As my family and friends began to see that I was starting to make some significant progress in my recovery, that the possibility of me overcoming my demons was a concrete event rather than a desperate illusion, they became impatient. Just as the finish line is a waving hand for runners to accelerate, notable milestones of improvement were sources of motivation for my friends and family, who soon began prodding me with questions - "Will you ever eat ice-cream again?", "When will you attend a party without bringing your own food?" and other similar questions that were basically housed under the vast umbrella of the unspoken question: "When will you be normal again?"
It is not: A stable and smooth path
And so my head became clouded with all these notions of things and deeds that recovery should be, but no practical plan as of how I would achieve it. I knew that mental progress was gradual and immeasurable - horrific for someone climbing out from an illness characterised by a thirst for quick fixes and a compulsion to quantify everything. Having concrete goals to reach for was more comforting, but it was also limiting in that I became convinced that they were the only things that defined recovery, and failed to acknowledge that other steps in the right direction counted as well.
Many times, I found myself doubting that I was getting anywhere at all. How was I so sure that I was headed towards success rather than failure? How did I know whether I was heading for paved ground rather than quicksand and potholes? But then I asked myself: why did I have to be sure? What was the problem with being unsure about what was coming? Uncertainty means certain pitfalls along the way, but it also means pleasant surprises popping up here and there. Sometimes you just have to invest some faith in the magic of possibility - give it your best shot, and then let it be what it will be.
It is: A tea party
After one year of eating beforehand, then refusing food completely during her party, then another year of making it through the dinner but not making the cake, I made a promise last year to my best friend that I would eat the cake this year. Sure, I could have eaten the cake last year, but it would have resulted in high levels of anxiety and perhaps even some tears. And I think I owed it to someone that beloved to me to be able to not only physically eat the cake, but also truly enjoy it.
I fulfilled my promise this year, and I think that I can finally explain what recovery means to me. Recovery is not a moment to pinpoint, nor a concrete goal that you can aim for. It is a gradual change of perspective and priorities, and learning to put spiritual well-being at the same level or at certain times, over pure physical well-being. What I ate, how many calories I burned - that used to be the center of my world, and I strived to maintain the highest levels of these factors in my life, although they never became full, at the price of my relationships and my happiness. Unlike exercising and eating, these things weren’t quantifiable, and I instinctively assumed that these bottles would keep themselves filled. I didn't realize that they had drained themselves dry until they were parched.
Today, I still care about what I eat and how I train - but there is no obsessively quantifying component in it, and I seek quality rather than quantity. I can fill the bottles with more to spare, using much less effort than it did to fill half a bottle a few years ago. Being able to fulfil my "duties" and not worry about refilling them 24/7 means that I can afford to give more time to my loved ones, and in turn, feed my spiritual well-being. Recovery is not filling your own cup, but filling other cups too, so that you can have a tea party.
It is: A falling rock
I will never forget about my eating disorder, and it will never be completely gone from me. Part of me will always be more careful about food and calories and exercise than the average person, but I also now know how to control these voices and cover them with my own when they get unreasonable. There are still days when the voices are loud and it is a struggle to decide whether I should eat, whether I should keep exercising for 10 minutes more...but I am much more aware of what my triggers are and the fastest way to shut the voices up. If I know that if I postpone eating for 10 minutes it will become an hour, that after 10 minutes of extended working out I'll be tempted once again to go for another 10, I make myself stop. The stone is always going to be more tilted over the edge of my mountain than that of others, but what matters is that at least it hasn’t fallen off. It may take more effort to keep it from rolling off, but at least I now have the ability and strength to pull it back just in time, and prevent as many avalanches as possible.
It is: A closed wound, and a proud scar
Recovery is being okay with my eating disorder being a part of me, and using what I learned from it to make me more conscious of life's possibilities. More grateful for the good times. More tolerant of the not so good. And more determined for what is to come.
I am not ashamed of my eating disorder, and neither am I ashamed to speak about it. I am touched that many continue to shy away from this topic or are reluctant to enter into a conversation about my experiences with me in fear that it will release a torrent of painful memories, but please know that today my past is a closed wound - it leaves a mark, but poking it makes me flinch no more than does a pinch on unmarred skin. I will never deny it being part of my past, but I will not let it define me - I am not the person that I was, but it has made me the person who I am. Living with it was by no means pleasant, but it is a part of me, and I am at peace with that.
It is a common instinct to try and forget about painful experiences. But I think it is crucial that they stay with you, as a warning and a lesson. No one should have to hide their scars for fear of judgment - scars are what make us human, what show that we have been wounded once but that we have survived it, grown from it, and live to tell the tale.