March 2, 2022, noon
I’ve always had trouble with absolutes. I see everything in black or white, all or nothing, and my eating disorder loved that. I felt the same way about recovery: waffling back and forth between either side. One foot in the recovery world and one foot firmly planted in my eating disorder, scared to jump the fence because what if I got on that side and everything came crashing down? To me, the scariest thing when thinking about full recovery isn’t the thought of how to get there, but, what happens if I get there and then I fall?
So maybe I will always say, “I’m in recovery”.
Maybe I’ll never say, “I’m recovered”.
Maybe recovery is a spectrum that ebbs and flows from one day to the next. Some days I feel like the thoughts are tiny whispers in the back of my mind, easy to push back and ignore, making it easy to live a life aligned with my values and not the values of my eating disorder. But other days, those thoughts are so loud, it’s like a constant ringing in my ears; shutting out the rest of the world. On these days, when my eating disorder doesn’t seem so far out of reach, when the coping skills feel like they are slipping away, I question everything I thought I knew about recovery. I thought it was going to be a few months of therapy, regular blood tests, and some EKGs. And then, all of a sudden, I would find myself eating whatever I wanted without a care in the world. Turns out, that's not really how it works. I was approaching recovery with my typical all or nothing attitude and my eating disorder thrived on this. “If I can’t be perfect in recovery, then what’s the point?”
I felt betrayed for a long part of my recovery - by my recovery itself. Having an eating disorder was so easy for me that I tricked myself into thinking that recovery would be a piece of literal and figurative cake. That I could be perfect. To my surprise, acing my therapy homework and logging religiously on Recovery Record didn’t make my eating disorder disappear.
I wanted the easy way out. I was always early for my treatment appointments. I thought I’d be early for wrapping up recovery, too. It turns out, making the easy choice is what continued to fuel my eating disorder even more. It turns out there are no shortcuts in recovery. Recovery has been anything but easy, anything but simple and straightforward. Recovery has been full of hard choices and making decisions I never thought I’d have to make.
Maybe John Shedd was right when he said, “a ship is safe in harbour – but that is not what ships are built for.”
Maybe it's true that the right choice isn't the easy choice. I wonder if this is what it all comes back to, I knew the right choice was to follow whatever path didn't lead back to my eating disorder, to follow whatever path got me as far away from that life as humanly possible. But that's the hard choice. There was nothing easy about leaving what I viewed as safe, comfortable, familiar, and secure.
Maybe, every time I make that hard choice, it becomes a tiny bit easier to leave that harbour and then make the next hard choice. It becomes a little easier for a life in recovery to seem just a little bit more attainable.
Maybe, just maybe, making the hard choice is what finally leads to freedom.
Shannon is a 24-year-old teacher in recovery on the East Coast. When she is not teaching, Shannon can be found running, reading, or listening to Taylor Swift.