Last week I wrote about The New Body Problem in Anorexia recovery. Today I am writing about the other side: becoming recovery-body proud.
Here is the paradox, before I started recovery, and even when I was supposedly at a “recovered” BMI, the thought of being in a larger body petrified me — and I had no desire to be in a thin body in the first place, let’s not pretend that Anorexia makes any sense. Despite wanting to put on weight and wanting to be “normal” the illness generated a deep (irrational) fear of actually gaining weight. However, once I had hung on in my recovery body — I mean the body that settled above the standard BMI 19 and the body at which my mental state shifted — long enough, my perception around weight gain began to shift, and fear was replaced with acceptance which was ultimately replaced with pride.
Let’s talk about that fear a second. I just said it was irrational, and it was irrational, but irrational fear is still real fear. It is still a hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis deal. It still releases all the same responses and feeling that seeing a grizzly bear in your kitchen might. It still matters. It is still scary as shit. Never think that because I say a fear is irrational I’m belittling that feeling. Frankly the grizzly bear analogy doesn’t even do this justice, because when I was sick with Anorexia I would have chosen marrying the grizzly bear over eating a piece of bread.
Anyway, the point is that it is scary as shit. In order to recover from this illness you have to walk … no, run … you have to run into fear all day every day. Energy deficit rectification is not just about eating more and doing less. For me, energy deficit was in every thought and movement. Because after 10 years of seeking energy deficit my whole life was geared around it.
I swear that energy deficit was as present in the way I brushed my teeth in the morning as it was in the way I structured my workouts. Energy deficit infested everything. Therefore, in recovery there were no safe spaces where I got to hang out and take a breather. No, I had to change it all. Run into the resistance at very moment.
And I had to do it for a long time before the mental benefits started to reward me. I’m not talking about weight restoration, as weight restoration is only part of the way to full mental remission. I’m talking about shifting from Anorexia’s energy-deficit-favoring operating system back onto a more “normal” operating system — one that perceives my recovered body as I do now: wonderful. That is where the heavy lifting lay. That is where the hard work was. That is what should have won me a gold medal in mental strength and perseverance.
In order to win that mental shift, I had to sit in the snake pit for months. It is the difference between touching a tame grizzly bear at the zoo and moving in with one in a cave in the wilderness — and staying there. It is not the one-shot bravery of eating a burger as much as it is the living in a body that invokes your fear reaction.
You literally have to live inside of your the object that you fear the most — the larger version of your own body.
And you will come out from this experience a total fucking champion.
Recovery is mental strength training
As my brain acclimatized to my new body, and as the mental recovery progressed, I learnt a hell of a lot about my own mental processes. Want to talk about mental strength? Ask someone who has recovered fully from Anorexia. Ask someone who has had to live within their greatest fear before their brain stopped perceiving it as a threat. Ask someone who stood with their hand in the fire and didn’t move away from it — for months. Ask me what it is like to keep eating despite being petrified of the weight I was gaining.
Unless you have felt a sustained and intense fear, you won’t know what I am talking about. A fear of one’s own body is different from most as it is not a fear that one can step away from physically. Impossible. We get to stay there with the fear until we step away from it mentally.
In that process of the mental shift that happened in recovery I learnt that my perception creates my reality, and Anorexia warped my perception, therefore my reality was distorted. This taught me to not assume that a thought or feeling is the truth, and to question it.
About my recovered body
I’ll tell you something wonderful about my recovered body — you know it is there.
I’m no longer the tiny person in the corner of the room. I’m in the room. I take up some space. One of the things that I hated about Anorexia was that it turned me into this small insignificant person — or at least, that is how I felt. I went from being a boisterous teenager into a walking apology. And because I looked like a small a person, people treated me like one. I didn’t have respect from people. And why would I? Could I blame anyone for thinking that they could walk all over me when I looked like someone who couldn’t even feed herself. That was my harsh reality of being an adult with this illness in a time when it was even less understood than it is now.
I love to meet people who knew me when I was emaciated and looking like death. I love to see them stare at me like I am a different person — a respected, large, significant person. Initially, in earlier recovery and when I was in the middle of The New Body Problem I feared other people’s reaction to my changed shape. I would wince at the look of surprise on their faces as they noticed the change in me. As the mental shift in perspective progressed, I learned to watch for that reaction with pride. Yes, you saw it right, I put on weight!
Recovery healed my body and my mind, but so much more than that. It changed the way that I walk through the world, and it changed the way that people perceive me. My pride in my own recovery gave me a lot more confidence in other areas of my life.
Recovery is my greatest achievement — that nobody understands!
The New Body Problem is a confusing time, but even when you are in it, I want you to focus on your achievements. In gaining weight despite the fact that everything in your body and mind was screaming at you not to, you have overcome a mental hurdle that many people will never experience.
It can be frustrating that nobody other than someone who has experienced Anorexia themselves really understands the significance of the type of courage that one has to rev up all day every day in order to get oneself into a recovered body. I wish it were something that I could put on my CV and be respected for in that way. It is my greatest achievement and yet I can’t show off about it, and it won’t help me land a million dollar job. I won’t get a gold medal.
But, I don’t need any trophies other than the one I am living in. I don’t need anyone else to know either — because I know. I know what I went through and I know what I did. There was a marked point in my recovery where I truly did start to see my recovery body as a trophy. And wow, was I never going to give that trophy up! My respect for my own self is one of the things that keeps me eating — I want to keep this gold.
You are a champion
I had a fair few emails from people when I published the blog on The New Body Problem. People who had got there — into that recovery body — and who were struggling with it. Every time I correspond with people who have made it to that point I feel a swell of pride on their part. And excitement too, because I am anticipating what they are headed for so long as they keep going. If I could give you a taste of full remission I know that there would be not a seconds doubt in your mind about continuing. Because full remission is so much more than the physical. It is the mental relaxation, and the change in perception that turns the world of energy (be it food, money, or any other energetic exchange) into a blissful place — rather than that hellhole of anxiety it has been for so long.
You should be proud of you. You get to act and be the person who is respected, wise and the person who has conquered. Because that is who you are. This process is insane. It is wild. Nobody other than a handful of people in your life can really understand it. You know it, act like you know it. Give yourself the respect and authority that you deserve. As your perspective continues to shift your confidence will grow too.
Like I said in the last blog, it’s okay if you are not there yet with how you feel about your body. Give it time and food. Be brave and curious.
Something that just about everyone I work with says to me at some point that they fear that once recovered they will be a failure. That they won’t succeed in work or relationships or anything else. I say, if you can recover from this, how on earth can you fail at anything?