What comes first – the desire for recovery or being pushed into it?
In other words, does the person who goes into treatment go because they want to recover or do they go because someone else wants them to recover? And does it matter?
My opinion – it doesn’t matter. I went to treatment because Benj put me there. I didn’t want to go. I was angry at him for making that appointment. But my desire to get better did come. It came as a relief that I could finally stop fighting because I had nothing left to fight. I was in treatment. End of discussion.
I needed someone else to make the decision for me because I was incapable of making it on my own. And once it was made, my desire for recovery fell into step.
Another person could be at a point of being so tired of dealing with ED that they themselves are ready for recovery. That person is already at a place where they can make that decision for themselves.
It all depends on mindset. Who can think clearly enough to make recovery mandatory – the one with the eating disorder or the one who loves the person with the eating disorder? Whoever has the logical sense to know something is wrong is the one responsible for getting help.
But once the decision has been made, I look back on my own experience and notice 10 things needed for recovery. These ten things made my recovery possible. I didn’t have these 10 things needed for recovery before I went. They each came after I was in treatment and I realized how sick and tired of ED I actually was. Once I found each thing on this list, I held on tightly. All ten combined are what brought me to where I am today: free of ED.
10 Things Needed for Recovery
Build Community and Accountability
I had Benj, my sister, and friends who saw that I was not okay. They made the decision for me and supported me 100%. You need community and accountability around you so that you cannot be alone with ED. That is the most dangerous place to be. I talk about this a lot, so I refer you to a previous post on the importance of community – An Eating Disorder Loves Isolation. Community is essential.
Hitting the Bottom
This may be a sad truth, but all too often it rings true. Not until we hit rock bottom do we wake up to our need for help. It took me 17 years. I pray it doesn’t take you that long. I remember the exact moment when I let go of my self dependency and fell to the bottom of my pit. My fear of not having my eating disorder to help me “control” my life ran deep. But lying in my bed that first night in treatment, crying, lost, alone, was when I realized I had nowhere else to go. My 17 years of ED had gotten me nowhere but in a hospital, alone and scared. At the bottom was when I finally let go of my fear and put my trust in God that his answer was better than mine. I let go. I released my need for control. I released my fear. The feeling of letting God have control of my life was sweet relief. I didn’t have to fight anymore. At the bottom I found hope. And with hope, I could look up and see the way out, finally. I share my perspective from the bottom of the pit in my very first post, written as a letter home my first night in treatment.
Defining Your Why
When I hit the bottom, I was finally able to see the effects my eating disorder had had on my life. I saw what it had done to my personality, my relationships, and my faith. As the professionals in treatment educated me, my why became clearly defined. I saw what I had lost, and I wanted it back. I wanted God first. I wanted a marriage not divided by ED. I wanted to be a mom present for my boys. I wanted a life not muted by ED’s lies. Living free to love untainted by lies became my why. And I clung to that why thru the hard days when I wanted to give up. My why became my purpose.
Mindset Toward Recovery
There can be no out, no doubt that the end result will be recovery. Doubt leaves the door open for ED. Allowing yourself to live ignorant of ED’s power leaves the door open. Denial leaves the door open. Your mindset must stand on guard for the ways ED wants to wriggle back in. Don’t give him any room. Make the decision that recovery is the only option. Be honest that the journey will be hard. It’s going to suck, but it’s also going to reveal the true strength of your character. Don’t live any wiggle room for giving up. Giving up cannot be an option.
Having a meal plan is like getting medicine when you are sick or chemo when you have cancer. Food is your medicine. You can’t get better without it, you can’t get better without listening to the doctors for the right dosage, and you can’t get better without continuing your medicine until your body can regulate on its own again. Stick to the meal plan until you know how to eat on your own again and you can trust your own ability to eat correctly. Be rigid. Find accountability from your community. Cling to your why. Close the door to giving up. Find the experts who can prescribe your meal plan and stick to it. Period.
I loved talking to my therapist.. I always walked out of her office feeling like I had unraveled a bit more of ED’s lies. She taught me how to find truth. I could walk into an appointment depressed, beaten, anxious, but after our conversation, I always felt relief. You need a professional to talk to who understands this disease, who can continually move you toward truth, and who can move you toward self sufficiency in finding that truth. A therapist helps you mature in your recovery. Therapy is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of wisdom. It’s a sign that you have a mindset toward recovery.
There is a reason that an Eating Disorder is often referred to as ED or Anorexia referred to as Annie. A mental illness is not like a broken arm. You can’t get a physical cast and then do physical therapy to see actual improvement toward a fully healed arm. How do you fight a disease you can’t actually see? You give it a face. Give it a name. Give it a physical manifestation you can fight. That made all the difference for me. When your eating disorder feels abstract and elusive, it feels impossible to fight. But when ED becomes a concrete character, every coping mechanism you learn, every truth you uncover, every compulsion you overcome, feels like a physical flexing of your mental muscles. You are no longer the victim, wallowing under the power of a voice in your head you can’t actually prove exists. Never, ever become the victim. Become the victor through hard work and muscle building against an opponent you can in fact beat.
This was probably the hardest for me because I am not a huge fan of sharing my feelings in a public setting. But it also ended up being one of the best things I did for my own recovery. Sharing my struggles and triumphs in recovery with others who understood was both empowering and encouraging. I didn’t feel alone on an island when I connected with others who experienced ED like I did. The community I had built of family and friends was a huge blessing to me, and I couldn’t have recovered without them, but in reality, they couldn’t understand what ED was doing to my brain. Those in my support group could. That validation and support built defenses against ED because we banded together to fight his lies as a team. Find a support group!
Distraction is not the answer to recovery, but it is the answer to a severely fatigued mind. Fighting off ED’s voice in your head all day long is mind-numbing, fatiguing work. Distraction can help you give yourself a break. For me, adult coloring books worked. I lost myself in the intricate designs and the delicate work. Some I know took up crocheting to keep their fingers and minds busy for awhile. Find what fits you and your personality. Find an activity that uses your fingers and uses your brain in a calming rhythm. Crossword puzzles, Netflix, craftwork, woodworking, painting, sewing. Find a way to give your brain a break from fighting off ED’s constant barrage of lies.
Faith in God
I share my faith in God last not because I’m tacking him on to the end, but because my faith in God encompasses every other strategy I used for recovery. I stand firmly in the fact that my faith, my trust in God, is what saved me, above all else.
Until God showed me how utterly dependent I am on him, I used my eating disorder to falsely assume I was in control of my own life. As long as I felt that I was the one in control, I had no need to let go of ED. I thought that I had it under control. I thought that I could take care of yourself. I believed that anyone who said I had a problem was stupid.
My pride overrode recovery. My unacknowledged despair overrode recovery. My hidden pain overrode my recovery. I only depended on myself, and in turn, I depended on the control I thought ED gave me. God stopped me right there. He stripped away my pride, my despair, and my pain and showed me his unconditional love instead.
God showed me that I don’t have to try to be in control.
God asked me to trust him, asked me to let go, and then he caught me in his arms. That is where I found my truest peace and my greatest strength. In my weakness, God showed me his perfect power. He alone equipped and empowered me to fight ED using all the other strategies I’ve already explained. Letting God be in charge gave me permission to let ED go. God gave me permission to recover.
That doesn’t mean he made it easy. But God helped me realize that in Him, recovery was possible as we took each step together. God orchestrated my recovery and in the process he blessed my broken mind and heart with his unconditional love. That was my greatest gift. That was my key to recovery.
I don’t know what will come first for you – your own desire to recover or the push given to you by someone who loves you. Whichever it is, I pray that God grabs a hold of your heart and leads you toward all of the strategies you need to recover. These 10 things needed for recovery come from my own experience, and I pray that at least some of them will help you as well. Above all else, I pray that you see God fighting for you, that you allow yourself to be completely dependent on him, and that you use the resources you are given, even forced into, to find your freedom from ED. He doesn’t deserve control over you. Let God orchestrate your life instead.