In my last blog post, I wrote about my recent eating disorder relapse. I received so many lovely and supportive comments and I appreciated every one. As I progress through my recovery, I realise it is not a linear process and there have been several bumps along the way. My recovery is slow but constant and every day I take steps towards wellness and balance.
When I wrote my book, I realised that sharing my experiences of grief and bipolar disorder could be useful for other people. This has inspired me to create a body of work that might be of value to someone dealing with a mental illness, bereavement or just regular sadness and burnout. Chances are, everyone will have to deal with some kind of mental health condition at some point in their lives, whether you have a diagnosable mental illness or not. I am not completely altruistic because writing about these things is not only cathartic but reassures me that the time I lost to mental illness did not go to waste. If I can do something good with those dark hours, I feel that I can readdress the balance. As such, I think it might be useful to talk about recovery, which is not as straight forward as you might assume.
Although it caused me great anguish and pain, I have found it surprisingly difficult to let go of my eating disorder. When I was ill I was miserable and desperate to get better but when the disorder loosened its grip, I felt strangely bereft. It felt like there was a bully in my mind, continually taunting me by insisting that I was not good enough, that I took up too much space and I needed to punish myself in order to earn my self-worth. Now the bully’s voice is muted, it’s eerily quiet and I almost miss it. I had a value system that made sense to me and with the benefit of relative and health and hindsight, it is obvious how dangerous and destructive it was. Now I have to replace the toxic system with a healthy one.
I’m learning to like myself again, which is not about my external image. Basing my recovery around my appearance is unsustainable because my face and body will inevitably change with time. I’m trying to let go of the need to be in control and surrender to the inevitable. I’ve often felt like I am on a hamster-wheel and continually obsessing about the same things; over-analysing the past, fretting about the future and listing all of my personal failings that require correction. It’s time to get off the wheel and try to find stillness in the present moment. I have a powerful proclivity for addiction and removing my coping mechanisms is frightening. Now I’m working on my negative patterns around food and exercise, I’m in a vulnerable position because another dependency could pop up like an eternal game of whack-a-mole; being an addict is exhausting. Dismantling some of my emotional crutches has revealed who I really am; a flawed, damaged person who is, despite it all, resilient and determined to do her best. And that is, finally, good enough.
I am forming more positive practices and rituals. Eating well is a priority but I still struggle with the notion that a balanced diet includes carbs and fat. I keep eating the food my dietician recommends and thus far, nothing terrible has happened. I have gained a little weight but being a few pounds heavier is a small price to pay for my mental and physical health. As ever, I find courage in my morning routine; doing my makeup and dressing to my style makes me feel more able to face the day. It may seem trivial, but putting on a little lipstick is a way of saying I am still here and I want to participate in the world. I will not surrender to the eating disorder; I deserve to take up space and I refuse to fade into the background.
If you’re in the process of recovering from some form of addiction or eating disorder, know that getting better is worth it. It takes a long time and there will be several challenges and tribulations. Your disorder will do its best to keep you in its clutches for as long as possible. The negative thought patters that fuel your illness have probably been with you for many years and are unlikely to go down without a fight. It may be that when your more dangerous behaviour is under control, you will have to face the root cause. This can be deeply painful, but it is necessary to carry on with life and to stop falling into the same destructive cycles of behaviour.
You may have to let go of toxic relationships, but sometimes in order to get better, it is necessary to say goodbye to people who are no good for you. It’s probably not their fault, they’re doing their best to manage their own problems. You seeking help can be a trigger for your toxic friend, because they behave in a similar way. When you admit that you have a problem, they will question their own addictive patterns. They may try to minimise your suffering because they are in denial and it’s scary for them to see you recover. If that’s the case, you need get them out of your life. Surround yourself with people who want to see you well. Ask for help; letting them know that you are vulnerable is vital. I have found that my friends want to know what is really going on with me because it gives them the opportunity to be supportive.
It’s very hard to recover alone, seek solidarity in the form of group therapy or one-on-one counselling, if you can afford it. Overeaters Anonymous provide free group work which follows the 12 step method of recovery. Don’t be put off by the name, OA caters for all eating disorders, you can find a local meeting here. The Beat charity offers online support groups at various times of the day, you can find out more here.