Recovery has no time limit

Posted 28/11/2018

2018 is going to be an amazing year.

That’s what I thought back in January. I had so many plans – I’d not long landed my dream job, I’d moved back to London and I had a list of destinations longer than my arm to which I intended to travel. I also had an official diagnosis of anorexia nervosa to my name, which I’d received in December 2017 after living 12 long years of my life with the disorder undiagnosed.

Still, I wouldn’t let that hinder me – in a strange way it almost granted me relief. This voice that had dominated my thoughts throughout my adolescence and adulthood, that had caused me so much pain and torment that it had physically consumed me to varying degrees as I aged – that voice was not just inside my head. It was real and it had a name. It was medically recognised and after spending so long fighting it on my own, I was finally going to get professional help – I was going to enter treatment. But 2018 was still going to be an incredible year: everything I’d achieved up until this point was done so under the confines of my eating disorder so as far as I foresaw, my life could and would continue as normal, even if speckled with a few therapy sessions.

But oh, how wrong was I?

I’m still off work on prolonged sick leave: I was admitted to the ward as an inpatient mid-February and although discharged in May, I now face another potential admission as I’ve been unable to maintain my weight despite attending a daily treatment programme. So, you could say that 2018 currently isn’t going as planned. I began the year with such optimism and determination – I was certain that I was going to be able to defeat my anorexia and although I knew that it would be difficult, the struggle would be worth it. But as the year has gone on, I’ve felt myself grow more and more disillusioned: not only have I seemed to have made little progress, if anything, I seem to have worsened. I feel as though after everything that’s happened, I’ve taken a long scenic route right back to square one.

It’s been so easy to grow increasingly angry and frustrated with myself: anger that I left it so long before seeking help, frustration at wanting to be free of the anorexia whilst simultaneously being unable to let go, and yet more anger that I was unable to uphold the patterns that had been instilled in me on the ward. Exhausting.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised that becoming angry with myself was futile. By directing my anger at myself, I only succeeded in driving myself right back into the outstretched hands of my destructive coping mechanisms, which in turn increased my anger as I recognised I was sabotaging myself yet again – a vicious, destructive cycle.

But anger is a powerful weapon, if channelled correctly.

Now, I try not to continually berate myself if I don’t manage a certain meal or snack. I don’t constantly reprimand myself for giving into that urge to exercise. I don’t get angry at myself for having yet another panic attack in the supermarket aisle…

Instead, I try to direct the anger towards that voice in my head telling me that because I failed one time, I will always fail, that voice that says that just because I gave into an urge once I will have to give into it again, that voice that says I’m not good enough, that voice that says I may as well despair now because I’ll never be free.

I’ve realised that it’s not myself I hate – it’s the anorexia. I’m not angry at myself, I’m angry at the control that the anorexia currently exerts over me and has exerted over me since I can remember.

I’ve begun to use my anger to fight that voice every step of the way. And if at times I don’t succeed (and there will be many), I don’t succumb to that voice telling me to give up. I don’t listen to the voice telling me that I’ll never amount to anything. I simply make note of how I could have done things differently and reflect on how I can try again next time. Then I try to pick myself up, brush myself off and face the next challenge anew.

It will be an uphill struggle all the way, but the more battles I choose to fight, the more victories I’ll gradually accumulate. And over time I hope the number of victories will begin to outnumber the defeats. And little by little, I’ll gain the upper hand over that miserable voice.

I know now that my recovery cannot be allocated a neat little time slot in my life. It will take as long as it takes. It may take months, but more likely it will take years – the important thing is that it will be worth it, it will be so worth it: I cannot give up. There is no such thing as ending back at square one – it’s so easy to be self-critical and to leave the positive steps already made on this journey unacknowledged. The anorexia wants the focus to be on the negative, but anorexia can clear off.

I’ve made a promise to myself to never give up fighting. As hard as this year has been so far, I’ve never regretted seeking professional help because the prospect of living my whole life with this illness is unimaginable – if anything I only regret having left it so long. I’ve also had to make the promise that change will start today – I remind myself of this each morning because it’s easy to justify putting things off until tomorrow. But yesterday’s tomorrow is today.

So, 2018 is not the amazing year that I’d originally imagined, but it is probably the most important and pivotal year of my life so far. And it will be the year upon which I can begin to build my future – that future that I deserve to have, so that I can have many amazing years to come. 

Contributed by Amberlie