Is Eating Disorder Recovery Possible?
This is a question that goes back and forth in the eating disorder recovery environment.
When someone is struggling with an eating disorder, you often feel very hopeless throughout the recovery process. Throughout this article I will discuss alcoholism recovery as another example of a type of recovery. If this feels uncomfortable, perhaps skip to the next article!
So let’s just talk abut what recovery means because recovery can mean sometime different for everyone. Throughout my time as a therapist, I have worked in substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and eating disorders. Navigating each with clients have been very different. However, recovery exists in all. Within alcoholism, recovery often means abstinence. However, some folks can walk into a bar and hang out and be fine, and some cannot be around alcohol at all.
When compared to eating disorders, there cannot be an absence of food. However, there can be an absence of behaviors. For example, binge eating, purging, restricting or compulsive exercise can be worked to be eliminated.
So what if these are eliminated form one’s day to day life? Does that mean they are recovered? Some say yes, and some say no.
A very difficult part of recovery to work through are the thoughts and emotions that arise, leading to the behaviors. Jumping back to the comparison of alcoholism recovery, if someone is around alcohol when going through recovery and the difficult thoughts and emotions do not arise, they may be able to walk into a bar and be comfortable. If they are not comfortable hanging out in a bar, that does not mean they are not recovered, it just means they know their triggers and are being mindful.
So if one is not engaging eating disorder behaviors, yet have the same triggering thoughts, are they recovered?
I believe this is up to that individual. We live in a society filled with messages from diet culture. Those who do not have an eating disorder or disordered eating, still can be affected by these messages. To say that these messages will never be triggering or hurtful, well that feels unrealistic to me. Now there is a difference between feeling triggering and acting on that trigger and coping with that trigger appropriately.
If the recovering alcoholic walks into a bar and says “you know what this doesn’t feel right” and walks out, or decides they want to stay and enjoy time with their friends and attend a meeting in the morning, these are appropriate ways to handle something triggering. If someone going through eating disorder recovery feels triggered by a picture of themselves, they can say “you know what, I am not going to love every picture of myself and that is okay, despite feeling uncomfortable right now” or they can start engaging in behaviors again (these are just two examples).
I believe the stigma of recovery is that we will never feel triggered or struggle with difficult thoughts and emotions around food and our bodies. I believe this may happen for some, however, not most. Recovery is not only a different journey for everyone, but also a different finish line. However, there is a finish line, that I promise.