What does full recovery actually mean? Does it mean we never worry about food, weight, calories, numbers etc ever again? Does it mean we never have a 'fat day' or wish we were thinner or compare our bodies to others again? Does it mean that we will eat three meals plus snacks every day without panicking or choosing 'safe foods'? Does it mean we will look in the mirror and love what we see unconditionally?
I find it hard to believe that all or any of that would be possible. I mean I know plenty of women who do not suffer from an eating disorder, but who still have 'fat days' when they feel bloated with PMS, or who wish they could lose a little weight or envy others' figures. I know too many women who pick low fat options and who crash diet to fit into a new dress. Does that then mean they have eating disorders or that those things are just part of normal life?
I've heard that chronic eating disorder sufferers are less likely to fully recover. I remember when I was in treatment, there were girls who had been unwell for maybe a year but could still remember how life was before their eating disorder took hold. They knew how they wanted their relationship with food and their body to get back to. I remember thinking that I couldn't recall ever feeling 'normal' about food or 'happy' with my body and therefore how could I know where I wanted to return to?
I am a recovered alcoholic, and I know that in order to stay that way I choose not to drink and avoid situations where I might be too tempted. This would make sense for recovered addicts, gamblers, adulterers etc, but how does that work for us recovering from eating disorders? there are so many triggers for eating disorders and I remember declaring that surely I'd be cured if I just avoided food and eating... big obvious flaw there... while we can avoid alcohol and gambling for the rest of our lives, we can't avoid eating. Having to look at it from a different angle, figuring out and dealing with the reasons we want to avoid food and eating in the first place is a huge undertaking. I am not minimising other addictions - I know first hand how hard they are to kick, but i know that for me the anorexia is the one that lingers.
I would say that I am mostly recovered. I eat normally 95% of the time, my weight and health are restored, I eat in public, and the disorder doesn't stop me working or enjoying my marriage or having friends etc. I do still struggle daily with that chattering in my head telling me what is 'right' and 'wrong' and the constant thoughts about weight, weight loss, my body, and the links between me choosing to eat and my past trauma. It is always there. So yeh I am pretty much recovered, but I just don't know whether the rest will ever go away. I've been doing the right things for so long that I wonder if the rest really will fall into place like all the professionals told me it would, or if this is the way it is to be - if so that is OK, but I always wonder if things could get better...
I brought it up in therapy today as my therapist has extensive experience in treating eating disorders both here and in the UK, as well as personal experience of recovering from eating disorders. She agreed that for some full recovery is very real, and that for others it is not. That there is a big continuum, that there is not a yes or no answer to my question. As to whether I could full recover, we discussed my history - when I first remember using food to cope with emotion, my feelings about food and my body growing up, when I became unwell etc etc. Key to this was three things. One was that I recall clearly the day when I was 17 that I decided that I would stop eating (or purge what I did eat) and that my reason for this was strongly linked to a traumatic event. That day I linked food and abuse together very consciously and deliberately. The next key thing was that even though I have been funny about my body, about exercise and had occasionally experienced using food in a disordered way since I was 11, as well as having strong fears of gaining weight and issues with body image, for a long period up until I made that link when I was 17 I actually wasn't afraid of eating food and did not restrict it or purge it. Up until that day when i was 17 I was focussed on excessive exercise, body image and weight, but not food or eating, therefore I actually had experienced normal eating. The third key point is that I have successfully given up many other destructive things over the years, such as alcohol, self harm, purging and restriction and have a stubborn determination when i decide to take the plunge. These things my therapist decided stand me in a good position to kick this thing for real one day, once I break that link I made some 13 years ago between food and abuse. If only breaking that link was as easy as creating it.
Chatting with a couple of my friends while I was writing this, I asked them what they thought full recovery would mean:
One responded: Learning to be happy with who you are, and what you are, not caring about what you look like, not even thinking about what you are putting in your mouth when you eat, being independent and in control of your emotions, being able to resolve any issues you have without the use of food or lack of.
The other: I think full recovery is possible for some people, you do hear stories about people that claim they are fully recovered. For me though I just want to be at a point where I am not plagued by the thoughts so that I can function properly
I also asked the same questions of my husband. he has been with me since i was a binge drinking mess and stayed with me through the worst of my anorexia and my subsequent almost recovery. i thought it might be interesting to get his point of view.
He said that full recovery is: A state of being that means that you are no longer having to manage your life based on the disease. That doesn't mean that you dont think about it at all, any more than somebody who has recovered from PTSD in a warzone doesnt think about it anymore. But that you are not adapting your life to a set of rules designed to minimise the impact of it. Which means that you go to cafes, you eat ice cream, you have breakfast lunch and dinner every day in the same way that normal people do, you don't avoid situations where you know food will happen, so you'd be going to a family dinner without it overly concerning you. Yes I definitely think it is possible to get to that point in the same way that I suspect that some people that recover from war related PTSD find themselves in a situation where they are enjoying air shows. But I think that it is all too easy for people to turn the rules that keep them safe while they are still suffering, into habits they are no longer willing to break, using any number of justifications for it, often not related to their original illness, thats human nature. "thats alright, everybodys a bit weird"
I am still undecided on whether it is ultimately possible to full recovery from an eating disorder, but I would like to hope that it is. I am happy with where my life is and where it is heading, but I would hope that one day I will be free of what I still have in my mind. I am told that I need to work on my trauma issues in order to achieve this freedom, and so that is what I am currently doing in therapy, so perhaps watch this space, it is a work in progress.
what do you all think? is full recover possible, and if so what does it look like?