This is post about empowering you to know that if you want to recover, and if you take the actions needed in order to recover, you will. In order to fully recover, regardless of your deal in life, you have to have agency. You have to actively work for recovery rather than take the more the back seat and wait for it to magically happen to you. You have to attack your recovery and not allow anything to be an excuse for not doing what it is that you know you need to do in order to climb out of the cage you are in.
“I have to believe in myself enough to tell people what I need for support in my recovery.” – M, 62
I’ve written about commitments, and how important I think these are in recovery. But another aspect to this that comes up a lot when I first talk to people, is “agency” in recovery. There is a lot of victim mentality among people trying to recover from eating disorders. I should know because I adopted that stance right up until I made the decision that enough was enough and I was going to recover. It was always someone else’s fault I couldn’t eat more. I was never the right time to challenge myself. It was always the circumstances that were not allowing me to make changes.
Bollocks. I was just making excuses because I was afraid. I hear the same and similar excuses from my clients:
“I can’t eat more because my mum is stressing me out trying to make me eat more.”
“I can’t eat more because some dietitian somewhere along the line told me not to,”
“I can’t eat more because things aren’t right with my partner and it is stressing me out,”
“I can’t stop exercising because my friends all exercise and they might judge me.”
“I can’t.” …. “I can’t. Many of use believe those words are true. They aren’t for the majority of situations in recovery. It is often a choice. You aren’t unable to do something, you are choosing not to. Big difference.
The reality is, that you can. You might not want to, but you can.
The other reality is that you must. If you want to recover, regardless of whatever it is that feels like an obstacle to that, or whatever it is that feels less than perfect, or whomever it is that is annoying you, you have to do it. Nobody is going to come along on a white horse and save you. Nobody is going to whisk you away to full recovery without you doing the hard work. You have to climb out of this cage — if you keep waiting for someone to come and airlift you out you will wait forever. It is your life you are wasting when you sit back on your haunches and wait for everything to be perfect. It is your time.
I played the victim for years. I sat back passively waiting for recovery to miraculously happen to me. The irony was that I wouldn’t acknowledge that I had an eating disorder, but I would acknowledge that I needed to gain weight … and I would make all the excuses as to why I hadn’t managed to do that. I would blame everyone else. Of course. It was never “my” fault I hadn’t gained weight. It was the weather. It was my job. It was uni. It was my mum’s fault for putting too much pressure on trying to get me to eat more. I was because the cat got sick and I had to take her to the vet. It was because something stressed me out.
Guess what? Something was always stressing me out. Life was never perfect. I was waiting for the perfect set of circumstances in order to challenge myself and it wasn’t happening because the perfect set of circumstances don’t exist.
Urgh. I’m not that person. I am not a victim. I am not someone who blames everyone else when I don’t achieve things that are my responsibility. I am a person who takes responsibility for my circumstances and acts to change things rather than whinge about them. But anorexia had a knack of turning me into someone I am not, and trashing my agency. I was also someone who could do anything she set her mind to. Other than recover. Other than gain weight. And I knew deep down it was all a load of bollocks really. Even when I was saying the words “I’m trying to gain weight” I knew that was a lie. I wasn’t trying at all. If I had been trying I would have done it. Even when I was sprouting out those excuses, I knew they weren’t really the reason behind my stagnancy. I was.
Being a victim gets you nowhere in recovery. Being the agent gets you recovered. Because if you are the one proactively deciding to and then following through with challenging your fears … you’ll do it. I know you will because I never met a person with an eating disorder who couldn’t do anything they set their mind to. It’s that difference between taking a leadership role in your own life and doing it, and sitting back and hoping that someone or something else will do it for you.
When you take responsibility for your own recovery, that’s a 27/4 thing. Every action you take should be pro-recovery and challenging your rules. Every meal should be challenging your eating disorder. You respond to physical and mental hunger every time. It sounds like it should be exhausting but it needn’t be. Most of us find it is easier to change everything than it is to change just some things. Your brain has to find a new neural network fast when you change everything. When you only change some things you keep slipping in and out of that old neural network and that’s harder as climbing the sides to get out is the difficult part. If you are changing everything you only have to get out once then it is a matter of staying out.
Playing the victim is tiring because you are not only constantly in limbo (am I taking the recovery action or am I listening to my eating disorder?) but you are also expending a lot of energy being angry and frustrated at everyone and everything else. Blaming is energetically draining.
Save your energy by doing. Commit to weight gain. Commit to not suppressing your bodyweight or taking any actions to do so. Commit to challenging your rules and rituals. Commit to change. And fucking do it. Now.