Recovery was the best decision of my life.
But getting there, that was no small feat.
In fact, for as best of a decision as it was, it was equally as difficult a decision.
Because of the FEAR that shrouded it.
Fear is one of those things that, eating disorder or not, has the ability to control us. Our thoughts, our behaviors, our decisions. Fear is crippling. Especially when it comes to eating disorder or addiction recovery.
So today, I want to very briefly touch on the Top 5 Fears of Recovery — and debunk them.
So I’m going to think back to 2007, when I was clinging to life at 78 pounds, having just arrived at inpatient treatment and adamant that I didn’t have an eating disorder.
I was ruled by fear, and behaving accordingly.
So here they are, the Top 5 Fears of Recovery: (In no particular order:)
- The Fear of Gaining Weight (and not being able to stop)
This fear is very real, and very controlling for 99.9999% of girls suffering from anorexia or other eating disorders. Because let’s face it: adopting recovery means you’re going to deliberately put on weight.
The eating disorder – and the control I thought I got from it – it was my comfort. I could exercise control over my body and manipulate that scale. And to take that away and instead, do the exact opposite — and try and gain weight was terrifying. What if I couldn’t stop gaining? What if the dietician is trying to make me fat? What if my weight range is wrong? What if I balloon up and become a whale?
These questions haunted me at night. Here’s the truth: Yes, I was going to gain weight…but I needed to. My body was clinging to life by its last thread. My organs desperately needed sustenance and calories. My heart, my brain, my reproductive system…all in the process of slowly shutting down, needed revival that only comes from nutrition. The body needs food, and a dietician’s job is to oversee the safety of that process.
2. The Fear of Failure
Perfectionists don’t like to fail. They simply, cannot. So the thought of publicly committing to a recovery plan was scary. What if I didn’t like my new body? What if it was too hard? What if I can’t handle the food increases and then I fail? Then what? The eating disorder was safe. The eating disorder was something I knew how to win — in as sick and twisted of a way that is. What if I failed?
And the reality is that I did. I relapsed pretty much as soon as I got home from inpatient. I went away (across the country) to college — against the behest of my parents/team — only mere weeks after returning from inpatient, and I completely fell back into anorexia that first semester, and came home for Christmas break and wasn’t allowed to return.
The fact is, that most recovery warriors will relapse to one degree or another at sometime during their journey. But the important part is getting back up after the set back, and pointing your feet back down the recovery road, and continuing on. It is in that determination to “get back on the horse” that strengthens your recovery. And is also why it is so important to surround yourself with a strong support/accountability system that first year.
3. The Fear of “What’s Next”/ a Life Without ED
This one, again — for a high achieving perfectionist, which most anorexics are — is really hard. Because the future is a scary thing. Usually, as it was in my case, anorexia or eating disorders set in right on the cusp of change. Change in our bodies during puberty, but also — change in situation, with choosing college and going off to begin on our future.
It’s no coincidence that by developing an eating disorder, you’re putting a big ol’ “HALT” on those future plans. I always likened it to being on the treadmill at top speed — with trying to achieve more and more, and get into the best of the best school, and gunning for this and that scholarship, etc…– and anorexia was that big red emergency “STOP” button on the treadmill. I couldn’t fail, but I could defer by default. Which is what I ended up doing. This of course was not a conscious decision at the time, but something that I have come to understand a decade later.
During the depths of my disease, I couldn’t even imagine what a life or a future would look like without anorexia. A happy Caralyn? A Caralyn who thinks about anything other than food and calories and burning them off through exercise? I couldn’t even fathom it.
Here’s the truth: nothing about the future is set in stone. The college you go to, the boyfriend you have, the major you choose — we are allowed to change our minds, change our directions. We don’t have to have it all figured out at 18! And you certainly don’t have to work yourself to the absolute extreme to clear some impossibly high bar you’ve set for yourself.
And here’s the biggest truth: the future is going to work itself out, but you’ve got to be alive to live it.
Continuing down that anorexia road, it was leading only one place: six feet under. And that is a grim reality, my friends.
The only future you really need to worry about, is restoring your body and getting healthy so that you can have a future at all.
God has amazing things in store for you and I — greater than we could ever imagine, but we’ve got to be able to show up for it.
#4. The Fear of Hating My “Weight Restored” Body, and Being Fat
This one is totally superficial, but it is a very real, very weighty (no pun intended) matter for a potential recovery warrior.
Because what had been one of the top things driving the eating disorder: my body. What if my “healthy weight range” resulted in a body that I absolutely was repulsed by? What if I was fat?
Here’s the truth of the matter: all those months and months being so malnourished and severely underweight significantly skewed my self perception. Body dysmorphia is a real thing, and I honest-to-goodness believed I was fat when I was just 78 pounds.
So I had to just hand my recovery over to God and trust that He was going to put the food in front of me that I was supposed to eat. Every supplement increase, every meal, every snack, every gosh darn butter packet that I was so dang afraid of but polished off anyway.
I had to trust Him. I couldn’t trust what I saw with my own eyes in the mirror. But I trusted God.
Practical tips: don’t be around mirrors during this time, and avoid tight fitting clothing – the looser the better. Spend time outside, be with loved ones and cling to God’s word in scripture and worship music.
#5. The Fear of Healing those Damaged Relationships
Let’s be honest: eating disorders wreak havoc on more than just the body. They leave a path of destruction in the relationships in your life, because I had spent the last years lying to, deceiving and manipulating the people I loved most. Not to mention, the last they had seen me, I was so underweight, now I’ll see them, and they’ll think I’m a whale!
But more than that, how could I face them after hurting them so much. Would they ever forgive me?
And the answer is, yes.
These friends and loved ones are going to be just so thankful and relieved that you got better. That you’re healthy again, and able to be the friend they’ve always known and loved.
During my time at inpatient, I wrote letters to every one of my friends and loved ones that I had hurt, coming cleaning and asking for forgiveness. And the truth is, no one was shocked about the “reveal,” because they all already knew. They were witnessing it every day — and worried sick about how to help.
I will say this though, there will be some relationships that you may reevaluate and want to let go of. Toxic friends can be detrimental to recovery — especially if this person said or behaved in ways that “triggered” the eating disorder, and to protect your recovery, it may be wise to allow some distance between you, while you’re still fresh on this new and oftentimes challenging road.
But healing of these damaged relationships is possible. Keep hope.
So there you go. Those are five of the many, many fears of recovery. I could have gone on and on, but I’ll stop here for tonight.
The most important thing to remember is that: all of these fears — when you place them into the loving hands of Jesus, He will take them, and take you, and carry you through those tough moments. He is the only way I got through those fears, and where I am today: which is fifteen years strong in recovery, living a life I literally could have never imagined, like I mentioned in #3.
Keep on fighting, warriors. I believe in you.
You deserve recovery.
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