It took me approximately three months to succumb to the onset of my anorexia.
It took me fifteen years to recover.
While eating disorders can come on very suddenly, and at first can mimic other issues such as depression, food allergies, commitment to fitness, or even just natural growing pains (in adolescents), the underlying factors that contribute to their development lay the foundation long before the walls began to go up.
Eating disorders are genetic in origin. Researchers have proven that there is a link between brain chemistry and function and the potential for later struggles with an eating disorder.
In support of this research, if you read the baby journal my mother kept during my first five years, she begins to notice appetite disturbances in response to stress as early as age two. Additionally, an aunt and a cousin on my father’s side of the family have suffered from several anorexia and bulimia, respectively. Eating disorders are “in our family”, it would seem.
So, in light of my underlying genetic predisposition towards an eating disorder, my anorexia began incubating at age two – approximately nine years before I became ill.
But I did not know this when my eating disorder started. So it is no wonder that I assumed that recovering from it would take about as much time as it takes to recover from the common cold!
I was understandably impatient, especially at first. I just wanted to get recovery over with. I wanted to rush through it – to get on with the rest of my life.
What I didn’t understand was that recovery WAS – IS – my life. All my lessons – and opportunities – were contained within it. I was treating recovery like an item on my to-do list rather than the expression of who I was, am today, and have the potential to become.
This is why, unlike in movies and docu-dramas on television, the eating disorder recovery process does not line up nicely and neatly in a series of discrete steps. It is messy. Drawn-out. Full of perils and promises, starts and stops, setbacks and forays forward once more.
Which probably explains why, as if by design, at each stop along the way, with each new challenge or victory, I learned. The relapses were each essential so that I might learn where yet another weakness towards the eating disorder was hiding. The victories were essential to keep me hopeful and striving towards my goal of full recovery.
Whether I knew it or not (I didn’t) or accepted it or not (I didn’t), the reality was that I NEEDED recovery to take fifteen years.
In fact, although today I am fully recovered from using food and eating as a method to cope with life’s stressors, I continue to evolve, facing deeper challenges and confronting old hidden patterns, beliefs, wounds, and self-imposed limitations that once found their expression in eating or not eating and thinking about weights, calories, and food, food, food.
When we adopt a mindset of “ready, get set, recover!” we actually cheat ourselves of the growth and evolution that recovery offers us.Â Rushing ourselves through recovery might as well be rushing ourselves through our own life, because that is what recovery is – our life, as expressed through a significant challenge and our desire to transcend it.
This year, as you continue to work towards recovery, give yourself the gift of shedding impatience and adopting an attitude of curiosity, enthusiasm, and acceptance. Each challenge is so significant. Each presents a gift to you – the chance to learn something new about yourself.
Each setback offers you the chance to make another leap forward towards your goal – to reward yourself for having the courage to face setbacks and learn from them, recognizing that if you weren’t working hard on your recovery, you wouldn’t be having setbacks!
So instead of “ready, get set, recover”, write out your reasons for why recovering is so important to you and put them in a place where you will easily see them every day….or even every hour.
These are all big reasons – very big reasons. I call them “key to life” reasons- the one thing or things that we desire so powerfully that we are willing to tackle any obstacle in our path in order to achieve them.
These “key to life” dreams will take time, steady effort, patience, persistence, setbacks, and the willingness to overcome those setbacks, to achieve.
So will recovery.
Anything worth doing is worth any amount of time and effort it takes. When we set aside the instant-gratification “ready, get set, recover” mentality and embrace the “do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes” mentality, we literally pave our own path towards a life big enough to hold big dreams.