How Do I Know When I’m Recovered?
Recovery creates a cornucopia of questions: Can I do this? Will I do this? Why did this begin? What am I really scared of?
Through the highs and lows, however, we begin to find our feet and navigate a world of self-love, forgiveness and commitment to maintaining good health – mind, body and soul. It is there that one inevitable question crops-up: how do I know when I’m recovered, as opposed to ‘recovering’? It’s an excellent question and although recovery looks different for everyone, there are certain defining features that, when experienced, you will know that you’ve transitioned to a new version of yourself: Recovered You. Safe you.
Recovery is not easy, but it’s certainly worth it.
So, how do you know when you’re recovered?
Firstly, don’t expect to have an epiphany moment – this is a romanticised ideal. Before you can confidently say ‘I’m recovered’, you will encounter multiple moments where you think ‘get me, I handled that well’, and ‘I’m growing – mentally, physically, emotionally - I’m so proud’.
The only way we can ever conquer our fears is by facing the fear head-on and proving to ourselves that we are more capable than we give ourselves credit for. The small moments that build our self-confidence in the face of what we fear takes tremendous courage. The more things you do to ‘disobey’, ‘defy’ or challenge that eating disorder voice, the weaker it gets and the quieter it gets.
You may wonder ‘will that voice always be there?’ The honest answer is: no, because even though there may be residual reminders of it, there will come a point when that’s all they are. By this I mean that you may be in a situation where you remember how you would have previously behaved or you remember how the disordered rulebook would never have allowed you to embrace the opportunity on display, but ‘new you’ ripped the ED rulebook up a long time ago, and lives by a different set of values now. Basically, you won’t forget how the ED voice spoke or sounded, but your own voice is the only one you now listen to. Whereas the ED voice spoke of avoidance, punishment and delusions of control, your voice speaks of love and kindness, logic and wisdom.
For a while, the ED voice will continue to try and steal your attention - seduce your mind back to believing its toxic lies. But over time, the more it’s ignored it will get quieter, fading each day like a flame being deprived of oxygen. When you’re recovered, it will be nothing more than a wick; and you will be a spectacular firework.
Recovered You will feel different in many ways: physically, emotionally and mentally.
Although weight gain isn’t part of everyone’s recovery, it can be. I was in denial that I had any real body image issues for a very long time because I’d never set out to lose weight. However, as I gained weight, I discovered that beneath the desire for control, emptiness and pride in restriction that kept the anorexia going for so long, there were indeed significant body image hurdles that needed overcoming. It’s also common for your body to ‘recover’ quicker than your brain does, which is why it’s so crucial to persevere, even though this is likely to feel like an uncomfortable, and perhaps confusing and emotional, period. It will catch up, I promise this too.
Fact: healthy bodies have fat – all of them! Cellulite, stretch marks, wrinkles and any other thing that our society has irresponsibility demonised (mainly for money-making purposes, but that’s a whole other discussion) are all perfectly normal and beautiful. Fat is not evil, a sign of laziness or gluttony, nor is it aesthetically displeasing; it is just something our body needs to function and survive. It provides protection of organs and insulation. (And no one likes being cold in summer.)
Recovered You will see your body in a whole new light. It will look at it with gratitude; despite the hell the ED has put it through, it’s worked so hard to keep you going; it’s fought your corner throughout it all. Recovered You will have a loving and respectful relationship with your body: you will listen to its needs and respond kindly and timely. And, in return, it will give you energy and cognitive clarity. Recovered You will realise we cannot control where the weight goes on and it might not always be in the proportions that we like or hoped for, but you will be okay with that because you’re thriving and your body is the least interesting thing about you anyway.
Mentally, Recovered You will feel strong and resilient, and you will beam with pride at how far you’ve come and what barriers you leaped over! You’ll have this bursting tool-belt of healthy coping strategies to use, as and when needed. You will have practised these methods over and over until they’ve become so habitual you barely see yourself using them. You know how to self-soothe (very important). You know your traffic light signals of relapse prevention and have a support network in place should you ever identify any of those warning signs.
Ultimately, you will feel an inner peace that you may well have forgotten what it felt like. You will feel like you’ve entered a new season of your life and, although you accept that it cannot be constantly sunny in this new season, you will know you won’t drown in the rain.
What you’re going through right now is incredibly hard, but never give-up. There will always be someone to talk to. There is always hope. And I guarantee, the best days are just around the corner. So keep going – work for that freedom and chase those dreams. Recovered You has so much they want to do!
-Contributed by Katie Lodge