What is recovery? When referring to a sports injury or any physical illness, most people think of recovery as a journey of returning to what you previously were or the state that you were previously in. For mental illnesses, particularly for eating disorders, recovery is about the farthest thing from returning to how you previously were.
When people say that I seem recovered or that I am actively in recovery it almost makes me cringe. First and foremost just due to the fact that I am in fact, in the simplest terms of the word, no where close to being “recovered” as society views it. I still struggle daily, just in ways that aren’t quite as physically obvious as they were when I was at my all time low a few years ago. There are still things (mostly mental) that get in my way, but they are easier for me to crawl my way over and around and I am much better equipped to put one foot in front of the other than I previously was.
So am I recovered? Am I in recovery? In the simplest terms, yes, I suppose that I am. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I, by NO means, ever intend on returning to the person I was before I got drastically ill. I was still sick then. I was no healthy, whole, or well rounded in acknowledging my needs – I NEVER have been. At the age of 8 I was already struggling with anxiety and food related issues. As young as the 5th grade, I passed out at school because I hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning. I was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts as early as the 7th grade. These are things that I am genetically predisposed to struggle with – not all learned behaviors. Of course, there are environmental elements that both impact and heighten symptoms.
Recovery isn’t about restoration so much as it’s about creating something entirely new and different. It’s about creating a sustainable lifestyle that is both healthy and fulfilling – it’s about discovering who you are behind all those faulty coping mechanisms that you’ve been using to protect you for far too long. It’s about creating the life you want to live and growing into your full potential. If I were to return to the girl I was before I lost all the weight, swallowed the laxatives, ran till exhaustion, and spent far too many evenings hunched over a toilet – it would only be slightly less tragic than returning to my sickest self. It would mean losing touch with my journey – the journey which isn’t TO recovery, but THROUGH recovery. There is another side – it’s the side of my true self, my realized potential, my healthy relationships with friends and family, my strength when I exercise for enjoyment, my laughter around the dinner table, my late nights when I need them, and my early mornings – just because I love them. My true self is missions work, traveling, helping others, performing music, lending hands, offering open arms, endless amounts of hugs, and listening ears. My true self is more than I would ever, EVER be capable of being if I “recovered” my old, pre-sickest self.
I’m not going back there. I’m not recovering that girl who was a walking high-functioning-illness that went unrecognized for too many years. No, I’m not going back there -I’m going somewhere completely new. I am not recovered. I am not working towards recovery as an end goal – I am working towards realization, discovery, growth, learning, and becoming the woman that God intends for me to be – not pre-mental illness (because I don’t believe that that truly exists for me) but past mental illness (moving past them, that is).
I truly hope that we can expand our definition of the term “recovered” and “recovery” to encompass all that those who struggle with mental illness really need to hear – don’t look back, you are not going that way, you are moving forward, onward, and there are brighter days ahead. Keep your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.
“I am beginning to measure myself in strength, not pounds. Sometimes in smiles.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson
“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.”
― Jenny Lawson
“If you’re reading this…
Congratulations, you’re alive.
If that’s not something to smile about,
then I don’t know what is.”
― Chad Sugg