Recovery is something we all strive for after a set back physically and/or mentally.
We work to recover after surgery through physical therapy, we try to get our lives back together when we’re recovering emotionally from a break-up or in my case, try and try again to recover from an eating disorder.
But what does it really mean to recover? And more importantly, is it something we should be striving for in the first place?
A few weeks ago I was interviewing an amazing friend of mine, Melanie Elkin, for part of my online program, Intuitive Exercise. She too has struggled with anorexia and obsessive exercise. Melanie now teaches other women and girls the power and importance of self-love and positive body image through her successful yoga classes and retreats.
When we got to the topic of her eating disorder recovery and how her relationship with exercise has changed since being in recovery, she shared with me something that floored me. Melanie told me how she doesn’t like to call herself “recovered”. I had a moment of shock. For a split second I thought she might be implying that there is no such thing as full recovery and that an eating disorder is something one must struggle with forever (which didn’t sound like something she would believe). Luckily that’s not what she meant. Melanie went on to explain that she felt like labeling oneself as “recovered from an eating disorder” or “in recovery from an eating disorder” placed restrictions on oneself and that it limited what she thought was (and is) possible for her. Identifying and labeling herself as recovered or in recovery would box her in. She further explained how we all have the tendency to place labels on ourselves; I am a “yogi”, I am a “mother”, I am an “American”, all of which have the possibility of limiting what we believe is possible for ourselves and can also set unreal (and possibly low) expectations for ourselves.
I instantly fell in love with her perspective. This new insight led me to look up the definition of the word recover.
Here’s what I found:
Recover: 1. A return to a normal state of health, mind or strength.
2. Find or regain possession of (something lost or stolen)
3. Regain control of (oneself or of a physical or mental state)
4. Make up for (a loss in position or time)
After reading all the definitions of the word, recover, I questioned if labeling myself as recovered was really something I wanted after all. Here’s what I had to consider:
“A return to a normal state of health, mind or strength”
After struggling for over a decade with an eating disorder I am well aware of the permanent damage I have done to my physical health; I still suffer from osteoporosis despite weight restoration, adequate nutrition and medication. My blood sugar is unusually low and usually falls somewhere in the hypoglycemic range. This unfortunately leaves me with a pretty good chance of developing diabetes someday in the future. These are permanent health consequences from which there is no return (or a least that’s what I’ve been told). As for returning to a normal state in the mind; I don’t have any idea what that even looks like since we’re all so unique and different. And as far as strength goes, that too is up for debate since it really makes no sense to use the word “normal” to describe something that is relative to each individual person.
“Find or regain possession of (something lost or stolen)”
For the better part of my “recovery” I spent a lot of time and energy attempting to “get back” or regain what I had lost. I beat myself up for all the opportunities I had missed or messed up because of the eating disorder and my overwhelming preoccupation with food, weight and exercise. It wasn’t until I ended my quest to regain all I felt I had lost, that I was finally able to move forward and live my life in the present moment. Freedom from my past meant I had to stop fighting to get it back. “Regaining” is no longer a part of what I think I need in order to feel recovered. In fact it was the giving up on “regaining” that finally set me free to explore all the possibilities waiting before me.
“Regain control of (oneself or of a physical or mental state)”
One of the biggest breakthroughs I had in the recovery process was discovering an eating disorder is an illusion of self-control. I believed I had control over myself and my life based on obsessively controlling the type of food I put in my mouth and how many calories I burned. Untangling myself from this belief was extremely difficult. And when I finally did, I came to realize there is actually very little we do have control over in our lives in the first place. For me recovery was not about gaining more control but rather giving up on trying to control everything while simultaneously being OK with life not going perfectly.
“Make up for (a loss in position or time)”
One of the hardest realizations I came to during the recovery process was the realization there was no going back to before. For a few years I attempted to make up for losing my position as a performer and did a handful of shows. I won’t deny that it felt great to get back on stage with out my eating disorder running my thoughts, but deep down I knew my dreams of heading to Broadway would remain just that; dreams. Ten years of my life had been ruled by an eating disorder and trying to make up for that large amount of time lost would have not only kept me trapped in my past, it would have also inhibited me from growing into the person I am today (which I honestly love).
So if I’m not recovered or in recovery from an eating disorder, what the heck am I?
All I can say is that I’m simply me; a person who had an experience and has now moved forward and grown into the most authentic version of myself that I know I can be. I’m not quite sure I want to remove the label of recovered from my personal list of labels just yet. Freeing myself from this label of recovered wouldn’t really change how I feel about myself or what I do with my time. In fact labeling myself as recovered is a strong reminder of how much I’ve been through and how hard I’ve worked to get where I’m at today. Calling myself recovered also comes in handy when I’m dealing with many of life’s curve balls or hardships. I like to remind myself that if I can survive an eating disorder I’m pretty sure I can handle what ever is challenging me right now.
I suppose labels are really only harmful when they stop you from following your heart and keep you stuck in the past. And at one time, the label of “recovery” did exactly that. So instead of either labeling myself as recovered or not, may be I have just redefined what recovery means to me. For redefining recovery is what allowed me to break free from restrictions and limits.
Redefining recovery moved me forward not as a fixed person and not as a broken person, but as a person finally ready to experience the unlimited possibilities life has in store.