Hope and Hopelessness in Early Recovery: A Look Back

Posted by on Jan 8, 2016

Hope and Hopelessness in Early Recovery: A Look Back

I should call the emergency line. I should email my therapist. I should tell [my fiancé]. I know exactly what I should do. I just don’t want to. I don’t want to be stopped.

– Journal entry from Jan. 6, 2014 (full excerpt below)

On Monday the temperature plummeted here in New York. The smell and feel of the cold air — which has been rare so far this winter — brought me back to January of 2014. It was one of the worst winters in recent years for the Northeast. It was also the winter I spent in residential treatment.

It’s hard not to think back on that ordeal this time of year. I reflect often on the frail young woman who walked into Renfrew on December 11, 2013. Although I know her well, she doesn’t recognize me at all when I try to put myself behind her eyes. There’s so much that I know now of which she was painfully ignorant. There’s a world of emotions and experiences and relationships of which she was unaware but was about to discover.

Hope and Hopelessness in Recovery

I know intimately the young woman I was two years ago, so there are a mix of emotions I feel when I receive emails and comments from some of you about how my story gives you hope in this recovery process. I love that that’s what you find here on this blog, and I appreciate your taking the time to share that with me.

Hope and Hopelessness in Early RecoveryThere’s something you need to know about hope. When I began this process, hope wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Back then, I was confused, frightened, angry, and ambivalent, just like many of you feel. It’s hard to make room for hope when those other emotions are overwhelming your every thought and action.

The thing is, you actually don’t have to make room for hope. That is, you don’t have to “feel hopeful.” Hope is not something you intentionally build into the recovery process; hope is the bedrock of the process itself. You wouldn’t be thinking about recovery — even fleetingly — if you didn’t have hope that such a thing exists.

This means that you can feel confused, frightened, angry, ambivalent, and hopeless, yet still have hope.

Feeling Ambivalent

I want to share some of my journal entries from December 2013 and January 2014. I’ve been rereading them, and I think they might be helpful to include here. I want people to know that I lived in a very different place before I finally reached the middle ground.

Some of you are in it right now and probably feel very alone. You aren’t — I remember what that place feels like. You’re not crazy for feeling this way, nor are you overreacting, nor is all of this in your head. What you’re experiencing during this early phase of recovery is very real and very normal.

I don’t know if it would have helped me to know back then that the ambivalence and anxiety I felt was to be expected. Maybe it would have at least taken the edge off the shame, and thus would have made me more willing to share the darker things I was thinking and feeling with my supporters.

Hope and Hopelessness in RecoveryWhat I would have told my early-recovery-self was that it’s okay to feel ambivalent about recovery. It doesn’t make you a bad, selfish, or ungrateful person, and it doesn’t mean that you are doing something wrong. If eating disorders came with a switch that let us turn off the ED-thinking, then treatment would probably take only a few weeks. But the thing about eating disorders — and the thing that has remained just beyond my understanding for two years now — is that they metastasize to your willpower and can maintain a tenacious hold on it for years.

I feel somewhat ashamed of what I wrote back then. Rationally, I understand what I was going through, but it will feels like I was betraying my loved ones by being so stuck between wanting to both get rid of and hang on to my eating disorder, which had been a crutch and a support for so many years. But this is how many of us feel early on (and further down the road, too, though in lesser degrees). This is the reality, and burying it will not help anyone in the long-run.

January 6, 2014: Four weeks into recovery

“. . .The longing I feel to go hungry is like longing for an absent friend. I don’t want to let it go. Every meal feels like I’m betraying something deep within me. I want to want to continue restricting. It’s as if tonight [a night that I was struggling very much] is confirmation that she’s still there, that she’s available if I want her, that I haven’t become so weak as to actually want to eat food.

I should call the emergency line at Renfrew. I should email my therapist. I should tell [my fiancé]. I know exactly what I should do.

I just don’t want to. I don’t want to be stopped.

The only person I want with me right now is anorexia.

It is the thing that patiently waits for me outside of Renfrew every day when I leave at 2:00. I walk out to emptiness, feeling deprived of the support that keeps me afloat for the first 5-and-a-half hours of the day. No matter how satisfying, how lovely the community of support is at Renfrew, at the end of each day I am made aware again of the emptiness in me, the void that I cannot seem to fill no matter how many good things populate my life. The eating disorder fills the void. I was afraid she’d gone away, that I’d succumbed too easily to recovery. I’m comforted to know she’s still here.

Don’t want to move backward. Don’t want to move forward. I am suspended in doubt, fear, depression, guilt. Hunger.”

197 Days | 14 Hours | 9 Minutes | 30 Seconds

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