This month’s Recovery Rockstar is Kaila, who breaks down her recovery process into two key parts. Getting past the harmful behaviors of the Eating Disorder was just the beginning for her. Keep reading to find out what happened after…
The hardest part of recovery was admitting to myself that I wasn’t really recovered.
When your eating disorder doesn’t present like something out of a Lifetime movie, but instead looks a lot like the way your favorite healthy living blogger got a book deal, it’s hard to admit that your behaviors are damaging.
I quit my theatre graduate school program and got a job so I could get health insurance and focus on recovery. I maintained my regimented eating and exercise as long as I could, but my new job had variable hours, which forced me out of my comfort zone.
I loved my job. It forced me to focus on my customers, my coworkers, and my company — I was outside of my own head for the first time, and though I was still listening to my disorder’s lies about calories, exercise, and “good” and “bad” foods, I was able to separate myself somewhat and finally start to live my own life.
That is, until a few months later, when things started to feel out of control again. New management, drama with coworkers, and a promised raise that never seemed to come forced me back into a spiral with my anxiety, and I tried to control it the only way I knew how: food and exercise. I withdrew from my friends, my job, and my family. I doubled down on my diet, becoming a vegan so I would have an excuse to restrict and doing a yoga challenge to justify my multiple daily trips to the studio.
I was back in my disorder, but calling it a different name. It’s the names that obscure what’s really going on. The culture we live in is focused on a disordered idea of health and wellness, marketing obsession, pain, and restriction as virtues. As long as you can call your behaviors a “lifestyle, not a diet,” and point to some famous person who is making money by sharing their tips for doing exactly what you do, then it’s hard to convince your brain that you might be hurting yourself.
It took several years for me to discover the lies that fitness and nutrition marketing were feeding me, and even longer for me to believe that they were lies in the first place. And the hardest part? Figuring out how to truly recover now that I knew the truth.
So what’s the key to becoming and staying recovered? I look at it like this: It is actually a two part process. The first part is Recovery. Recovery is when you learn how to take away the behaviors that are harming you. You strip yourself of your tools and triggers, learn how to stop the thought processes that take you in dangerous directions, and undo the lessons you’ve internalized about what you think makes you valuable or gives you control.
But when you take things away, you’re left with a void. Without food or fitness, who was I? After a while, if you only do the work of Recovery, you start to feel empty and chaotic. It’s easy to go back to the old behaviors, because, even if they hurt you, their familiarity gives you a sense of “comfort.”
So, once I got to a point where I was safe and ready, I started step two: Discovery. Discovery is the process of filling in the hole that’s left by your old behaviors and mindsets. There’s no one right way to do Discovery, because only you will know what lights you up and keeps your interest. For me, I had inadvertently been trying on Discovery when I took my old job — but it was an incomplete Discovery, because I hadn’t really done the work of Recovery first. I probably would have avoided my old behaviors if I had confronted them when I first left my grad school. Years later, when I tried Discovery again, I did it after I had done the work to disengage with my disorder.
I always suggest that you start Discovery with activities not related to food or fitness — so, don’t use your Discovery to go to nutrition or baking school or become a personal trainer or a hiker. Give yourself time away from things that might feel a little too comfortable and get used to finding the fun in the unexpected.
The process of Discovery is scary, because you may not feel like you’re doing it right. You might feel like you’re wasting time when you try things you ultimately don’t like. You might feel out of control because it forces you out of your schedule or your comfort zone. But that’s also the fun of it. Discovery is about finding or building a personality and an identity that is all yours and not touched by your disorder.
With every passing day, my eating disorder gets further and further into my past. Though the history of my disorder will always be with me, it no longer defines who I am, and I no longer make decisions based on a disordered identity. Each day, I commit to Discovering the amazing me that I am — and you can do it too. The first step is admitting that it’s time to do the work.