Perfection and Recovery

There is a lot of talk about recovery through helplines, email boxes, and social media pages of non-profits dedicated to the prevention and alleviation of eating disorders (ED).  Many people are starting to realize they want to begin recovery, and some are in the recovery process but struggling. Sometimes they are currently with a treatment team or have just graduated from a program. Sometimes they have been maintaining recovery on their own for several years but are starting to wrestle with old ED thoughts.  Some may describe their doubts, lapses and relapses as:

“Whenever I think I’m doing really well in recovery, I slip up and ruin everything.”

“I want to recover but don’t think I can, so I might as well give up.”

“I’m afraid if I tell anyone that I’m struggling that they will be disappointed/angry/annoyed.”

Recovery can bring up a lot of intense feelings that may have some people wondering if it’s even worth it….well…IT IS! For those struggling with an ED, there may be times when they cannot truly control their feelings, but they can respond to them. They can analyze them, talk about them, and use what they’ve learned to talk back to the feelings that keep them stuck. They can change their behaviors and not let negative thoughts control their actions.

The issue with the thoughts above isn’t that they’re negative. It’s okay to feel discouraged or sad; recovery isn’t always sunshine and kittens and running through meadows. It’s hard work that stretches the mind and truly challenges a person.  The issue here is that those struggling, sabotage themselves when they take the same perfectionist, all-or-nothing thinking from their eating disorders and try to apply it to their recovery.  They judge themselves for being “bad” at recovery, they sell their selves short, and they once again believe that their capacity to be loved comes not from who they are, but from how well they do something.

Recovery isn’t about perfection. It’s not about doing each step correctly or being the best. There is no competition in recovery because those struggling are all running different races. They are all living a different story.

For those with an ED, they may judge everything as good or bad in their head.  For example, they may think there is “good” foods and “bad” foods. Days in which they stuck to their plan was good, but if their plans were thwarted by having to eat at a family outing or their weight went up even a smidge, that day was ruined.  They don’t enjoy any activities or pursue any passions because they felt that if they couldn’t be the best at something, they might as well be the worst.

For those struggling,  it may be difficult to feel positive about anything when they believe that one mistake would destroy all their progress.  And yet that’s what disordered thoughts have them believing. A lapse/relapse doesn’t make them a failure at recovery, and it doesn’t erase the incredible steps they have taken thus far. Relapse can actually be a powerful teacher in helping them map out what they need to adjust in their lives so that recovery can be possible again. That may mean re-evaluating their treatment needs, creating a stress management plan, or revisiting what they’ve learned so that they can keep themselves safe in the future.

There is no “ruined” recovery, and there are no “ruined” days either. Jenni Schaefer once wrote that recovery involves doing the “next right thing.” If those with an ED were unable to stick to their meal plan one morning or one week, they don’t have to give up on recovery.  They just have to pick up where they left off and do the next right thing.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, talk about it. It’s okay to let other people know you’re struggling; we’re all human. Imagine if everyone gave up on something that mattered to them because they got confused, made a mistake, or felt discouraged. No one would be able to do anything! We’d have no authors, musicians, athletes, businesses, you name it.  Not one person on earth has ever done everything perfectly all the time, so don’t expect that from yourself or others.Recovery means letting go of perfection, rigid rules, and harsh judgments about yourself that prevent you from growing. It’s about facing your fears and insecurities head-on instead of letting them define and limit you. Dare to keep fighting and moving forward in recovery; even if you’re not sure what it will look like when you get there.

Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

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