I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to define your own recovery. Recovery is a process that is highly individualized, and therefore, it is going to be different for everyone. Some crucial questions to ask yourself are: what does recovery look like for you? How do you picture your life looking when you are recovered? And, if you were free from all eating disorder thoughts, what would you do with your life? What is most important is that you make your recovery your own.
In the beginning, it is important that you listen to your treatment team because you may not know what it is that you want from your life. The eating disorder tends to take away so much of your identity that it is hard to know who you are beyond the disorder, and therefore, you need to put trust in your support system so that they can help guide you.
In my own recovery, it took me a while to finally give up control and put trust in the people who, I knew deep down, had my best interest at heart. It took years before I was finally able to completely surrender myself to the process of recovery without cutting corners or just going through the motions. It seemed like every time that I went back to treatment, I would get better, but then I would end up relapsing. The problem was that, although I was doing well with my recovery, I was still keeping my eating disorder close. There was still a small part of me that held onto the illusory sense of control that the eating disorder gave me; this was an inner conflict that I left unresolved, and therefore, I was bound to relapse.
The key to recovery is to give up control, put your faith in others and let them guide you, and also, be honest. The eating disorder is going to want you to put on a happy face and smile throughout recovery even when you know deep down that you are struggling. Therefore, you have to be honest about your feelings in the moment and really try to experience the uncomfortable ambiguity that comes with recovery. The only way that you are going to find yourself is by living life outside of your comfort zone, and that means making mistakes. If we never fail, how would we learn and grow, right?
So, how do you define your recovery? Well, once you have put complete trust in the process, you need to be open to exploring who you are outside of the eating disorder and involve yourself in activities and hobbies that you are passionate about. For example, throughout my recovery journey, I have discovered that I love to write, so I journal often, write for this blog, and involve myself in writing projects that I enjoy. I also love to read, so I make it a point to read self-help books from insightful authors who can guide me through my recovery journey.
In saying this, I also want to make sure that the self that you venture out to find is not just another obsessive form of the eating disorder; I struggled with this one. My future goal is to become a therapist for those who suffer from eating disorders, and while my passion for helping others was well intentioned, I also had to be careful that this would not just be another eating disorder identity. For example, spending all of my time studying psychology in college, writing about my recovery story, reading self-help books, etc. became another eating disorder identity that kept me isolated and actually led to yet another relapse. Now, I am not saying that those who recover from eating disorders cannot go on to be involved as professionals in the recovery process, this actually happens quite often. What I am saying is that, before you can help others, you first have to help yourself, and that is exactly what I did. I took time off from my busy life and really focused on my recovery, finding an identity outside of the eating disorder by being clear about what I wanted my recovery to look like.
Living beyond my eating disorder, being recovered for me meant working as a therapist in the eating disorder field and guiding others through their recovery journeys. But, it also meant being healthy myself, physically and mentally, free from eating disorder thoughts and urges that hold me back from living my life to the fullest. I see myself having closer and more meaningful relationships with my family and friends, and achieving a healthy balance between my work life and the life that I have outside of work. I see myself accepting the fact that life is what it is, and knowing that I do not have to and should not have to carry the burden of thinking that I need to control everything; perfectionism just does not work in an imperfect world.
Overall, what I want is to live a balanced life, one that involves structure and flexibility, feelings of all kinds, loving and hating the imperfect perfection that is life, and accepting the ambiguity of life because sometimes bad things happen that are out of our control, but people will always be there to help.
You will never find what you are looking for if you do not have an idea of what that is. So, define your own recovery, and accept that the definition may change over time as you find yourself. This is your life, and you have the ultimate choice of how you want to live it. You know deep down who you are beyond the eating disorder, you just have to find it.
Never give up.