Having written about being ambivalent about eating disorder recovery, this is a natural question to ask.
For people who don't understand why someone with an eating disorder wouldn't want to recovery, please read here.
It was my ambivalence to eating disorder recovery that got in the way of a lot of therapies that I tried. I would put all my energy into the therapy but recovery just wasn't happening because, underneath it all, I didn't want to recover.
I was very fortunate to come across a therapist who asked me "do you want to want to recover?" No-one had ever asked me this, no-one had ever said, no matter how long that sentence is, if you want to want to want to want to recovery, that's a good enough place to start.
So many people find themselves in limbo, they have a sort-of-life mixed with sort-of-functioning-anorexia. But still they wonder about recovery, what it is and what it could look like but remain stuck.
Ok, so if we establish that there's a small bit of you that's interested in getting to the point where you want to recover, it's about looking at what makes you want to get to that point?
I can only talk about my experience. I'll be honest, every minute of every day, while I was unwell, my interest in recovery fluctuated. It wasn't a smooth linear progression and there's no point in pretending it was, this wouldn't be fair.
I did a few things throughout my recovery:
I was honest about why I was holding onto my eating disorder:
- I rated thinness over everything else in life.
- Getting fat (restoring my weight) felt impossibly terrifying.
- I kept me "safe" – I could avoid social events etc.
- I could be excused from life whenever I wanted.
- It gave me a framework for making decisions (i.e. choosing foods on the lowest calorie content and doing activities that used the most calories).
- I liked the identity and I didn't know who I'd be without it.
- Recovery looks too hard.
- I'm such a bad/evil/fundamentally flawed person, I don't deserve recovery/happiness/freedom.
- I thought I'd done too much damage to myself and my life to bother trying.
Once we're honest with ourselves, we can start to be curious about what it all means.
I looked at the negatives of being unwell:
- I wasn't taking a full part in life.
- I was letting people down.
- I experienced poor physical health (tiredness, coldness, lumbago, anaemia, aches and pains).
- The only thing that made me happy was the number on the scale going down.
I thought about what professionals were telling me:
- I was unwell (even if I didn't think I was).
- I was damaging my body.
- I was putting my life at risk.
- Recovery was possible.
- A better, more for-filling, happier life was possible and I deserved it.
I thought about how arrogant it was of me to rate my thoughts and beliefs above those of the professionals. If I ever didn't think I was sick enough or thin enough to deserve treatment, I thought of all the people who were sitting on waiting lists and realised the professionals wouldn't waste their time on me if I didn't need or deserve their help! I often checked out with professionals if they wanted to see me, probably sounds hideously manipulative but I needed to know they really wanted to help.
I imagined some positives of recovery:
- I'd discover who I really was.
- My physical health would improve.
- I could enjoy "bad foods" – actually, maybe no food would be bad!
- I could go on holiday/eat out and fully participate without fear.
- I could help other people recover and believe what I was saying.
- I'd choose a life I wanted rather than one anorexia dictated – this was really scary since I had no idea what I wanted but I had to have faith this would come
I looked at whether my reasons for holding on were valid:
- I'd be happy if I could rate something else over thinness (I didn't know what it would be but the possibility of valuing something else was appealing)
- The reality is, weight restoration is not about getting fat (even if Ana screams this everyday). Weight restoration is purely and simply about nourishing my body adequately for health
- What is "safe" about starting myself? (Yes, it feels psychologically safe but in reality it's killing me)
- I could learn assertiveness so I didn't have to use my eating disorder as an excuse.
- Learning my likes a dislikes could be exciting! Instead of choosing an apple due to it's calorific value, I could choose chocolate, just because I fancied it!
- As scary as losing the 'ill' identity was, the reality of people feeling sorry for me or treating me differently was tiresome. Recovery could give me the opportunity to choose an identity. I could be defined by my job, my achievements or my hobbies.
- Yes, recovery is hard but I had people offering help and they were telling me I was strong enough to do it.
- I had people telling me I did deserve recovery. If I was such a bad person, why would anyone stick by me?
- Continuing to think "what's the point of trying" just isn't sustainable. I tried this a few times, i.e. Disengaging with services etc but it doesn't have a happy ending.
It's very common for people with anorexia to feel they're not sick enough to start recovery. Sufferers feel they've not been a "good enough" anorexic if they've not been tubed or not reached a certain BMI, but everyone's experience is different. It's always worth considering what you'd say to friend in this situation. If they were saying "I'm not sick enough", would you say "yeah, you need to lose more weight, eat less, exercise more, then you could consider recovery"???
It's not simple or easy but going through this sort of process might help when trying to get to the point of wanting to recover. Everyone's different and will have different motivations so it's important to go through the process for yourself, not comparing yourself to anyone else.
I found I had to choose recovery everyday. Some days this was harder than others and some days I chose to be ill but every new minute gives us an opportunity to choose recovery, to choose wellness, to choose to definite ourselves differently.