Yes, you still have to stop complusive movement.
Even if it is tiny. Even if it if just walking, or cleaning the house. Even if you already gave up running and your gym membership. If there are still elements of compulsive movement in your life, yes, you need to stop.
I’m talking about standing when you could be sitting; always being the one to wash the dishes; cleaning when it doesn’t really need to be done; parking farther away than you really need to so that you can walk farther; making decisions based on how much movement each option allows, rather than based on what you really want to do. Compulsive movement exists in these small details — not just exercise.
Compulsive movement is one of the topics that people often ask me about hoping that there may be some sort of clause or exception which allows them to not have to face the thing that they are most afraid of: stopping movement. There isn’t. The answer is always the same: you have to stop.
I don’t care if movement makes you happy. Or if you think it benefits your mental health. Having an eating disorder doesn’t. When you are fully recovered you can do what you want. You can enjoy movement in a truly healthy way. In order to get there — and I am talking about the neural rewiring part of full recovery here — you need to rewire that movement compulsion. You can’t teach your brain that it is safe for you not to compulsively move if you keep compulsively moving. Our brains learn from the way we act. If you are still acting as if you have to move as much as possible, your brain will still believe that you have to move as much as possible and the compulsion to do so will remain strong. With most aspects of recovery, the way out of this mess is to face the fear head on: the fear in this case, is stillness.
Full, sustainable recovery.
Never underestimate the importance of neural rewiring for a full, sustainable recovery.
Unless you rewire a movement compulsion — i.e. make it go away by teaching your brain it is no longer relevant — recovery is not sustainable. And by that, I mean you are going to always feel as if you are pushing uphill because every day you have to wake up and fight your compulsions. And one day, you’ll just be too tired, and you will give in. None of us can push back on compulsions indefinitely. The reason I hark on about rewiring so much is that if you rewire a compulsion, the compulsion is no longer there. The fight is over. *That* is what I mean by sustainability.
I know that it often feels like the kinder thing to say to someone is “sure, you can keep that morning walk there and as long as you eat your breakfast you will fully recover just fine.” I know that my stance of cold turkey on movement seems unduly harsh, especially when it is certainly true that a person can gain weight back and still exercise. But recovery is not only about weight gain or nutritional rehabilitation. Unless you do the neural rewiring too, you are still in a mental fight every minute of the day. The reason I am so strict on rewiring movement compulsions is I want you to actually have freedom. And don’t let anyone sell you short on that.
Walking into fear is certainly more difficult than skirting around it. But only in the short term. In the long term, skirting around your fears only prolongs the inevitable “relapse.” Fully rewiring a fear-based belief or action means that you achieve freedom from that belief and therefore freedom from the behaviors that belief results in. Freedom always feels good. Freedom is not a struggle to maintain. Hence … facing fears is actually the shorter route to where you want to ultimately be: free from this shit.
Sit. Force yourself to be still. Breathe. Focus only on this moment you are in. You can be still for this moment. And then the next moment. And then the next. You’ve got this.