“Look how big your arms are, what are you, a rugby player?”. That was the comment that led me to my first diet and eventually Bulimia at Anorexia at nineteen years old. I spent the next eight years in a cycle of denial, self-loathing and blame, with many tried and failed attempts at recovery.
It took ten years but I did it. I now consider myself fully recovered. Recovery can be a long process due to the complexity and individuality of Eating Disorders, taking two to seven years on average to recover and sometimes even longer. As hard as that time was I believe it taught me so much about myself, Eating Disorders and the recovery journey. There are eight vital lessons I want to share with you, which I wish I had known much earlier in my journey.
Lesson 1. Responsibility over blame
Responsibility is where we take 100% ownership for where we are in life and how we are going to move forwards. However, responsibility does not equal fault. I blamed myself for my Eating Disorder for years and felt so much guilt over how it affected my family. All this did was send me spiralling into a deep place of self-loathing, rather than motivating and empowering me into recovery.
My message to you: your struggles with food are not your fault. However, you must take responsibility for where you are right now and make the commitment to yourself that things have to change.
Lesson 2. What does recovery mean to you?
I found trying to live up to some of the aspects of general recovery definitions very overwhelming and daunting. Things such as, knowing your purpose and personal growth I found began to improve, after I fully recovered and are still a never-ending work in progress.
My message to you: recovery can mean different things to different people. Think about what being fully recovered means to you. This clarity will help keep you on track as it is personal to you and your journey.
Lesson 3. Start with realistic and achievable goals
Following on from lesson number two, I would become overwhelmed trying to think long term and it made me pull away from recovery, rather than lean into it. Our minds cannot tell the difference between reaching the big end goal (full recovery) or just taking a couple of steps forwards. Therefore, it is essential to start setting yourself small, realistic goals that you know you can achieve on a daily basis.
My message to you: start small and set goals which are realistic and achievable on a daily basis. This will help to nudge you in the right direction and build your confidence.
Lesson 4. What else is going on?
My recovery was impacted by a chronic digestive illness. At the time I chose to focus on my chronic illness which delayed me getting help for my Eating Disorder. I did not appreciate that they had a huge effect on each other and until I addressed both issues simultaneously I struggled to make progress in my recovery.
My message to you; Eating Disorders are often met with mental and physical co-morbidities which are important to be aware of as they could have an impact on your recovery. It is important to work closely with your therapist and support system to ensure that you can still make progress.
Lesson 5. There is always another option
Throughout my journey I had tried so many approaches and therapies with some progress, but I still felt stuck. Unfortunately, there is no consensus with treatment as Eating Disorders are so complex and personal, which makes recovery very challenging. I remember sticking with therapies I felt were not helping me in the way I wanted because I didn’t know what else to do.
My message to you; look at your current treatment plan and rate your satisfaction out of 10. Ask yourself what is working, what isn’t and what am I missing? You may need to combine approaches, build a support team or even change approaches in order to get the help that is right for you.
Lesson 6. Keep looking forwards
Following on from lesson five, I found that once I had set goals for myself I had to keep bringing my awareness and attention to what I wanted to achieve. In our minds we have a system called the ‘Reticular Activating System’ or ‘RAS’. This allows us to filter the immense amount of information flooding into our brain, in order to find what is important. The more you decide to focus on good things and where you want to be, the more these will show up, by the way of your RAS.
My message to you: it is so easy to get caught up in our Eating Disorder and focus on reasons why we can’t achieve our goals. Your point of focus determines the thoughts that occupy your mind and if you chose to focus on reasons why you can recover, you will find them.
Lesson 7. Shift your focus internally
I spent years looking outside myself for solutions to ‘fix me’ and trying to control people, places and situations. Unfortunately, this was exhausting and took away even more of my strength. I started making real progress when I shifted my focus and begun working on resolving my inner emotional challenges first, in something I now called inside-out recovery.
My message to you: I know how exhausting it can feel trying to manage yourself and everything going on around you. That is ok, be kind to yourself. It so important to take some time for you. Bring the focus back on you and work building your inner resources.
Lesson 8. You already have everything you need to recover
Coming out the other side, the biggest realisation was that, everything I did in recovery came from within me. I was the one who had to step up, do the work and make all the changes.
My message to you: although you may not realise it, you already have all the qualities, strengths and resources you need to be free from your Eating Disorder. Going through recovery will just help you to build you an EVEN BIGGER toolbox to help you navigate through your life.
Yes, I consider myself completely recovered. But I am not through growing. I believe we are always a work in progress, constantly changing and evolving. For me, beating my Eating disorder was only the beginning. It gave me the freedom to find my voice, tap into my power and start to create a vision for what I wanted my life to be like. Something which I could never even contemplate before as my Eating Disorder was crushing my true self and any ambition I had. I now feel that literally anything is possible. If I can do it, so can you.