Recovery Is Not A Linear Event

In early March, I traveled to Dickinson College to talk about eating disorders and recovery as part of their Love Your Body Week, and ever since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to define “recovery” and “recovered” (which I will be discussing in a later blog) as well as how there are some myths surrounding eating disorder recovery. Often, we think about eating disorders, treatment, and recovery like this:

develop an eating disorder–>seek treatment–>recover

And while that may be how it works for some individuals with an eating disorder, my experience, and the experience of many people I know who have recovered from an eating disorder looks more like this:

develop eating disorder–>seek treatment–>struggle with the eating disorder–>relapse–>seek further treatment–>…

The idea that treatment, and I’m talking broadly here about any type of treatment (therapy, outpatient, partial, residential, inpatient) immediately cures someone of an eating disorder is a myth. We need to work to dispel this myth, because it sets up unrealistic expectations, and adds additional stress to the individual who is trying to recover, as well as their support system (friends, family, etc.). I would venture that for most people, recovery is not a linear event. While this is anecdotal evidence, almost everyone I know that has been to residential treatment has struggled to some extent when they were discharged, even if they had the support of a treatment team, partial or outpatient program.

Struggling is normal, and I think it’s actually a good sign. Struggling means you’re fighting, and not just giving into the eating disorder. After I left treatment, I had a lot of ambivalence, and while I wanted recovery, my eating disorder urges were still quite strong. At times, I did very well in managing to fight off my eating disorder urges, and at other times I did not do very well, and I know now that this is somewhat normal. I was stuck in a black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking pattern, which is fairly common for people with eating disorders. It was hard for me to accept that I did not have to be perfect at recovery, and that there would be good days and bad days, and that eventually the good days would outnumber the bad days.

Early recovery is hard, and every day it feels like you’re doing battle with eating disorder urges, but eventually, it does get easier. It’s important to remember, though, that recovery is not a linear process, and that is okay. There is no perfect or right way to recover from an eating disorder. In my next blog, I’m going to be addressing relapses, as I think that ties in with this idea, and while we usually see relapses as bad, I like to think of them as a learning opportunity.


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