Good morning! I’m linking up with Amanda this morning to share some of my latest thoughts with you all on this fine Thursday. Today, I’m thinking about the challenges of the middle-ground of recovery.
This past Monday, I had a day that was quite awful. I woke up feeling kind of sick, exhausted, and beaten down. As the morning wore on, my state did not improve. I took ibuprofen and I drank an Emergen-C, but it was to no avail. In fact, I felt worse and worse. I developed a nagging headache, was ravenously hungry (which spiked my anxiety), and I found it nearly impossible to think clearly. Fortunately, I have fantastic coworkers who let me go home after only a couple of hours at work, and I was able to nap soundly for a good chunk of time. Although the sleep was certainly needed, I woke up feeling only mildly better than I had before, still depressed and irritated. I was rather hungry, but I was struggling to let myself eat enough. It was at this point that I had an upsetting realization: anorexia doesn’t come out of nowhere. Perhaps it starts with a little calorie counting, some increased obsessiveness, and touch more exercise, but it spirals out of control quickly and imperceptibly.
Right now, I’m in the “it’s not that bad” phase of recovery. I am in no way fully recovered, but I am worlds better than I was. Sure, there is significant room for improvement, but my skin and hair are in good shape, I can hold conversations with people, I can genuinely laugh again, and I can think about things other than my next meal. In a lot of ways, I probably appear recovered to those around me. I am now in a place quite similar to the place I found myself in two years ago, before I got really sick, in the middle-ground, but descending rapidly into anorexia. Things that are obvious signs of malnutrition to me now had begun to develop, but they had not taken over my entire being like they would in the coming months. The picture below was taken of me at that time. On the surface, I looked alright. My hair had started falling out, but I attributed that to heat damage. My skin was dry, but I blamed the weather. I obsessed about the calories in a half cup of diet yogurt and counted out three pretzels for a snack, but I thought that was normal. I couldn’t be malnourished. I was just on a diet, right?
This place of not quite sick but not quite well is the middle-ground I’m referring to, and it can go one of two ways. I can continue the climb toward recovery, or I can descend into sickness once again. There is no technical reason that I could not get as sick as I once was. Only three months after the previous photo was taken, my life had spiraled into the darkest, most painful existence that I could imagine, and that is reflected in the (very few) photos of me from that time.
I can’t stand looking at the picture above for very long, because it represents a place of absolute starvation and despair. The reality that I could get this sick again terrifies me. It terrifies me because I don’t know that I could start this journey all over again if I had to. Sure, my body could physically go through the steps of gaining weight once more and I could work on anxiety reduction and improving my body image again, but it has been so fucking hard the first time around that I can’t imagine having the fight in me to do it all over again.
Just because I look better now does not mean I couldn’t look sick again. I could easily lose hair in clumps once more or watch my muscle mass vanishing under my skin. Just because I wake up in a good mood most of the time now does not mean I couldn’t dread each and every day like I used to. I could find myself in a place where I look forward to sleep only because it is a short reprieve from the agony of daily living.
The only thing propelling me toward recovery instead of sickness is myself. When you reach a point in recovery where you don’t look sickly anymore, when your behavior has more or less normalized, the motivation truly needs to come from within. Recovery is the hardest thing that I have ever undertaken. Only I know how hard it truly is, and because of that I do not want to risk having to start all over again. I would rather get it right the first time. I would rather spend the next few months moving upwards in recovery than spiraling down and wasting another year of my life trapped in the confines of my eating disorder when it could be spent truly living.
After you break a bone, you need to give your body time to heal fully. During that time, you can’t do the same kinds of things you used to do, and you take precautions to protect yourself from hurting your body again. Of course, you can choose to do the same stuff you used to do and run the risk of breaking the bone once more, but why would you? The pain of the break is excruciating enough, and the period of recovery is hard enough, that it is simply not worth the risk.
Similarly to the recovery from a bad break, the brutality of anorexia and the challenge of recovery are difficult enough that having to go through the process all over again is unimaginable to me. Just as we would wear a cast to protect a newly broken arm and choose not to engage in some activities, there are things that we can do in recovery to protect ourselves from relapse, preventing the pendulum from swinging toward sickness once again. I know that counting calories slides me toward restriction, and I know that trying to wear clothes from my sickest days causes me to panic about weight gain. I can protect myself and guide myself in the right path by choosing not to engage in these things, which keeps me headed in the right direction.
The midway point in recovery is the time to break through those barriers that keep us sick, even if it feels like you’re just “a little” sick. It’s the time to use the strength you’ve gained in recovery to beat the disorder down as thoroughly as possible, calling on your own devices to protect your body and mind as you heal fully. If we can beat down the disorders that have tried to beat us down, we can move from a middle ground to a fully recovered life, rather than moving the other way.