Advice for recovery from someone who has been there
Treatment for eating disorders can involve inpatient, outpatient and day patient care. Either way, the most important thing I have learnt is that treatment (although important and necessary) doesn't work unless you do. No one can drag you through recovery or do recovery for you. They can support you, reassure you and offer you love and advice but they cannot do it for you. Here are some things I have learnt from my own journey:
1. You will never feel ready to recover. After my first inpatient admission I was told I wasn't ready to recover, but found these feelings remained pretty constant. It dawned on me that I would never feel ready and if I waited until I felt ready I would quite literally be waiting for the rest of my life. We get one life on this Earth and I personally don't want mine to be my eating disorder, what a waste of love, of exploration, of adventures and of living. It will never feel like the perfect time so GO FOR IT!
2. You cannot keep parts of your eating disorder, not any bit of it (desirable to you or not) if you want to break free. IT DOESN'T WORK. At best you are stuck in quasi recovery, where you aren’t relapsing into your illness but you aren’t experiencing the benefits of recovery either. This is a lonely and trapped place to be. Additionally, if you give your eating disorder an inch, it will take a mile. You might exercise for 10 minutes today, but tomorrow it’ll be 20 minutes, and before you know it you’re drowning in whatever behaviours apply to you again. Your eating disorder creeps in before you even realise, and by the time you do, it can be too late. Do not give it the space within your life that it craves.
3. NOTHING WILL EVER BE ENOUGH FOR AN EATING DISORDER. You could die because of it and you'd still probably be kicking the spirit form of yourself because you could have 'died better'. Feeling as if you aren’t unwell or aren’t unwell enough is a common theme amongst eating disorder sufferers; this in itself demonstrates that it is part of the illness. I have wasted so much time out of my life relapsing because I thought if I do it 'better' this time then my eating disorder will let me recover. The fact of the matter is this just was not and never would be the case. Nothing will ever be enough. There is not Anorexia 2.0, Bulimia 5.0, BED 3.5 or OSFED 10.0. Eating disorders are as severe as each other. You can die trying to please them or accept that you never will and try to beat it instead.
4. Recovery does not feel like rainbows and skipping through meadows. Recovery feels like HELL, but that means you're getting somewhere. Let’s be honest – eating disorders feel like hell too. Recovery is hard, but it offers the hope of being able to lead a meaningful life. The toughest days are the days in which you make the most progress, and in conquering these days you become a person stronger than you ever could have imagined.
5. Be honest with the people around you. Lying, deceit and withholding information only fuels your eating disorder. It also stops the people around you from being able to support you and can stop you doing valuable work on areas that you struggle with most. People can't help you with what is hard if you don't tell them what is hard. The people around you simply want what is best for you; they are NOT THE ENEMY even when your eating disorder tries to convince you that they are. They are the people trying to help you live, the ones that love you. Your eating disorder does not love you; its sole aim is to destroy you.
6. You do not have to show you are struggling by using behaviours. Your words are enough to those who really matter, and if your words fall on deaf ears, try somebody else. Recovery is harder than listening to the thoughts and if anything, this is when you need most support. You are bound to struggle when giving up such a big coping mechanism, but it does not mean you need to act upon that struggle. Recovery requires breaking your ED behaviours. You cannot work on the mental aspects of recovery without starting the physical/behavioural aspects of recovery. It is possible, I promise; I know that it can feel terrifying but hold on to the fact it is POSSIBLE. I did it and you can too.
7. Recovery is not perfect or linear. Once you have chosen to recover, the angels do not descend on you and remove your ED. (It would be magnificent if that was the case.) This is just the first step on a very long path. Some days you will forget why you have chosen recovery. You will doubt it; you will want to give up. Some days you may give up. The most important thing is being able to pick yourself back up when you fall. Recovery is lots of little steps towards the bigger goal, and you will get there eventually.
8. You are worth recovery. There isn't a person who isn't. You do not have to earn the right to treat yourself and your body with respect and kindness. You deserve to be happy and healthy as much as anybody else. You are not an anomaly to this rule – only your eating disorder will tell you this. It is LYING. It may also tell you that you solely cannot recover, that you don't have the capability like everybody else. It is lying about that, too. Recovery is a possibility for you as much as the next sufferer; don’t deny yourself the chance.
9. Have things to look forward to and to keep you going. This doesn't mean swamp yourself with plans, and these plans don't have to be extravagant. Just little things that remind you why you are fighting! Seeing a friend, visiting somewhere you have always wanted to go, reading a new book or learning a new hobby. No matter how big or small, it is good to have reminders of why you are doing what you are doing!
10. Your eating disorder will probably creep back in with a pair of rose-tinted glasses. It will convince you how great life was when you were – let’s be frank here – dying, how it wasn't that bad. They are rose-tinted glasses for a reason – trust me, IT WAS THAT BAD.
11. Your body/behaviour change will race above your head in recovery. Whether that be stabilising bloods, gaining weight, nourishing your body adequately, stopping behaviours etc., you will feel scared about how far ahead your body and/or actions may feel in front of your head and mental state, but this is normal and expected. Give your head the chance to catch up. IT WILL EVENTUALLY BUT IT WON'T IF YOU GIVE UP.