Is an eating disorder a forever thing? On “struggling” and committing to recovery

It’s been a very long time since I’ve blogged. I trust that I’ve been missed. I may not have been blogging, but I have been thinking about things to blog about (the blogger’s blessing, perhaps?). One thing’s on my mind lately…

To this day, I can remember sitting in my doctor’s office, telling the new nurse practitioner about my history with my eating disorder. In the midst of my recovery, I filled her in on my background and recovery progress. While she applauded that progress, she said what still makes my throat close up when I think about it:

“You know that you will always struggle with this. It will never go away.”

At the time, I think I just sat there quietly, trying not to cry. I may have blogged about this before, but as of late, it’s been coming up for me again. Last week, I was reading a story about a cycling acquaintance from London, Andrew House, whose story regarding disordered eating I only had an inkling of (you can read his whole story on the London Free Press site). In his teens, his eating disorder had gotten really serious. He now rides successfully and serves as an example of recovery in action. A quote from him in the story hits home with the topic I was getting at earlier:

““Eating disorders are definitely on the rise,” House said, “and to see someone who has been through the whole process, it gives them a lot more hope. Society tells them they’re going to struggle the rest of their lives, and I tell people, ‘oh, no, you can do it.’””

Amen to that sentiment!

This all got me thinking: what is it about being told that “you’ll always struggle” that irks me so much (personally and when I hear about it being said to other people)? I can only speak from experience, but I know that when I have a slip, the best thing someone can say to me is first and foremost that it’s okay. The next thing I need to and want to hear is that I will be able to get back on track and that it doesn’t mean that I’ve failed at recover or that I’m doomed to struggle for the rest of my life. The last thing I’d want to hear is that their relapse is to be expected given who a person is. Minimizing a stumble to put it into perspective in the grand scheme of things (there are ups and downs in recovery, obviously) or to make it okay (I don’t think falling down is anything to be ashamed of, provided you get back up) is realistic. What I think people need to be careful of is what we make it mean about a person who is in recovery or recovered.

“You will always struggle with this.”

No. No, no, no, no, no, no. Did I mention “No”?

There might be people out there who will struggle for a long time. But this isn’t the same as suggesting that a person will always struggle because that’s just the way they are. Interpretation of that sentiment? This is a permanent part of you. Alternatively, my stance on eating disorders, a la Jenni Schaefer, is that an eating disorder is not a person’s identity. Separating from ED, like Jenni advocates for, was a big part of what helped me get healthier. Hearing even the suggestion of the biggest fear I had in my recovery—that I wouldn’t be strong enough to get better no matter how much work I put in because the eating disorder was who I am—is like being kicked in the stomach.

I believe that if we put in the work, we can leave eating disorders behind. This is what makes recovery worthwhile. My eating disorder taught me a lot about myself. It has made me who I am, but it is not–and never was–who I am. The things that contributed to it—let’s say perfectionism, dedication to a goal, determination, stubbornness, for instance—make up the person I am—and those things are not necessarily bad. It’s all in how you channel those parts of yourself, what you learn from the things that challenge and try you, and who you make of yourself.

I’ve been reading for fun in my little break from school and the first book I pleasure read was “A Life Without Limits,” Chrissie Wellington’s book. This lady is an example of someone who took her personality traits that may have predisposed her to an eating disorder and turned them into something that made her seriously successful. From bulimic to a world champion, I’d say there’s an example of someone who wasn’t okay with “struggling” for the rest of her life. Along with her, there are plenty of examples of friends and people I’ve met through my blog and in my life beyond the interwebs who have left their eating disorders in the past.

Even when we have a slip, that doesn’t confirm somehow that we are doomed to always have issues. A relapse, actually, can serve as a perfect chance to see just how much space we’ve put between us and our old ways. I know if I start to notice myself thinking or behaving in an unhealthy way nowadays, it drives me batty because I know just how far gone I am from the days where it was all ED, all the time. The struggles get further and few between. And further. And fewer. And I trust, because it’s the only thing that keeps me going, that sooner or later, they’ll be all done.

it gets better

Committing to recovery is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. If I didn’t think it was possible, no lifelong struggles to come, I don’t know if I’d be able to be where I am today. I hope that I can serve more and more as an example of someone who has left their eating disorder in the dust and won’t settle for partially recovered or almost there. I’m putting my black and white thinking to use here and saying that it’s recovered or bust for me.

What do you think about the idea that you will always struggle if you’ve had an eating disorder? Comforting or damning?

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