The thing about eating disorder recovery, is that it’s not just a one time thing. It’s not like you just flip a switch, and from then on, forever and ever, you’re “cured.” As much as I wish that were the case, it’s not. It’s a constant test of will and endurance.
Have you seen those bicycle electricity generators? You pedal this special bike, which creates electricity to power a light bulb or a blender or some small appliance. You generate electricity, but only for as long as you pedal the bike. Recovery is like that light bulb. It takes a constant effort of pedaling the bike in order to keep the light bulb lit. It takes a constant effort of eating calorically sufficient meals, facing fear foods, choosing to love yourself, being open with others about your feelings, avoiding negative body thoughts, accepting forgiveness, overcoming anxieties about foods and body image, etc. to remain in recovery. It is a constant, daily thing. It tests your endurance and determination. It can be hard and downright exhausting. But it is so worth it.
And now for the “RealTalk” about recovery: You will have slip-ups. Now we’re not talking a full-blown relapse where you’re restricting, loosing weight, engaging in bulimic or ED behaviors, etc. We’re talking slip ups. A slip up looks different for different people. For some, a slip up can be missing a snack, not finishing a meal, or giving into thoughts that are self-destructive or hateful in nature. For others, it’s over-exercising, purging, engaging in self-harm, lying about your intake, etc. A slip up is anything that momentarily brings you back into your eating disorder.
And let’s be really honest here: these moments happen. It doesn’t matter how strong you are in your recovery: you will experience a slip up at some point.
And frankly, it sucks.
Because with that slip up, comes the mental baggage along with it. Slip ups bring you back to that dark place of, “I’ve failed. I’m worthless. I can’t believe I did it again. How could I be so weak, so worthless? I knew I wasn’t good enough for recovery. See? I knew I wasn’t strong enough to do this. I’m such a disappointment.”
And you feel sick to your stomach with guilt. With disgust. With disappointment. With shame. You instantly are filled with self-hatred, and feel like everything you’ve worked for, you’ve just thrown away. You’re always strong, but today, for whatever reason, you gave into that one little ED behavior that taunts you everyday.
“I’m an utter failure.”
First of all, take a deep breath.
Sweet girl, just breathe for a moment. You are not a failure. Slip-ups are part of the recovery process. Slip-ups come with the territory of overcoming an eating disorder. Why?
Because WE ARE NOT PERFECT.
Remember that perfectionist demon that was so central to our eating disorder? Well it tries to sneak its way back into our brains through whatever channel it can. And as a result, in many cases, we feel that we need to have the “perfect” recovery. We create this unrealistic expectation for ourselves that we need to have a flawless recovery process, and that anything less is a failure. We need to have picture-perfect #cleanfood/organic meals captured in the most flattering filter on Instagram; we need to eat Ben & Jerry’s for our bi-weekly #pintparty; we need to walk around uttering quotes by Maya Angelou or Gandhi, and we need to joyously proclaim self-love to anyone and everyone because dammit, that’s what a perfect recovery looks like.
Wrong. You can just take all those notions about the “perfect” recovery, and throw them out the window. Because there is no. such. thing. as the perfect recovery.
Because it’s recovery. You will have good days, and you will have not so good days. And there will be hard days and days that seriously test your commitment to recovery. And then there will be days where you slip up.
First: Forgive yourself. You’re not perfect, nor are you expected to be. You’re not a failure if you slip up. You’re not worthless. You’re just doing the best you can, and some days (hopefully not many) ED will find a way back into your mind for a hot minute. But just forgive yourself and move on. Dwelling in that head space of self-hatred after a slip up only makes things worse. Self-hatred can lead to a spiral of guilt and shame that will make slipping up again not only easier, but very likely to occur. Choose to love yourself enough to forgive yourself for the slip up, and then recommit to your recovery, and move on.
Just a couple weeks ago, it was Easter. And on Good Friday at my church, they always do the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross visually tell the story of Jesus carrying the cross up to Calvary where He was crucified. The priest reenacts the journey by carrying a huge wooden cross around the church as the Bible passages are read. And three times during the journey to Calvary, Jesus falls down under the weight of the cross. Let me say that again: Jesus falls down three times.
And this past Good Friday, I was sitting on the aisle, so I got a really good view of the action. And it really hit me, because three times, the priest – this strong man dressed in a robe – would “fall” to the ground and lie face down on the marble for about 10 seconds to reenact Jesus’ fall. It was really powerful to see. And then, after the third fall, a man named Simon is made to help Jesus carry the cross for the rest of the way to complete the journey.
Afterwards, I found myself thinking about that image of the priest on the ground. I mean, it’s not very often that you see a grown man lying prostrate on the floor. And as I was thinking about it, my recovery came into my head.
You see, I’ve mentioned it before, but our eating disorder, and our recovery, is the cross that we’ve been given to carry in this life. We’ve been given a cross because Jesus was given a cross. But here’s the thing: JESUS FELL THREE TIMES under the weight of His cross. He fell three different times because His journey was so difficult and so exhausting. And in the end, He needed Simon to help carry the cross with Him. His journey wasn’t perfect. I mean, it was perfect, because He is perfect. But what I’m trying to say is that His journey of carrying the cross wasn’t without stumbles. It wasn’t without a slip-up.
And in the end, Jesus needed Simon’s help to finish the process. So here’s the other thing: it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to tell someone, “I’m struggling.” It’s okay to say, “I need some support right now through this meal. I’m feeling a lot of anxiety and just need you to sit with me while I fight the Voice of ED right now.” It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re not committed to your recovery. Quite the contrary. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that by asking for help, you’re more committed to protecting and guarding your recovery than if you kept it bottled in.
But here’s the last thing: asking another person for help when you’re struggling is good. It’s terrific. Your parents, loved ones, friends, doctors, therapist, nutritionist – they are all there for you when you’re having a hard day.
But you know who else is there for you?
Before you roll your eyes, just hear me when I say this: He is there to help you through the struggles. In fact, He is the only way I was able to truly recover. I had to completely draw on His strength and His courage to make it through each and every day during weight restoration.
He wants you to cry out to Him when you’re scared. He wants you to cling to the bottom of His robe when you’re desperately holding on to recovery for dear life. He desperately wants to be there for you, but He’s not going to force Himself on you: you’ve got to ask Him, and then He’ll come running. He wants to take your cross from you. He wants to take ED off your shoulders. He wants to walk through recovery with you, together.
On Jesus’s journey, carrying the cross, each time after He fell, He didn’t stay down and wallow in self-hatred: “Oh man, I freaking fell again. I’m never going to make it. I might as well give up. I’m just not cut out for this. I’m a failure.” No. He got back up, picked up His cross yet again, and put one weary foot in front of the other. And when it got too much, He accepted help from Simon and they carried the cross together.
Slip-ups are going to happen in your recovery. But they don’t define your recovery. They don’t define who you are. When we remember Jesus’ crucifixion, we don’t say, “Oh yeah, He was crucified and saved the world from sin…But you know what….He fell three times. I don’t knowww. He fell, so…” No. The fact that He fell never even enters the equation! All we remember is the unprecedented, overwhelmingly amazing act of self-sacrificial love where Jesus died on the cross because He loves you and me.
Don’t let one slip up discredit how far you’ve come. Don’t let it cause you to doubt your worth, doubt your progress, or doubt your destination to freedom. You are worth that freedom. So forgive yourself
if when you slip up. After all, even Jesus stumbled three times.