, I thought I would share an excerpt from a recent letter I received in the hopes it might be helpful for those of you who are having trouble making peace with the pace of your own recovery progress.
The writer shares:
When I was first diagnosed with my eating disorder, I saw people on the unit that told me, “I have been struggling for 3 years …. I have been struggling for 5 years …. I have been struggling for 10 years….” My first reaction (internally) was, “Heck, that’s never going to be ME.
Yet, here I am, nearly 8 years after I first started struggling with eating issues, and I can’t help but think to myself, “What on earth HAPPENED??” I am now “one of them.” So now I’m also struggling with keeping the light at the end of the tunnel in sight. If I can’t keep it shining for myself, if I can’t keep it in sight, how else will I EVER recover?? I’m struggling a lot with just wanting to give up.
I know recovery is possible….it has to be. After all, you were entrenched in your Ed for what?? 15 years?? I just have trouble acknowledging that it’s possible for ME.
Byron Katie says that we will know we are ready to do things differently when we do. I love this. To me, this feels like walking hand in hand with the present moment, knowing in the depths of my being that I am in good company, and that patience is becoming my best friend.
It is so reassuring.
And yet I remember when I had all of the exact same feelings, thoughts, and fears that today’s writer expresses. It takes the time it takes. And, as I share in my (admittedly rather long, but heck, they give me plenty of space here!) response, there is another way to make the journey – a way I have only learned about through continual investigation, exploration, and sheer cussed determination…over time.
I hear you. That impatience is a killer….and Ed’s best friend.
But the thing is, it just takes the time it takes. Recovery is not about beating Ed behaviors (I know – shocker – but that is what I have found).
Recovery is about getting to know ourselves – very kindly – finding out what we are afraid of and how we can better support and encourage ourselves when our fears arise.
As long as we are surprised by the presence of our fears, as long as we are intimidated by who we are and how we act and react and respond to ourselves and people and situations and life, we will continue to exhibit the learned fight-or-flight response that is running back to the Ed behaviors and thoughts for comfort.
Ed is manageable. Reducing the big, wide world down into weight and calories and size and shape and numbers is manageable.
What isn’t manageable? What doesn’t feel manageable, controllable, livable, in our lives?
When we find THAT, and start to work with ourselves to realize we really are okay even when we think we are not, and that we really do have plenty of evidence to support that we have been okay and have been just fine even when we have been sure we weren’t, then we will begin to relinquish our reliance on and need for Ed and the behaviors and thoughts that make life seem manageable.
We realize we just don’t need them anymore….and probably never really have.
But until then, it takes the time it takes. I am better now than I was yesterday, and certainly when it comes to practicing Ed thoughts and behaviors, I am light years ahead of where I was 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 years ago.
But I am still learning. Maybe not in the way of using food (or lack thereof) but it is surprising how many other things and people can step in to “fill in” for Ed once he is gone. There is always something new to learn.
And sure, you can say to yourself “recovery is possible”. But how well does that work for you when you’re stuck in a terror-stricken moment, weak on hope and long on exhaustion? That phrase, used generically, has got to be one of the most well-worn, over-used, watered down, and frankly frightening cliches of the recovery circles we move in. What we should say is “recovery is possible RIGHT NOW.” It is not possible “then”. It is not possible “tomorrow”. It is only possible right in this moment. And then the next, and then the next. Used specifically, it becomes manageable. And actually hopeful. Maybe even a bit exciting! Used in any other way, it is as terrifying as believing you will never get any better than you feel right now.
When you begin to make peace with the FACT that recovery can only happen now, in this moment, today, and that big sweeping pronouncements about being “one of those people” or “if I am this way today I will be this way in 5 or 10 more years too” are not only terrifying but inaccurate and unnecessary, then you will be able to help yourself to relax into today’s recovery work, focusing well and fully on that, completing the next task in front of you and studying how you might possibly be able to move through it without turning to Ed. When you can do this, THEN you will really start to a) see the progress you have already made and b) believe in all the potential you have to make MUCH more and c) feel hopeful and excited about the progress you can make RIGHT NOW.
Impatience = Ed.
I wish there was a kinder, gentler way to say it.
But the truth is that you will struggle until you don’t struggle any more. There is a reason for this. It is actually in your best interests. You have to learn these things – the things that keep you running back to Ed – so you can figure out how to not do that anymore. If you don’t learn, then you will always be vulnerable, and always be running scared. Do you really want that?
RE: Giving up. So here, the question is – right now, in this moment – are you giving up?
I doubt that you are. I doubt seriously that you will ever give up for longer than a few hours or a few days or even a few weeks or months. We just aren’t programmed to give up. We aren’t. We are programmed to fight.
You may get tired of fighting. You may think – in your mind where all the trouble always begins – that you don’t want to fight any more. Or even that you can’t.
But good luck following through with it.
We are fighters. We can’t help ourselves.
I gave up for weeks and sometimes months at a time. And yet here I am.
Our fears about ourselves giving up are far stronger than our actual efforts to give up ever will or can be. Even as you talk about giving up, you are still fighting. Whether you can or are willing to see it in yourself or not.
Your mind’s thoughts and your actual actions are not one in the same. Start paying attention to this. How many times have you thought to yourself “I am just going to GIVE UP” even as you were taking some tiny (or not so tiny) step away from Ed? How many times have you done one thing while literally telling yourself you weren’t doing it, weren’t going to do it, couldn’t do it, never gonna be possible.
How many times?
And not just about Ed, either. Life. Romance. School studies. Career. Friendships. Activities. Health. All of the above. This is how our minds work. They sabotage us until we teach them to do otherwise.
Another exercise I have found profoundly helpful that I invite you to try – I invite you to spend just a couple of moments viewing your face in a small mirror each day. Just look at yourself. Study your face. First, study your face and imagine you are someone else – someone you are just meeting, or someone you care for very much (or both). Feel those emotions. Feel your level of willingness to interact, to support, to encourage, to love, that person you do not think is you. Next, study your face and iimagine that you are you, and you are being invited to support yourself, encourage yourself, accept yourself, extend compassion to yourself, empathize with yourself. Feel what resistance is there. Feel what level of willingness is there.
This will show you where your work still is. To the degree that you can accept yourself – I mean really WELCOME the presence of you in your own life and engage with yourself to support yourself moment by moment through your day no matter what arises – this is the degree to which you can willingly engage in recovery’s moment-to-moment work as it presents itself to you.
A lot to think about, I know. And yes, it was 15 years for me, and another 10 and counting and I am still learning and growing even today. And it was worth every moment and I wouldn’t trade it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My hope for you is that in time you will come to experience your recovery work – in the way that feels right to you – in a similar way.
Hang in there.