Who Am I Recovering For?

Posted by on Jun 23, 2014

Who am I recovering for? (Image from bloglovin.com)

Who am I recovering for? (Image from bloglovin.com)

When I was in residential treatment recovering from anorexia, a young woman told me she felt guilty about her lack of motivation. She had entered treatment, she said, because her fiancé begged her to seek help. Out of devotion to him, she complied.

“But I know I should be doing this for myself, and not for anyone else,” she said.

My question in response was: Why?

Very few people who begin the hard work of recovery are 100% committed to the task. That’s not to say that we necessarily want to remain sick—like everyone, we want to feel comfortable in our own skins, to not worry that we’re squandering our lives, to feel alive.

We want to change for the better—but it’s not recovery that we want.

In truth, I question whether anyone who seeks or is sent to treatment for an eating disorder truly knows what is about to happen—which is probably for the best. Recovery hurts. You have to do things that make you anxious. You have to confront the toxic circumstances, experiences, or people that awakened the eating disorder. You might even have to endure physical discomfort or address the medical complications that can arise.

Why would anyone want to endure that kind of pain?

It’s perfectly reasonable if recovery does not begin with a valiant self-affirmation, or even a full acknowledgement of the problem. The majority of women and girls I met in treatment—myself included—sought help for the sake of someone or something else. A friend had had the courage to speak the hard truth. Or, a family member had broken down in tears because he was so afraid of or overwhelmed by the illness consuming his loved one.

Though not physically present, these people joined us in our therapy groups. They were our motivations. They made us begin to hate our eating disorders—not because of what the illness was doing to us, but because of what it was doing to our loved ones. When recovery became especially difficult, the mere thought of these supporters kept us going.

In my case, it was my husband who inspired my decision to seek treatment. We were five months away from getting married, and I could no longer bear living a lie right in front of him. I didn’t want to recover. I didn’t want to regain the weight I had lost so painstakingly. But even more, I didn’t want to stand at the altar and allow my anorexia to speak my wedding vows to him—I wanted to be the one making those vows.

Recovery has been hard. I’ve slipped more than once. But every time, it is the thought of my husband and the love I have for him that keeps me on this side of recovery. If I embrace him, then I am less likely to embrace my eating disorder.

And guess what? If you allow yourself to begin recovery for the sake of someone or something else, a remarkable thing happens. The longer you stay recovery-oriented, the more you can reduce or eliminate eating disorder symptoms, the more you begin to want it. One day, you’ll suddenly realize that being in recovery is much more fulfilling than following the commands of your eating disorder. One day you’ll sit down to eat a meal and realize that no one made you do it—you did it by yourself, for yourself.

Some of us will, in fact, do it for ourselves right from the get-go—I applaud that kind of self-honesty and valor. But if you can’t do it for yourself right now, that is perfectly okay. Do it for your spouse; do it for your parents; do it for your children; do it for the children you hope to have someday; do it for your siblings; do it for your cat; do it for a friend; do it for your future as a teacher, or a physician, or a writer; do it for the little girl or boy you once were, who you would never want to send down the path of an eating disorder.

Recovery is a habit, just like the eating disorder was a habit. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes. But you can’t start practicing it until you get your foot in the door. If you make that first step for the sake of someone or something else, that’s okay. But you have to make that step.

It doesn’t matter why you do it—it just matters that you do.

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