What if I no longer have my eating disorder? What will life after recovery look like? Below I am sharing tips for building a life after recovery and how they helped me in my recovery journey.
Living with Anorexia
When I developed Anorexia Nervosa five years ago I was at the lowest point in my life. Everything was chaotic and I thought that watching my intake would be the right decision.
I established new neural pathways in my mind, which said, “Thinner is better, losing weight means health, we are numbers, and our bodies are changeable.”
I lost weight but it wasn’t enough and I vowed to keep going no matter what the consequences could be.
My Anorexia was my only friend, I spent most of my time assessing my worth in life according to her rules. My mind had nothing to think about; just food, cooking, numbers, perfectionism, and how to be the skinniest.
When everything fell apart, I felt that I had to face the hard truth and say goodbye to my comfort zone and eat again.
Living with Recovery
At the beginning of my recovery journey, I was committed to every part of it. I was eating without restriction, stopped working out, and gave myself permission to not think about diet, my body, others’ bodies, or what I should or shouldn’t eat.
I was obsessed with the idea of restoring my weight, my period, and my health. Because of that, I stopped questioning my identity or what awaited me.
Despite experiencing hard days in terms of my body and my weight, I kept heading in the direction of full recovery without the thought o how to make it perfect, just doing it – going all-in, and ditching all the rules.
When I gained weight, I began to feel my existence again, and I began to recognize my face and my body. In other words, I was alive again.
Living with emptiness after recovery
Once my thoughts about food had subsided I noticed that it was difficult to get along with my new self. I had that vague empty feeling of ‘who am I?’ How do I fill my life after recovery?
My mind had been filled with thoughts about food and numbers for so long that I didn’t really how to fill that empty feeling now that those thoughts and beliefs were gone.
I started to get hard on myself for not knowing how to fill this void.
I decided to dig more into my mind, into the space that was preoccupied with my eating disorder and I discovered that this void was a crucial part of my healing journey. True healing meant filling that void after recovering from my eating disorder.
Living life after recovery
I learned that this void is normal. In fact, it means that I am doing well and that my recovery is real. I am no longer obsessed with my eating disorder. In the process of filling this void, I learned some amazing things.
1. Don’t fight your emotions after recovery
Whatever you are going through, stop trying to fight or suppress it. In fact, there is nothing wrong with experiencing bad days. Life is not what your eating disorder has told you. It is not about perfectionism, it’s about ups and downs, and accepting your suffering is strength.
2. Don’t feel ashamed
Shame is about losing the ability to separate yourself from your deeds. It’s so natural for those with eating disorders. I used to label my food and label myself.
This shame has cut across my whole life. So if I am going through uncomfortable emotions, it means that I am useless. The truth is, that our emotions don’t define our worth. They just mean that we are humans experiencing life.
3. Don’t call on your old habits to fill up your void
Eating disorders are manipulative. They will try hard to restore control again by convincing you that life without them is horrible. Stop listening to these thoughts, it’s a trap. Whenever you think about shrinking your body, remember that it’s not you, it’s your eating disorder. Then just do the opposite.
4. Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Approach
Expressing what you are going through on a paper by using the Hot Cross Bun Template – the term that was coined by Christine Padeseksy. First write about your current thoughts, then your feelings, then your physical symptoms, and finally your behaviors. For example, I have thoughts about my worth after recovery. I feel ashamed and lonely, and because of that, I am experiencing insomnia and fatigue. This means I have to restrict again to restore my worth. This exercise will help you address your situation by breaking it down into small parts and recognizing your unhelpful behavior and then stop doing it.
5. Make a list of your own values for life after recovery
Think about your values. What brings you clarity and happiness? Write these on a post-it or on your phone to remind yourself whenever you are struggling.
6. Trust your authentic self
Instead of ruminating over your past and catastrophizing your present moment, you can take up a new hobby, or revive an old one. Meet new people, help others with their journey, grow out of your small world and start dealing with real life. When you touch recovery, you will uncover uncertainties and fears. The reality that you used to escape from. You will realize that this reality is not as bad as your eating disorder has told you; it’s just a reality. You will discover that your new version, with its flaws, is much more beautiful and it deserves your time and care.