How to Kickstart (or Restart) Your Recovery
Exciting news! My podcast, Eating Disorder Recovery Speakers, has launched! It features people who are well into their recovery, or who are recovered, telling their stories. The first episode features me and my story. My hope is to have a new interview each week, and, for the weeks that I might not have one, to have a short riff on an eating disorder related topic, or answer some questions that I have received from listeners. Each week that an interview is released, there will be a live Q&A, so that if the interviewee's story resonates with you or if you have questions for that person, you can sign in for free and ask them directly to the interviewee.
That all being said, while planning my podcast I listened to a lot of other podcasts to get some inspiration and to figure out what flow and structure I liked best. One of my favorites that I found is called HOME Podcast. It is hosted by two women in alcohol recovery. Even though I have never had an issue with alcohol (I barely drink at all) I still find that I relate to a lot of what they say, AND I think they are hilarious. I laugh out loud many times in each episode. I highly recommend it!
One of their episodes is called "How to Begin" and it features each of the women listing their top 5 things to do to begin recovery. I thought this was a great idea and so I created my own list. These are some of the things that I did in my recovery that had the biggest impact. They might be helpful suggestions for you as well. I would love to hear your top 5 list! Send them my way :)
1. Ask for help & tell the truth: Ok, so I guess this is two things. But I wanted a top 5 list and not a top 6 and I think they go together. Asking for help and telling the truth about what you're going through can not only be cathartic, but also creates some accountability. One of my favorite quotes for my own recovery was "You're only as sick as your secrets". Eating disorders infiltrate our lives on all levels. Those who restrict their food often restrict their voice as well. Start to speak. Let it out. What is going on with you - really? How is your heart feeling? Who can you tell the truth to and ask for help from? Maybe it is a friend or family member. Maybe you pick up the phone and call a therapist (you can find a list of local therapists in the psychology today directory). Maybe you sign onto talkspace or better help and start with a virtual therapist in a chatroom. You can email me! It is a HUGE thing to be able to say "this is what is going on with me and I need help".
2. Learn the art of awareness: When I was in treatment they often talked about the "eating disorder voice". For a while I understood the concept but I don't think I ever put it into practice until I started yoga. My teacher calls the awareness part of you the "compassionate observer". It is the part of you that can observe what is happening in your physical body, in your mind, in your heart - without attaching to or judging it. "Oh, wow! That was my eating disorder voice saying that, and not me.". Learning how to witness your thoughts without attaching to them creates some space between you and your eating disorder. When I was really IN my eating disorder, I felt that I WAS the eating disorder; our thoughts were one thought. When I started my recovery and when I started yoga, I realized that my eating disorder thoughts were just that - the thoughts of my sickness. Kristen had her own thoughts. I also learned how to create a "higher self voice" - who was my ideal me - recovered and thriving. Her name is Midnight Sky and she was a powerful tool in me combating the eating disorder voice. She acted as my body guard when I felt I couldn't stand up for myself against the ED.
3. Stop playing the victim (start taking responsibility for your recovery): This is the natural progression from what I wrote in #2. Once you are aware of your eating disorder voice vs. your own voice, then you are able to choose which voice to listen to. "I am out to dinner with my friends and they ordered nachos. My eating disorder is saying do NOT eat those. But I want to eat them and connect with my friends." You get to choose who you listen to here. When you become aware, you suddenly have a choice in the matter. When you have a choice, you are no longer the victim. At some point you need to take responsibility for the choices that you make in your recovery and for the fight that you put in. As a disclaimer: becoming aware of your choices in your recovery is a learned skill. I am NOT saying you are choosing to have or take on an eating disorder. I AM saying that with treatment and with learning to be aware of your thoughts vs. ED's thoughts - you can start to choose to be symptomatic or not to be. At this point you are no longer a victim to your ED and you are an active participant in your recovery. In fact, you are in the driver's seat.
4. Experiment: This was PIVOTAL in my recovery. What I mean by experiment is to start living your life. Start trying things. You have to find your hobbies, your people, your passions, your values. You have to find something that you love more than you love your ED. When I got out of residential treatment I felt lost and empty. I sat at home all day and did nothing other than go to therapy. I had taken a medical leave from school and I was bored. I had too much time to think. So I started DOING. Check out meetup. What is going on in your area? Most of the meetings are free! Or, sign up for classes. Where I live has an "adult school" at night and I joined community volleyball and a writing class there. I also tried a dance class and a young professionals group. Eventually I tried yoga and that stuck for me. In yoga I found the thing that I loved more than I loved my eating disorder and so the eating disorder started to drop away. I am not saying yoga will be your thing, but I do believe there is something out there for you. I can promise you that you won't find it sitting at home watching netflix or surfing facebook. Again you need to be an active participant and the driver of your recovery. Go experiment!
5. Do something to get in touch with your body: Yoga was this thing for me. As people with eating disorders, we often hate and work to consciously or unconsciously destroy our bodies. Yoga made me appreciate my body for what it could do rather than what it looked like. It allowed me to see progress in poses instead of "progress" on the scale. I liked moving forward in my practice and if I didn't eat well I could feel the difference when I stepped on my yoga mat. Other examples of things you can do to get in touch with your body: dancing, hiking, singing, playing an instrument, getting a massage, acupuncture, meditation, sex, walking on the beach, stretching. Find something that gives you a different perspective on your body. "Wow! Listen to my voice! I am so grateful for my body allowing me the ability to sing. I better stop damaging my esophagus."
These are the 5 things that made the biggest difference to my recovery. The last time I got out of treatment was in 2008. It wasn't until 2011 that I felt that I conquered my symptoms. It wasn't until 2013 that I felt my eating disorder was gone for good. It is a process - and it is exciting - and you have to start somewhere. If not now, when?
And click here to listen to my podcast!!!