It’s Like Riding a Bicycle: Why It’s Okay to Fall in Recovery

Image: @soroushkarimi

I fondly remember learning how to ride a bike…

My dad strapped my favorite green blankie around my waist and ran beside me down the street into our cul-de-sac to help me get my balance. He would snatch the blankie up with me dangling like a kitten being carried by its mother when the bike would give way to gravity. There I was be, hanging in mid-air, grateful for the makeshift harness he was holing me with.

Although the blankie was a great tool for the beginning of my learning, when I was set free on my own, I had many failed attempts at successful rides. The pavement met skin more often than my 5-year-old pride would have liked to admit.

When I wanted to give up due to the pain and scars building on my hands and knees, my dad told me that I had to keep trying until I got it. There were no short cuts. There was no giving up.

I recently had a wonderful warrior reach out to me as she sat in the emergency room waiting to be evaluated for round two of impatient treatment. Her exact words were: “I can’t believe I am here again. I feel like a failure.”

If you have ever felt like a failure in your recovery, I need you to understand a few truths:

1. Numbers don’t mean a thing

Due to my needs in my eating disorder, insurance gave me 45 days in the impatient treatment center to successful and healthfully help me weight restore.  In reality, I was in treatment for a total of 127 days.

The days I needed to restore not only my body but my brain exceeded insurance’s estimation by 82 days. One of my best friends at the Carolina House was on her third stay at an impatient center.  My own therapist was considered in recovery after a week stay at a restoration camp.

Why do I tell you this?

The mold of “how long” and “how many” times it takes to recover is not a realistic number to place upon one’s self.

It is as bad as holding ourselves to a standard of the scale! So why do we do it? Numbers are tangible and logical to our irrational and impalpable emotions. However, it does not give us a right to shame ourselves to not fitting an unrealistic mold. Drop the number limitations on recovery- in ALL aspects.

2. Don’t think of it as again, think of it as until

“I cannot believe she is here, again!” These words hit my mama bear heart like a dagger as I heard my sweet peer in recovery’s mom express her frustration of being in the parent’s day orientation with the rest of the Carolina House crew.

Her “third time’s a charm” jokes of Liz’s recovery made my stomach churn and my head burn with anger. I didn’t know what to say then, but as I recently listened to another fighter express shame in “being there (checking herself into treatment) again”, I knew exactly what to say: It is not again, it is until!

Warrior, there is no again in recovery… until is the only option. If treatment does not work the first go around, you go back and fight for your life and freedom from ED until.

It may be days, months, years, but you fight until you are living free. UNTIL, not again. There is no shame in needing to go get help until you are free. I will be more than willing to fight until I am free, because my freedom from ED is worth going back 1,000 for help. Your freedom is worth that, too.

3. Simple does not mean easy

As I gave Julianna, a fellow Warrior, my explanation of until, not again. I ended my encouragement with the age old phrase, “I know all of this is easier said than done”, and her response floored me. She replied, “Yes, simple does not mean easy”.

Boom. Her words ruminated in my brain and all of the sudden my struggles in this world made sense. In my disorder, all I had to do was eat. Simple, but not easy. All I had to do was stop running. Simple, but not easy. All I had to do was stop purging. Simple, but not easy. That is recovery for you- it is a million of simple steps toward dealing with emotion, trauma, fear, pain, anxiety. All pretty simple when broken down, but definitely not easy.

Don’t let anyone diminish the difficulty of taking the simple steps to recovery.

Do not let anyone who does not understand your personal struggle diminish that fact.

What does the bike story have to do with this?

It is a picture for the world to connect to what it truly looks like to seek treatment and live in recovery. To learn to ride a bike, a person needs physical support. One learning to ride must be picked up off the ground over and over again. There is no timeline on how long it will take her to learn. One cannot give up.

No matter how many times she needs to go out in the road, strap on her helmet, and hear the “Rocky” theme song play in her head, she has to get on the bike and fight for her body to learn what her mind so badly wants: freedom to ride.

And, if that same girl loses the skill over time, no one should shame her for having to relearn the seemingly simple task of riding. She simply needs to get back on the bike and try again until she can ride free. You see? Freedom from ED works the same way. It may seem simple, but simple is not always easy. And no matter who tries to put a timeline on your recovery, there is never an again, only an until. And if you ever hit a bump in the road, there is no shame in getting back on the bike, sometimes with help, and learn to ride again.

Keep fighting, Warrior. Living free is worth the simple, but not easy journey.

More from Brooke Heberling
Challenge the Reality of Your Beliefs to Heal
  I have to admit… lately I have struggled in the area...
Read More
Join the Conversation


  1. says: Ben B

    Thank you, Brooke. When my step-daughter returned to treatment it felt like failure. But we learned to look at it like a “pass” from residential treatment. You know how sometimes they send you out to a restaurant to eat lunch on your own, and you return to the treatment center to process how it went? Well, my step-daughter had a four-month pass to try living on her own, and then she went back to treatment to process what she learned. She had a lot more work to do, but those four months outside of treatment helped her return with focus and determination. It was definitely not a failure for her to return to treatment for the next phase of her progress toward recovery.

Leave a comment
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *