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From the Archives: Waiting for the Lightbulb

Posted Oct 15 2011 9:00pm
Seeing as I will be away this weekend, I've selected several of my favorite posts from the archives to tide you over until I return.

Many of the recovery stories I read when I was first diagnosed with anorexia usually featured an epiphany for the now-healthy person. Usually, it went something like: "I saw a photo of myself and saw how bad I looked. I realized I was killing myself. So I started eating again."


If only...

My problem wasn't that I didn't know the damage I was doing--I could recognize it on a cognitive level, even if it didn't always have the same emotional impact--it was that I didn't really care. So my treatment stays came and went, and I went through the motions, but I was waiting for that Come to Jesus moment when everything would click and I could move forward with recovery. I said many of the Right Things, those profound statements that therapists just totally eat up- "I'm recovering for myself now!" "I'm listening to my body!" "Anorexia really isn't about food!" And so on. Part of me wanted to believe them, and a part of me probably did, but I was completely and utterly full of crap. In reality, I was still waiting for the lightbulb moment, that hallowed clarity, to see the meaning behind my behaviors and start the meaningful work of recovery.

Needless to say, I've never had an epiphany. My thinking has evolved over the years, sure, and I've certainly have some realizations, but no holy-crap-anorexia--is-stupid moments. Those moments are nice, and I'm not saying they aren't important if they happen, but they're often not the basis of a lasting recovery. I realized that anorexia often created more problems that it solved quite a few years ago, but that never meant I couldn't still be scared to eat.

I've stopped waiting for these sudden jolts of clarity and understanding. Perhaps my most important revelation is that recovery is based in the dogged repetition of recovery behaviors and not any masterful realizations. For so long, these recovery behaviors felt awful. I wanted to crawl out of my skin- I would even rake my nails up and down my stomach and legs because the feeling was so intense. Talking about my feelings, asking for help, drinking the Ensure, none of this felt normal or natural, and it definitely didn't seem to help. I didn't understand what I was supposed to be working toward. What was recovery anyway? And if anorexia made me feel better, how freaking bad could it be?

But I am learning that recovery behaviors can become more natural, just like learning a foreign language. When I first started to speak Spanish, I no doubt sounded like a demented gringo. After several years, I couldn't exactly speak like a native, but I didn't sound like a little girl playing dress-up in someone else's language. I eat. Day in and day out. I try to relax. I try to get to sleep at a normal hour. I talk to friends. I blog. These have created my recovery much more so than any mind-blowing realization.

There are no recovery shortcuts, no miracle elixirs, just the healing tincture of time and practice.
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