March 24, 2021, noon
Eating disorder recovery is often described as a journey. Applying this metaphor to my experience, I feel like I’m on a long-haul flight, having started treatment nearly two years ago. With program completion just around the corner, I’m looking forward to getting off this plane and stretching my legs. Even though my journey is not over, I am not where I started. I have gained ground and I am grateful.
While each recovery experience is different, I'd like to share a few points – framed as travel tips – that have helped me on my journey so far. Please take what appeals and leave the rest.
Tip one - Pack light. When I started my recovery journey, I tried to bring everything with me - including certain long-held beliefs about who I am and who I want to be. Looking back, I can see that I resisted the shedding process that recovery work requires and that I lost valuable energy through this resistance. In travel terms, I was trying to board my flight with my baggage stuffed into my luggage and my bags were too heavy for me to carry. If I could go back, I would tell myself that letting go is an unavoidable part of the recovery process. I would tell myself to question anything that seemed essential and understand the purpose it served.
Tip two – Accept the lack of a map. It seems that recovery journeys are not efficient in a traditional sense. Chances are the trip will be longer and less linear than desired. In my experience, expectations about how long recovery "should" take simply make the journey harder. I need to accept that I cannot control the route or speed of my trip. I try to remind myself to stay in my own lane, to not compare my journey or think that it should line up with the experience of others. If I could go back, I would tell myself to surrender to the uncertainty.
Tip three - Stay the course. There may be times during the trip when you question your decision to travel. In my experience, the eating disorder will look for any opportunity to pick apart the choice to embark on a recovery journey. Stay the course if you can. To do this, I have found it helpful to remind myself of why I bought my travel ticket in the first place. I have also found it helpful to tell myself that I can always go back if I give recovery a real shot and conclude that I prefer where I started. I try to take it one step at a time and to proceed with caution when thoughts about switching routes come up.
Tip four - Buckle up. While it can be a drag to wear a seat belt for the full duration of a long-haul flight, it is generally accepted that the risk of injury due to unexpected turbulence outweighs any inconvenience. I have found it helpful to think of aspects of recovery treatment as a seat belt. For example, when my eating disorder questions the need to follow my meal plan, I try to frame this practice as a non-negotiable safety measure. When the turbulence comes (as it inevitably does), I know that my meal plan will protect me and those around me. If you can, identify your seat belts in recovery and try to stay buckled up.
Tip five - Use airplane mode. When I used to travel for work, I often had the sensation of hitting pause on the rest of the world upon boarding my flight. This was because I was required to put my device in airplane mode, meaning that I was buffered from real time messages from work, friends and family for the duration of the trip. While I would express irritation at this, deep down I was often relieved. In recovery, I have found it helpful to apply a more general airplane mode approach. I'm not talking about reducing screen time (although unfollowing the wellness world has been recovery supportive for me). Instead, I’m talking about carving out time and space for your recovery work. I have found it essential to set boundaries in order to protect my recovery. Try to put your recovery first.
To all of my fellow travelers out there, I wish you a safe journey. I don’t have the answers when it comes to recovery but I encourage you to reflect on what makes your travel more tolerable and to hold those things tight. And please keep going – the world is waiting for you.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Nicole Rhodes lives in Nelson, B.C. and she recently completed the Discovery Vista treatment program operated through the provincial adult tertiary eating disorders unit at St. Paul’s hospital in Vancouver. She is still on her recovery journey andtaking one step at a time.
Connect with Nicole on Instagram at @life_on_mars_rhodesy and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nicole.rhodes.716
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