I was reading one of Grey Thinking's posts from around Memorial Day (you don't want to see the number of unread items that are in my Google Reader right now), and she said this I think this is a huge roadblock for many people in recovery — having a lot of insight and knowing what they need to do, but not being able to do it and make changes (or not really wanting to).
It was certainly a massive roadblock for me. Insight into the "whys" of an eating disorder was seen as my ticket out of my disorder. Maybe if I uncovered the family dysfunction. Or the ways in which I felt out of control. Or could understand why I felt the need to be thin. My insight into insight is this: it's a little a lot overrated.
I knew I was a perfectionist and a control freak--in fact, I frequently thought I wasn't good enough to be considered a legitimate example of either of them. And there was family stuff, sure. Who doesn't have family stuff? I'd always had body dysmorphia. I didn't know it was body dysmorphia, of course, but there was that, too. Insight really wasn't my problem. Many of the young adults I met in treatment had some amount of insight--and yet there they were, back in treatment. Just like me.
I'm not convinced that having insight into what caused your eating disorder will get you well. But insight is still important to recovery.
So what in the hell do I mean by that?
An eating disorder is hard to understand while you're actually in it. It seems obvious and sensible at the time, but when you look back, you sort of scratch your head. So having insight into why you're acting so weird only works if you know you're acting weird. As well, the strength of the insight that promotes change has to be greater than the anxiety (or whatever awful feeling you happen to experience) that will happen as a result of that change. Let me tell you--insight is very vague and ephemeral. Anxiety provokes action. Anxiety wins every time.
For me, insight into my illness's origins hasn't been the most useful thing to get me on the road to recovery. As for keeping me on the road to recovery, that's a different story.
Here's the thing: insight comes in many different flavors. Thus far, I've talked about the "why" flavor--why did I get sick, what caused this, etc. The insight that has been useful to me is of the "now what" flavor--what I need to do in order to stay well, what my triggers and weaknesses are, what to do if/when I start to struggle. It's still insight, but it's a different variety, and I use it totally differently.
For one thing, this type of insight is being used by a brain that is at least on its way back to normal functioning. For another, there's not quite the uphill battle. It's more of a let's-keep-this-rock-from-rolling-back-downhill kind of effort. Okay, yes, you're still fighting gravity, but at least you don't have to get the boulder moving.
To take a line from Forest Gump, insight is as insight does. To take Grey Thinking's tagline, "Becoming aware of your crap and actually overcoming your crap are two different things."