I was talking with a friend last night about a part of my journey with recovery from bulimia.
I have been in recovery for 4.5 years, and for the most part these days, I completely forget that I ever had an eating disorder, and that I am in recovery.
But last night after discussing part of my recovery journey, i.e. the importance of “feeling your feelings” and not binging on a trigger food, or exercising for 4-8 hours a day, it bought up a lot of emotions and vivid memories of my recovery that I had locked away neatly in the back of my mind.
When I was diagnosed in 2010, I found a counsellor that specialised in recovery from eating disorders. I remember having a deep discussion with him about how I was “going to nail recovery the first time, no matter what it took”. I was so extremely naïve. He had supported hundreds of people through the journey of recovery, so when he would tell me stories of those that had taken multiple attempts at recovery and failed, I wasn’t concerned.
We, well I did, decided Christmas Day, 2010 was a good day to start recovery. Yep, everybody thought I was insane, but for me, it was a day that I knew I would remember, and also a day that in reality is the one day everybody in the world gives themselves permission to overeat and binge, so what better day to start in my mind.
He started advising me of what recovery would entail, what the hardest parts would be, we put together a Food and Exercise Abstinence Plan.
The food part of the plan, I understood and was calm about. It included foods that were put into three columns; Trigger Foods = completely off the list in any form (these were foods I had binged on previously), Occasional Foods = Foods allowed once a week, All the time foods = the obvious! This list would guide me through the length of my recovery.
The exercise part….Well, that was A LOT harder! Whilst my personal trainer and I tried to “negotiate” a lower intensity training program for the first six months of recovery, the counsellor was adamant, no training at all, for 12-24 months!! I was limited to one 20mins walk daily with my dogs. Giving up training for 12-24 months, is this man insane!!!!!!! But I wanted recovery more than I wanted to be right, so finally agreed.
To this day, I still remember that last training session, I still remember the last activity I did in that session, and I remember how it felt walking out of the studio and not knowing when I was coming back. I hated it. I hated that my life was so messed up that I had to give up the one thing that I loved. The one thing that made me feel strong and in control. I cannot even put into words the sense of failure and shame and embarrassment I felt walking out of that studio that morning. How had my life got so f’d up!
I prepped for Christmas Day, I had chosen to spend it alone, thought it safest. I needed to process what I was undertaking as well, and how I had gotten to that stage.
Thankfully, I got through the first week fine. Wasn’t sure what all of the fuss was about. Got to week two, was back at work, and the cracks started. The stress was kicking in and reality had set in. And no, I was still fine with food, just told everybody around me I had given up sugar. No, I didn’t explain I was in recovery, didn’t need that additional humiliation!
My counselling session hits for week two and the counsellor asked me about how I was doing without exercise / training. I said I was fine. He decided to pick at topic. He kept asking me about what I loved most about it, my favourite type of training, how it made me feel, etc. Yep, I snapped. Spectacularly snapped…..And I was in a meeting room at work and found myself screaming at him. I was so angry he was picking at it.
He was happy I was so angry and told me to go and write about it. F@*k writing about it! I just wanted to get out there and train!!! I was furious he had done that and deliberately picked at the topic, especially when I was at work!
So I had no choice, I went back to my desk, and I wrote, and I wrote for nearly an hour. I wrote about what I was hiding from, I wrote about how I had gotten to that stage, about the shame and embarrassment of being diagnosed with an eating disorder, about feeling like I was alone in a prison, everything. I cried the entire time. Thankfully I could shut my door at work and nobody came in. Because it was still Christmas holidays, there was barely anybody in the office.
At the end of that writing, I was exhausted, but I felt peace.
I felt a peace I hadn’t feel before. The anger was gone. Which surprised me. I no longer wanted train, I didn’t want to binge. I just felt at peace. I was smiling.
That day, I learnt the importance of feeling whatever it is that needs to be felt. I had 35 plus years of not feeling anything, so I am sure you can imagine that session was not the last of tears and a lot of journaling!
For the next few months, I had a lot of bad days, mixed with some good days.
My trainer had asked if it was ok to keep in contact during my recovery, which I agreed to against the wishes of my counsellor, but it took me six weeks before I agreed to have a coffee with him. It was away from the studio so I was ok. The three month mark of my recovery, I was feeling strong and agreed to meet him at the studio.
Yep, I wasn’t ok. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty and I was fidgeting. I instantly felt like I was a drug addict and needed a hit of whatever that drug was. I had to get out of the studio, so we went out for coffee.
That was a reality check that whilst I thought I was ok, I very clearly wasn’t. Thankfully with strong support, I didn’t break my recovery, but it was close. I felt like I was back at day one.
It took me until the August to return to training. It was a very slow re-introduction as well. Whilst the counsellor wasn’t happy, I felt safe to return. I trusted myself, and I trusted my trainer that if he noted any of my former addictive behaviours, he wouldn’t let me train.
Recovery is one of the hardest journey’s I have ever been through. It tested every single part of my life, from my partner, my friends, my career, my flatmate’s, my belief systems, everything. Who in my life that knew about my recovery would stand by me, or who would judge me and walk away.
Addiction is hard. Recovery is harder.
The only way through recovery from any addiction is to address the how, and the why the addiction came about it. To do that, there has to be A LOT of soul searching, and A LOT of feeling feelings that have been buried under the addiction.
It is the only way you will succeed in your recovery.
Being brutally honest with yourself, and doing the work it takes, without judgement.
You can lie to everybody else, but you can’t lie to yourself.
The lessons I learnt about recovery…..
- Ensure the day you start recovery, YOU want it more than anything else in your life; do not do it because others want you to, or you feel you need to;
- Find a STRONG support network, whether friends, family or an AA / ABA group who understand the journey you are on;
- Be brutally honest with yourself; YOUR recovery depends on it! Feel ALL of those pent up feelings!
- Be gentle on yourself
“Feeling your feelings”, whilst it sounds cliché, is the one tool I still use today to ensure I don’t slide back into addiction!!