by Natalie Loschiavo RDN, LDN, RYT 200
“Recovery is worth it!”
“Life is so much better without ED!”
“You’ll feel so much happier!”
These are all exclamations I’ve heard many times in my life–first when I was in the early stages of my own recovery from an eating disorder (ED) and then years later when I found myself uttering these words to my clients. More recently I’ve realized something very important that has changed the way I view recovery and the way I describe it to my clients.
I realized that through the healing process of recovery we must simultaneously hold two things —hopeful expectations and realistic notions. With the full and purpose-filled life gained through recovery comes a fair dose of pain and suffering. And in order to survive the process, it’s important to accept the following truths:
- Recovery is worth it.
Yes—it is worth it. But sometimes it won’t feel “worth it” for a few years into the journey (Yes, years. Yes, a few—sometimes more). During those years, hope is crucial, trust is imperative and perseverance is fundamental. We must maintain hope that recovery is possible for anyone and everyone. We must trust the professionals who dedicate their lives to healing this disease and the people who have come before us who live a recovered life today. And we must persevere through the experiences that feel impossible and nonsensical.
- Life is not “better” without ED
No, life is not “better” without ED. Life is hard. The eating disorder doesn’t necessarily make life worse (although it most certainly can!). For many individuals, the eating disorder actually makes life seem tolerable, sometimes even easier to manage. It functions as a numbing agent, a coping skill, a distraction from painful experiences and feelings or a way to communicate when words don’t work. So while we know that in the long run, eating disorders steal lives, ruin relationships and destroy futures, in the short term, they can make everything “feel better.” To promise a “better” life in recovery misses the mark. Life is hard. And that doesn’t change just because you recover. But along with the hardships and pain, life is also filled with a beautiful light that can only be seen through the lens of healing. I’ve stopped telling my clients or peers that life is “better” without an eating disorder. Instead, I promise that they will finally have a life when they are free of their eating disorder.
- You will feel again. The good. The Bad. And everything in between.
Yes, you will feel happier. And you will also feel everything else. As previously mentioned, the eating disorder is like emotional Novocain, numbing pain and suffering. But it also numbs joy, love, passion, hope, gratitude, and anything else that provides humans with pleasure. Recovery allows us to feel all of those wonderful feelings again. But first…first it’s really uncomfortable. Here’s how I sometimes describe it…. You know when you’ve been laying in a certain position for a long period of time and your arm goes numb. When you realize you’ve lost all feeling in that extremity you decide you should probably intervene so you begin to move out of the position you’re in. And then BOOM! You feel a sharp pain and weird tingling sensation. You may even panic thinking you’ve done permanent damage to that appendage and it’ll never feel “normal” again. But then, once you give it some time, once you tolerate that intense, temporary discomfort, you realize that there’s hope. You realize that it may take a little while longer, but you will feel your arm again. You have not done permanent damage. You can, in fact, be fixed. Yeah, so that’s what recovery can be like. First you realize you’re numb. Then you try to change it. Then you panic because it hurts in a way you don’t understand. And then, in time, you realize it’s going to be okay. You realize you’ll feel things again–the good, the bad and everything between. You’ll feel what it’s like to hold the hand of someone you love. You’ll feel the warmth of a fresh coffee mug between your palms. You’ll feel the frigid cold of a snowball before it’s released. You’ll feel again. And not everything will feel happy. But you’ll feel—just as you should.
Recovery doesn’t necessarily change your life. It simply allows you to have a life and live it fully.
Recovery doesn’t make you “happier.” It just allows you to feel happiness.
Recovery is worth it! Truly. I am living and breathing proof. But when you’re in the thick of it that can be a difficult thing to trust. That’s when it becomes essential to hold onto two things—hopeful expectations and realistic notions. Recovery is possible, for anyone and everyone. Slowly and steadily, it’s possible and it’s happening.