When I was admitted into treatment the first and only time, my treatment team of course kept encouraging me to recover: “don’t you want to have energy again? To be able to eat the things your eating disorder restricts you from?” And my simplest and most honest answer: “no.” I didn’t value having energy because at the time, NOT having energy made my eating disorder feel powerful and in control. NOT eating the foods I once loved made me feel like anorexia was winning. And at the time, that is what I wanted. So when my treatment team displaced their own goals they had for me onto myself, I was left feeling resentful and I felt further away from motivation than I had in the first place.
The thing about recovery is that it’s truly only possible if you want it. This “want” cannot be defined for you by anyone else other than you. Here’s another example: during my first recovery, my mom consistently would tell me “you’re looking so much healthier! You’ve got to be so happy you are recovering.” Hearing I was looking healthier was not helping me achieve the goals that my eating disordered mindset still had for me. Hearing that I should be happy I chose recovery was actually disregarding the fact that I did not really feel like I chose it. I was involuntarily placed in treatment. Yes, I achieved weight-restoration, but I still wanted to be defined as “anorexic.”
This might sound confusing to anyone who hasn’t struggled with an eating disorder. The puzzlement lies in “why would you want to do this to yourself?” And I can’t answer this question for anyone besides myself. What I can say is that the want to recover and the ability to remain truly recovered cannot be defined, or chosen, by anyone else but YOU. So, where do you start?
- What do you value? Make a list of the top 3-5 things you value in life. If you can think of more, go for it! Try to think about whether you’re adding a value to the list that has been defined for you by someone else, or whether you truly hold this value in your life.
- What is your eating disorder’s role? By this, I mean: is your eating disorder acting as an obstacle for you to achieve these values? By adhering to its rules and restrictions, are you living a life that is full of value to you?
- By letting go, what are you gaining? In other words, by letting go of your eating disorder, what positive changes can you make in your life that are directly associated to what you value? For example, if you value time with your family, think about how recovery will positively impact your relationships within your family.
When we attach value to a goal, we instantly create more motivation to achieve it. While in recovery the second time, when I actually wanted it, I began to think about what I wanted my life to look like. I valued spontaneity and travel, relationships, my health and energy levels, and I valued my future as a therapist. I started to think about in what ways was my hold on anorexia keeping me from adding more value in my life.
My rigid rules and attachment to my kitchen for meal preparation was making travel and spontaneity impossible. I found myself anxious when a measuring cup wasn’t available. I was limited on the plans I would allow myself to do while on vacation; specifically, I avoided any activity where food was going to be included. By placing value on travel and freedom, I was more motivated to recover to finally feel the sense of spontaneity I once had prior to anorexia.
I wanted to be able to travel without worrying about what food was going to be available. I wanted to be able to leave the safety of my home for countless hours at a time with no schedule or plan. I wanted this so badly, that recovery became the only option to reach this.
My eating disorder mindset also limited the relationships in my life. I found myself canceling plans with friends when dinner was included. I was more focused on the calories in my drinks when I was out than focusing on the conversations being held. I wanted to be able to initiate happy hour plans. I wanted to be able to take an extra slice of pizza with my friends “just because.” I wanted late-night Taco Bell or McDonald’s after a fun night out. I wanted the memories that my eating disorder didn’t allow me to have throughout college.
When I thought about how much I valued my health and energy levels, I slowly began to realize how much anorexia was taking these two things away from me.
I wanted to be able to laugh without it feeling forced. I wanted to be able to get my body moving and be active without fearing that I was going to collapse at any minute from exhaustion.
When I thought about my future goal of being a therapist for anorexia, I was left feeling like a phony. How was I supposed to play a role in other’s recovery if I was still allowing my own battle with anorexia to consume me?
When we attach meaning and value to recovery, the eating disorder becomes less and less appealing. Think about what it is that you want in life, and how is the eating disorder keeping you from getting there?