Recovering In Context

Yesterday, I was reminded of the importance of looking at each moment and each decision in recovery within its own context. If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, stick with me. This post is a bit long-winded, but I promise that it will make sense.

My day yesterday started out normally enough, with breakfast and a trip to the gym before church. This was all fine and good, until I was hungry for a snack before church and did not allow myself to eat when I got hungry. This was the first error in judgment of the day. I waited for perhaps an hour, ate my small snack, and moved on with my morning. After church, we went out to lunch with my grandpa. He chose Wendy’s. Wendy’s is not an establishment which I frequent, and i haven’t eaten there since beginning my recovery process. As you can imagine, I was down right hungry by the time we got to the restaurant. Despite my hunger, I only ordered a small chili and a side salad. I ate the chili and salad (with dressing, I’ll add) and I knew that I was still hungry. Thus began my afternoon of delaying eating, staying hungry, and making myself false promises.

Initially, after I left the restaurant hungry, knowing that I had not eaten enough, I told myself that I would eat an apple as soon as I got home. As often happens once I begin the cycle of undereating, I did not follow through on that promise. I made some candy for my coworkers’ Christmas gifts instead. Then, I walked to the store and bought a bag of baby carrots. When I got home, my recovery-oriented brain took over for a bit and I finally ate some of the carrots, an apple, and a little bit of cheese. I finished my snack around 2:30, at which time I had to babysit. I knew when I had finished my snack (or continuation of lunch?) that it was probably not enough to hold me over for the three hours of babysitting, but I tried to convince myself that maybe, just maybe, it would end up being enough after all. I packed a few more carrots with me and a piece of chocolate in case I got hungry, knowing full well that I would most definitely get hungry.

Once I was babysitting, I tried my hardest to distract from the ongoing hunger. At this point in the cycle, the mission of the day fully converted from eating when hungry to distracting when hungry. Eating disorders are tricky like that. I ate the carrots that I brought with me, but not the chocolate. At 5:30, when I was finished babysitting, I was completely famished. A friend of mine had invited my brother and me to a social gathering where they were going to make homemade pizzas. It sounded fun to me, and my disorder jumped up and down at the idea. If I go to a party, it told me, I can discreetly eat very little and use the distraction of other people to not think about being hungry. The disorder had been winning for most of the day, so why would this be any different?

It was at this point that I decided to really think things over. I asked myself what the very best choice for my recovery would be in that moment, given the context of my difficult day. The way I saw it, I had a few options. I could go home, eat a more adequate dinner by myself and sulk for the rest of the evening. I could go to the party, nibble cautiously on pizza, and remain in my semi-hungry state, trying to convince myself that I was having a good time. I could go to the party and eat as a fully recovered person, indulging in whatever pizza I wanted in whatever amounts that I was hungry for. Or, I could go home, eat a more adequate dinner, and come to the party afterward.

Ultimately, I decided to go with the last option. I went home, ate a more “safe” dinner that guaranteed me some time without hunger, and joined up with the party afterward. Initially, I felt like a failure for making that choice. Come on, I thought to myself, you were drinking wine the other night! You ate dinner at a party two days ago! You’re better than this. You don’t need safe foods anymore! I felt discouraged about my recovery, like I was taking steps backward.

The thing about recovery is that it is not a linear process. If it were, things would be much more simple. Each and every moment, we have the ability to make the choice that is right for recovery, and that choice can vary greatly from minute to minute. Yesterday, I knew that the right choice for me was the one that would increase the likelihood of me eating an adequate dinner. Thus, I consider my decision to eat something “safer” a victory. There have been days where a victory is not counting the calories in gum or not weighing vegetables. And, on the other end of the spectrum, there have been days where a victory is not counting calories in any foods or chewing even one piece of gum. On a given day, in a given moment, we have the choice to make a victorious decision. Comparing that decision to other times and other days does nothing but make us feel insecure about our recovery journey, which is useless.

I believe that there will be a day where my victory is eating adequately all day long, including meals enjoyed at parties with others. However, that day was not yesterday, and that is entirely okay. Today, if you are struggling with giving yourself credit where credit is due, think about the small victories that, in the end, will add up to full recovery.

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