The Answer to Why I Can’t Just Be Recovered

I’ve been aggressively avoiding making tough decisions and having challenging conversations over the last few months and they all seem to be surfacing all within the same week. Funny how our universe works that way. Like “Come on Kristen, you’ve avoided too long- we’re forcing ALL the decisions on you now.”

Between work, relationships and my personal life- the need for a decision is becoming more apparent and it’s making me crawl out of my skin. I woke up with a heavy chest. My lungs feeling heavy.  My calves and hands tingling and tightening.

Well fuck.

This isn’t a surprise. I’m fortunate to now have the brain space and awareness (yay recovery!) to see my eating disorder has been acting out more and more as I continue to be confronted with these life decisions.

The last two weeks I’ve fought off poor body image. I’ve felt extra whale-like lately. I’ve spent way too much time examining my body in the mirror, pinching my arm fat, changing my outfits and weighing myself.

I’ve started stressing more about missing a workout and food hasn’t been appealing.

So what’s my point here?

Anxiety is the connection.

When our personal lives get complicated our anxiety peaks which enables the eating disorder to take control.

It’s also why it’s so tough to reach recovery.

I’ve been asked plenty of times “Can’t you just be recovered?” , “Can’t you choose recovery?” , “Can you just let go of the eating disorder?”

The answer is no. Eating disorders act as a protective mechanism. It is something individuals develop and learn to depend on as a way to cope with emotional distress.

Dr. Anita Johnson, author of Eating in the Light of the Moon, illustrates just how difficult fully letting go of the eating disorder is and the process of recovery.

She sets an image of a raging river. You’re standing on the riverbanks, it’s dark and pouring. Suddenly you slip and fall and you’re pulled into the water. You begin drowning as the rapids start sucking you down. When suddenly, a log comes along. No shocker here- you grab that damn log for life. It keeps your head above water and prevents you from drowning.

Eventually, you float on the log to a calmer break in the river. You see the shore, but the channel is too narrow to swim with the log.  You now have to let go of the very thing that saved your life for so long. Anita explains, “the very thing that saved your life is now getting in the way of where you want to go in life.”

You could let go of the log and swim, but what if you drown halfway? The best option would most likely be letting go of the log to try and float and when you start sinking, grabbing back onto the log. Then you let go of the log again and you practice treading water, grabbing the log again when you are tired. You would continue this gaining your strength to make the full swim to shore without the log.

“Recovery from an eating disorder requires honoring and appreciating its function” -Anita Johnson

If ya haven’t caught on by now,  the log is a metaphor for the eating disorder. Those of us with eating disorders relied on disordered behaviors to cope with some emotion, environment or situation for so long.

I love this metaphor for a number of reasons:

  1. It illustrates just how difficult letting go of the eating disorder is
  2. It illustrates the process of recovery- small steps, highs and lows (floating and sinking), practicing to gain strength to reach ultimate shore/health
  3. It acts as a reminder to examine your situation. When the eating disorder is getting louder, there’s a good chance there are some rapids (emotional distress) popping up. Half the time you may never notice until the eating disorder is already loud AF and you’re clinging to the log for dear life. No bueno.

Each time we choose recovery, we let go of our “log”.  However, in times of serious emotional distress, we can find ourselves flirting with eating disorder behaviors as we reach back out for that log.

But that’s okay, it’s part of the process. I’ve been in recovery for 2 years now but I don’t think I’ve reached the shore yet. I’m not sure if I ever will, but I am certainly doing some strong ass laps and getting stronger.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s all a process.






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