Johanna from Why She Feels Fat had a great post the other day on “recovery guarantees.” She named two of these guarantees in particular:
- Feeling your feelings – good, bad, and everything in between
- Your body adjusts to where it needs / wants to be (based on your own genetics)
Johanna supports these two ideas with a lot of great thoughts, so I definitely recommend that you read the post. However, what really caught my eye was one of the comments:
My therapist told me yesterday that “people try to get out of their eating disorder by going into their eating disorder.” I slipped a little in the past two days. My therapist said, “You’re in the hole, but you’re trying to get out of the hole by going farther in the hole. You don’t climb out of a hole by going down. It’s like people are hoping so hard that if they just go farther into the hole, they’ll find a secret back door that will let them out more easily. The truth is, there is no back door. It’s a cul-de-sac. It’s painful to be in the hole, and it’s painful to come out of the hole. But there is only one way out. Up.”
Laura so eloquently articulated something that’s going to take me five paragraphs to describe. Everyone has heard the phrase about things having to get worse before getting better. However, it doesn’t say MAKE things worse so that they can get better. It doesn’t exactly work like that. I see a couple of different situations where people “try to get out of the eating disorder by going [further] into their eating disorder”:
- Trying to replace one symptom with another
- Not feeling “sick enough” to recover
- Waiting to hit rock bottom
- Trying to do recovery perfectly
To explain a little further…
Trying to replace one symptom with another
Replacing bingeing or purging with restricting is not recovery. Replacing restricting with compulsive exercise is not recovery. It’s tempting to say, “okay, I’m going to stop bingeing and eat only healthy food and lose weight.” I think this just exacerbates the binge > purge > restrict cycle. It seems unintuitive… but I think part of the recovery process is learning to forgive yourself when you do screw up. It’s being a little more lenient with yourself… not stricter.
Not feeling “sick enough” to recover
I’ve blogged about this several times. There’s the whole “if I were really sick, then I would recover” idea. Or “if I just lose 5 lb., then I’ll feel ‘sick enough’ and will feel justified in trying to eat more and get better.” There is no “sick enough,” though. Digging a deeper hole is not the answer to getting out!
Waiting to hit rock bottom
This is the “I’m still functioning, it’s not THAT bad” rationalization. Or the “I’ve been worse before” idea. There doesn’t have to be a rock bottom. While true that some people have that moment when something really awful happens and makes them realize they are ruining their lives and have to change, I’d say those individuals are more the exception than the rule. I’ve had “rock bottoms” (note the plurality), and sure, they motivated me to change. However, the times that I really committed myself to recovery were not near those bottoms! I’m very guilty of the “I’m a functioning person so I’m fine” excuse. I have to stop and remind myself, “Why would I want to wait until I lose my job, ruin relationships, have a heart attack, etc.? Can’t I just avoid that horrible bottom and work on getting better now?”
Trying to do recovery perfectly
I know so many people who want to keep “restarting recovery” so that they can “do it right this time.” Restating seems to imply getting worse… so that you’re back at the starting line to try again. I’ve done this over and over with eating and my fear of having a slow metabolism forever. If I’m not following my meal plan, yet maintaining my weight, I am convinced that I screwed up in the recovery process somewhere and am condemned to a life of having to watch my weight because I’ll obviously gain eating a normal amount of calories. And then, what’s the solution? To lose weight, of course… so that I can try that again and follow my meal plan and trust the science of it all. When you’re deep in the eating disorder, it seems to make a lot of sense. But, looking at it from the outside… why would I think that doing worse would be the solution to getting better?
Laura summed this up so well: You don’t climb out of a hole by going down.