I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what recovery means to me. There are certain concepts that I associate with my recovery such as intuitive eating, body positivity, joyful movement, health at every size, self-care, emotional health, spiritual practice, wellbeing, and so on. While these elements are all fundamental to my recovery, none of them encompass the meaning of recovery as a whole to me. Rather, they have functioned as the stepping blocks of my recovery and items I know to focus on in order to remain holistically well and balanced.
On the other hand, when I reflect on my recovery as a whole, I usually arrive at a deep feeling of trust. You see, in order to stay on the path of recovery, I must constantly surrender to the unknown and accept that many aspects of life are outside of my control. For me, recovery has involved surrendering to so much– surrendering to weight gain, to my shifting identity and concept of self, to unexpected bumps and forks in my life path, to recognition of my mistakes and BS, to feeling uncomfortable and a whole slew of unpleasant emotions, and to the unknown of life after an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are largely about control, and my eating disorder provided me a way to avoid many unknowns in my life. When life felt scary and uncomfortable, I knew that I could grasp an element of control through manipulating my food intake and body size. I could restrict calories, exercise, and perfect my way through pain and crises.
Throughout my life I have constantly worried about being enough: being pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, fun enough, cool enough, laidback enough, talented enough, kind enough…the list goes on. I had the idea that if I could just be good enough, I wouldn’t have to face the possibility of rejection, pain, fear, and sorrow. I could control my emotions and evade such hardships through perfecting my life and identity.
This worked temporarily and provided me relief in the short term. And I mean VERY short term because I never actually felt good enough despite all my efforts and accomplishments. As soon as I met one goal, up popped a dozen more. There seemed to be a never-ending list of things I had to accomplish in order be enough and successfully avoid any possibility of pain in life.
In a way, the habits and behaviors I turned to in order to gain control ended up controlled me, trapping me in a cycle of constant worthlessness and futile efforts that never seemed to be enough. I stayed here for a long time. Years actually. In fact, at times I still find myself lost in this cycle for brief periods. It’s hard not to when you live in a society that preaches these beliefs. We are sent messages that we just need to be thin enough, rich enough, successful enough, cool enough, smart enough, etc. in order to master life and experience joy and satisfaction. It becomes easy to view such “enoughness” as the antidote for eluding the suffering of life. But it just doesn’t seem to work out that way.
That’s where recovery came in for me. Recovery meant surrendering to not being enough (by society’s standards), which strangely finally allowed me to feel enough (by my standards). Recovery provided me the space to decide for myself what it means to be enough and what I want my life to look like. It has meant choosing peace, compassion, and vulnerability over perfection, rigidity, and control. And it’s been scary as heck.
I am no longer able fall back on being thin, smart, and talented as a means to feel enough, and I am no longer able to turn to others for approval. Rather, I must tune into a deep sense of trust that I am okay just the way that I am. My recovery has become a practice of faith in a sense as I commit to a journey of trusting that my authentic self is good enough. I must constantly surrender to the unknown of what this journey looks like, and I am learning that I cannot control many things along this path.
Yes, this has come with more discomfort and a greater exposure to unpleasant emotions, but it has also opened me up to a tremendous sense of freedom and peace. I now choose not to measure my self-worth through my weight, size, salary, and strength. In fact, I have chosen not to measure my self-worth at all. Instead, I have a self-worth that inherently exists just as I do. This can be difficult to believe at times, especially when I experience spikes in insecurity and moments of incredible discomfort.
My default for so many years was the identity of “not good enough”, and I consistently turned to overcontrol and perfection to get my fix of temporary okayness and approval. It’s still difficult for me to bypass my past habits of control and instead trust that I am okay just as I am. But regardless of how hard and scary this journey is, I know that it is worth it. I trust that this is the only way I can stay on the path of real recovery and experience a life of peace and freedom.