Out of the struggle, into the light

So I haven’t really been blogging much lately. Some of that is for very good reasons (I got married last September! I am super busy with work stuff that pays me money so that I can buy yarn and my little corner of the Intarwebz!), and some of that, well, not (I broke two bones in my lower leg in a cycling accident in October).

It would be easy to try to say that things were just fine recovery-wise. After all, if any of that happened not too long ago, I would have been a complete wreck. I am not a complete wreck. However, to say that I haven’t had some pretty huge bumps and struggles along the way would be lying.

When I read recovery narratives, people talk about their turning point. I’ve written before about how I never had one. I still haven’t. It’s not like I wanted to recover all of a sudden, it’s just that I stopped fighting it so damn much. Nothing in my recovery has been clear-cut. I didn’t go from actively pursuing anorexia to actively pursuing recovery overnight, or even in one week, one month, or one year. Nor have I stood up and said I’m fully recovered, the end.

For one, I think recovery is a part of life, and life doesn’t really stop until The End, the BIG end, and I’m not there yet. I also have not experienced a cessation of eating disordered thoughts. At every meal or snack, it occurs to me that I don’t have to eat this, that I can easily skip it, that maybe I would feel better if I didn’t eat. It’s not always an urge to skip the meal or snack, and the chatter doesn’t usually occupy much of my brain or take much effort to push away or ignore.

Until it does.

Until you find yourself returning to behaviors because you’re sick of the pushback in your head every time you reach for your fork. Or that you’re so busy and so overwhelmed that you skip one meal and find you can’t talk yourself back into a pattern of normal eating.

The difference between now and then is that I’m better at getting a handle on this. I’m better at not letting it keep going, and I’m better at keeping it from starting in the first place. But to say that it never happens wouldn’t be the truth.

My therapist has told me that I might be one of those people who has a hair-trigger for relapse and that I might have to fight harder than many to stay in recovery. I might struggle to keep symptoms from re-emerging at every bump in the road and I will probably wobble. And that this is okay.

A month or so ago, I hit a really significant rough patch. Calling it a relapse would be way too dramatic, but the struggles were very much there and very, very real. I am feeling more solid now, which is good.

So why am I talking about it?

Because no one should feel ashamed for struggling, no matter what stage of recovery they are (or aren’t) at.

Because the shame of feeling you shouldn’t struggle only adds to the difficulties in addressing them.

Because I’ve found that once you bring these feelings into the light, it doesn’t feel quite as bad.

I know some people might find these admissions discouraging. As in, “I’m fighting my eating disorder so that I can continue to admit I’m struggling?” I hear you. At the same time, the fight to stay well is rarely full-on battle. Most of the time, it’s like the annoying buzz of a mosquito or the drone of the television in another room. I’m aware it’s there and that something is on TV, but it’s not the center of my attention. Every now and again, I’ll catch a few words of the program and my attention will shift. And then I’ll shift it back. Life goes on. My world is no longer dominated by the TV.

Some people can turn off the TV entirely and they say they have no more ED thoughts and behaviors. Some people can never adjust the volume or turn away. I’m somewhere in between those two extremes.

To me, the more important question right now isn’t about the TV, but all about the other stuff I’m doing besides the TV stuff. That’s what helps me shift my attention. That’s what is interesting and compelling.

As a result, I’m going to shift my focus a bit here and talk about the realities of life in recovery. There really isn’t any advice for this stage: how do you navigate life while in recovery? I am, in a sense, living the question and living my way into the answers. And I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

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17 Responses to “Out of the struggle, into the light”

  1. This is such a brave and authentic post. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share this. It provides me with more hope than you know. Sending love and good vibes on your journey and congratulations on getting married!!!

  2. Gourmetpenguin July 6, 2015 at 1:24 am

    Thank you Carrie. It’s lovely to have you back!
    I think I’ve reached a similar point. The added challenge now is remembering that it did happen and how bad it was. Because there is still a part of my brain that will say “but it was fine! You were managing great! You can do that again” And at the minute, it’s close enough that I realise that’s not a good idea…

  3. Thank you for this, Carrie. While I do believe full recovery is possible, for those of us who aren’t there yet, it’s nice to get confirmation that there’s there’s no shame in that. Whatever stage you’re in is okay — like you say — it’s a ride. The important this is not where you are, but that you keep pedaling.

  4. This post was so refreshing. I am not happy that things have been harder for you, but I am so happy that someone out there is open about the fact that “fully recovered” may not be a reality for some people…. And that’s okay! I get so fed up with the (admittedly well meaning) people out there who use every opportunity to preach the idea of “recovered” and can’t see that their experience may not apply to other people, or that other brains and illness experiences may be different. I am pretty certain that no matter how many years pass for me in recovery, I will always have my eating disorder in my head. That doesn’t mean that I can’t live a happy and fulfilling life… It just means that I have an illness that I need to manage.

  5. Thank you Carrie.
    Continuing to authentically try, each day is enough. No judging, if at the end of the day, I have done MY BEST to put my my health over perfectionism.

  6. I’m so glad I read this. Your writing is real and honest and just beautiful. There is always a fear that you will always be fighting and I know a lot of the feelings here all too well.

    When my ed got its ‘chronic’ diagnosis after five years of struggling I was completely heartbroken. I felt like that meant there was no ‘recovery’, simply ‘learning to live with this’ and that is terrifying.

    Your analogy of the buzz of the television is perfect, and I think will come in handy for explaining where I’m at to people as it is often difficult to keep having to say: “I’m trying but I’m not there”.

    Wishing you all the luck, happiness and positivity in the world xx Alice

    • Carrie Arnold July 6, 2015 at 10:07 pm

      To me, there’s a big difference between managing your illness and managing your recovery. Most of the time, my illness is not running my life, even if it’s not entirely gone. I put my effort into staying as well as I can, not keeping the illness to a minimum. As much as it sounds like semantics, I think the difference is important.

  7. Thanks for your honesty. I’m still hoping in the back of my head for that magical day when ed thoughts are GONE completely and the struggle isn’t so painful. I wonder if hoping for that day is impeding my progress, since the fact that I’m “not there yet” almost feels like yet another excuse to give in to ed thoughts. Some day I won’t struggle with this; right now I still do- maybe not a helpful position in which to hold myself. I wonder what you would consider a “relapse” vs just a “struggle”? Is there an actual line drawn somewhere differentiating those two?

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I have a question: do you stick to a regular meal plan or do you try to eat “normally”, listening to your body”s needs or hunger cues ? ie is it possible to hear your inner voice regarding body needs or is it too dangerous, because of ED voice ?

    Thank you if you can answer my question and congratulations for the path you are following

    • Carrie Arnold July 6, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      I do use a meal plan, but not one where I measure out every last grain of rice. I’ve tried to do intuitive eating, and it just doesn’t work for me. I always end up losing weight when I try to do that. Whether it’s a lack of appropriate hunger/fullness cues or it’s simply too easy to justify eating less because I’m Listening To My Body, Dammit! isn’t clear. I did do a lot of work to integrate enough flexibility into my eating so that I can be spontaneous if I need to be, but mostly I do better with structure.

      Does that make sense?

  9. As someone who has been in recovery for years now I have also accepted there may never be a silence to the ED voices. There are times when the chatter is quieter, nearly a whisper but it still rears it’s ugly head very loudly at times. Recovery skills have helped me end the cycles before they start. A bad day or week does not need to be the trajectory I take permanently. I can wake up and make a new choice. Learning to believe that fully has been most integral from slipping from that precipice into relapse.

    • Carrie Arnold July 7, 2015 at 9:51 am

      Yes, that’s exactly it. That’s been my experience, too, although I haven’t been in recovery for as long as you. But learning how to manage the uptick in ED chatter and keep it from becoming a relapse is a skill that is so hard, and so crucial, to learn!

  10. Great to hear from you and thank you for such an honest post. First, congrats on the wedding!! Sorry to hear about the other not-so-good stuff, but it sounds like you are handling it like a boss.

    I am one of those people who did have a recovery turning point. It wasn’t instantaneous or even overnight, but it was distinct and significant enough that I now think of my life in terms of “before” and “after.” I don’t know if that means I’m less prone to relapse (this is a relapsing illness, after all, and I have certainly relapsed in the past), but there was a definite shift in my mindset and my sense of self about three years ago. Since then I’ve had crappy body image, temptations to restrict, struggles with overexercise/compulsive exercise, etc. but the main difference is that I have accepted a new, healthy, normal baseline. I’ve accepted that I will never weigh below XXX lbs ever again, or that I will never run a marathon, or that I will never be able to skip meals or eat below XXXX calories no matter how seductive it may seem. I’ve let go of this idea that the ED was part of my identity, and with that has come incredible freedom.

    I see people are commenting about whether or not they believe in this idea of “full recovery.” That isn’t really something I’ve ever thought about. For me the most important thing is whether I’m living a full life – one that is less explicitly about the illness/recovery divide, and more about just living. I guess eventually the hope is that the day-to-day business of recovery fades to the background, however long that takes. I’m certainly not there yet, but I don’t know if that is entirely necessary to have a full and vibrant life.

  11. great going Carrie,
    very impressed by all you do
    especially priority to your relationships!!
    best, Julie Montal, (in France)
    working on a book project with Parents’ stories.

  12. Was so good to see your email of a blog update! Congrats to you and hubby and owwie on the bones….

    I was just recently diagnosed (professionally) but we figure it out along the way in life when there is an eating disorder of some kind. My problem is I also use laxatives… and now i am dependent on them as well…. have really screwed up my insides…

    There was also a time in my life when I was over 260 lbs…. i got the weight off . . . most of it anyway considering age..

    but what i wonder makes me sabotage myself now? I will get to a weight that i say ok this is good finally i only need to lose 10 more lbs and i am done losing weight!! and i mess it up!!! somehow some way i mess it up…

  13. Thank you. It is so hard. Having had a.n. since teens and now in my thirties, I feel deep shame for having “failed” for so long. I look around for reasons and try to find something to blame (like not receiving early treatment, or it’s genetic, or, as the doctors said, I have SEED so am basically a write-off). Now like you I am “living my life” and functional…but still life is a battleground. And the e.d. voice never goes away…like you say, I think it’s been *exhaustion* with the e.d. rather than any empowered moment, which has meant I don’t respond/bargain with the voice so much. This looks like recovery on the outside but feels anything but inside. War wages on within with a low rumble. And of course intermittently the voice gets a bit louder and more hysterical. And at these points recovery behaviours instead of e.d. behaviours seem, crazily, like the less exhausting option!

    It is so good to have read your post. Too often phrases like “real recovery” just imply that if you aren’t recovered, you have only been in quasi-recovery and not really committed. Which only equals, yet more shame!

  14. Your writing has been a beacon of hope and understanding in my family’s journey to understand our young adult daughter’s ED. It came on suddenly at age 21 – with comprehensive treatment she has returned to a life full of promise and successes both personal and health wise. I cherish a plaque she made me long ago with a favorite Buddhist quote “You only lose what you cling to”. It’s my belief that one of the greatest mind sets sabotaging a good recovery is an insistence that there be a declaration of “cured”. Like many other medical conditions one needs to manage an eating disorder. Any diabetic would like to go back in time to when they were not labeled as having that disease, but that is not possible. Accepttance and managment of a diabete diagnoses allows one to live a full life. I believe that is also possible with an eating disorder diagnosis. You are a generous and wise lady – thank you for sharing!