“That’s it. I’m really done. Forever. I am never bingeing again. This was the last time”. And so the count would begin…if I could just make the first binge-free day, I’d be back on the recovery wagon.
I remember the first time I had three binge-free days in a row – something I hadn’t experienced in well over a decade. It felt amazing.
But then I slipped. Then I managed five days in a row binge-free, followed by a slip that threw me back into the binge and shame cycle for weeks.
The longer I was able to make it binge-free, the less I was able to forgive myself. Once I had made it for five days in a row without bingeing, four days in a row followed by a slip meant utter failure.
Counting the number of days binge-free or symptom-free is a very common measure of progress for those of us in recovery. What I’ve found is that it’s not always the most helpful. While it feels great to aim for a new milestone and achieve it, there is a downside.
The downside to counting binge-free days
This downside I’m about to describe can be summed up in one statement.
“I’m back at square one”,
I said it to myself dozens – if not hundreds – of times over the years. I see it over and over again in forums, and I hear it from my clients after they slip.
If you’ve said it too, then you know that no matter how hard you’ve been working at recovery, all you can focus on is the fact that you are back at “day zero”, with the hope that tomorrow will be “day one”.
And until you reach the highest number of binge-free days you’ve achieved before, your successes along the way become harder and harder to celebrate.
This just isn’t right. It’s no wonder you get discouraged.
Want to know another downside?
It’s one that can be more sinister, and harder to anticipate. It can totally blindside you.
How many of you, like me, achieved a new milestone and thought “ I’ve been doing so great! I’ve finally gone x days binge-free, so just one little binge won’t hurt. I deserve a treat”?
I engaged in this self-sabotaging behavior at least a dozen times as well.
I would love to say that it’s possible to begin the journey of recovery, and never slip. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who has been able to say this was true for them.
It took me too long to realize that putting so much focus on the number of days I was binge-free was doing me more harm than good. It was around the same time I realized that demanding a slip-free recovery was also harmful.
So I started counting and tracking other things too.
Because recovery is about so much more than simply remaining binge-free. Especially in the beginning. It’s about awakening, growth, and creating and cementing positive new habits to support your recovery.
I sat down and thought about everything I was doing in the name of recovery.
I bought myself a beautiful wall calendar and a bunch of star stickers in several different colors.
- If I journaled, I got a star.
- If I created a gratitude list, I got a star.
- If I was able to forgive myself for a binge and engage in self-compassion, I got a star.
- If I meditated, worked out, read inspirational material, did affirmation exercises, delayed or dismissed an urge, communicated my feelings, or wrote about a binge after the fact to see what I could learn from it, I got a star.
Eventually, even if I succumbed to a binge, I was able to differentiate and recognize that these were times I had consciously chosen to binge. I know that might sound bad, but it isn’t. It helped me realize that I wasn’t completely out of control anymore. I no longer felt like there was a monster living in me, forcing me to blindly follow an urge with no choice in the matter.
That too, was progress.
All of these things aren’t easy to do day in and day out, so please don’t discount them. And notice, they can be happening even during days when you have binged.
Do you know how encouraging it is to see a calendar filled with stars? With at least one star every single day? “Giddily triumphant” is how I would describe the feeling.
In order to get to recovery, you must create the habit of focusing on everything you are doing right.
You must learn to give yourself credit, and a pat on the back. Allow yourself to feel good. To feel victorious. Create a cycle of good feelings leading to more victories.
So go ahead, count and track your wins. Get creative, and figure out a fun and visual way to track, if a calendar and star stickers don’t excite you. But play fair. Count ALL of your victories.
Image Source: Flickr