So tomorrow, January 8th , is Stephen Hawkings’ birthday…and Carl Rogers’ birthday…Elvis Presley’s birthday…oh, and mine too. When you are little, birthdays are a BIG deal. You had to have a theme; mine was typically Disney. You had to tell everyone you knew that your birthday was coming up; usually proclaiming the whole month as your “birthday month”. And there was nothing more embarrassing than wondering what do when everyone is staring at you staring at your cake while singing “Happy Birthday”. Well, now that I am no longer 8 years old, birthdays look a little different around my house. There are no elaborate Disney-themed parties, I do not tell everyone I see that January is my birthday month (barely anyone around me even knows that tomorrow is my birthday), and I sill have no idea what to do when people sing to me (good thing that does not happen with relative frequency).
Tomorrow I will be 26! Basically, what I am trying to say is that I am grateful to have made it to 26, even though that number makes me feel old (I realize 26 is not old my anyone’s standards). I have learned a lot in these years such as: not to put keys in light sockets and that maybe those blonde highlights in my black hair in 7th grade was not as great of an idea as I had thought. I have also learned a little bit about recovery; mostly through trial and error and my conversations with those support my recovery. In honor of my 26th birthday, I present to you the 26 things I learned about recovery:
1) Everyone, yes everyone, is worthy of recovery. Sometimes our disease tries to tell us differently, but EVERYONE is worthy of and deserves recovery.
2) Recovery is not linear. There will be ups and downs; there will the plateaus, peaks and valley; but I promise you, we will get there…all of us.
3) Small steps towards recovery are often healthier and longer lasting than giant leaps. We cannot rush recovery no matter how frustrated we may get with taking those small steps.
4) Mentoring! I know there is no way I would have been able to stay on the path to recovery without my amazing mentors past and present. This is why I am so steadfast about the importance of mentoring on recovery.
5) When in doubt, write it out. You do not have to have proper grammar, spelling or even full sentences. No one is going to judge your personal writing. Write down the good, the bad and the amazing! I always feel it is better to get out whatever emotions I have than it is to let it weigh on my chest.
6) Ed’s thoughts do not have to be your thoughts. “Sure,” you say, but it is true. With lots of practice, time and thought reframing, I am able to take Ed’s thoughts for what they are and then reframe them into recovery-oriented thoughts.
7) The DSM is not meant to disqualify you from the treatment you deserve; although it does do that sometimes. No matter what the diagnosis, or even a lack of diagnosis, everyone deserves treatment.
8) I have learned that there is a person that exists outside of my eating disorder and that she is deserving of life and love.
9) You cannot change the hurtful and insensitive comments about weight, appearance and dieting that others make. However, to continue down the path to recovery, you CAN change your responses to those comments.
10) There is absolutely no shame whatsoever in asking for and accepting help when you need it. Asking for help indicates a very high level of strength and dignity within you; a level of strength and dignity that acknowledges the fact that you deserve recovery.
11) Despite what both Ed and society will tell you, food has no moral value. There are no “good” or “bad” foods and neither does eating these foods determine whether one is, themselves, morally “good” or “bad”. Food is food, nothing more.
12) Every time you do something you genuinely enjoy, you are taking back a piece of yourself from your eating disorder.
13) There is always a little grey in a situation even if it only appears to be black and white.
14) Recovery will take time; it is not instantaneous. Just as it took time for your eating disorder to develop, it will take time to recover as well.
15) Have grace with yourself. Grace is one the most important tools I have learned in recovery.
16) No one can recover alone. Finding and maintaining a kind and knowledgeable support team is essential. Support teams should be a good mix of professionals, friends and family. With me, my support staff is mainly friends and professionals as most people in my family do not know or understand that I have an eating disorder…which brings me to…
17) Some people will never understand what an eating disorder is or what it is like to have one. These people will simply never “get it”, and that is ok. The important thing to remember is to continue striving for recovery even if people around you do not understand. Besides, recovery is for you, not for those around you.
18) Recovery is not always easy. Sometimes it is downright hard. In spite of this, do not use recovery being challenging as an excuse to stop. Recovery may be difficult, but it is so worth it.
19) Gratitude lists make me feel more positive about my recovery and my life. All too often I find myself dwelling on the negatives or the things during the day I could have done better, and that often leads to neglect of recovery. However, when I look past those things to find moments of gratitude, recovery becomes more important. The gratitude lists do not have to be grandiose things; they can be as simple as “I am grateful for the little boy who held the door open for me at Krogers” or “I am grateful that I got to see a squirrel furiously nibbling at an acorn on my front porch”.
20) Mistakes are not failures. As Sir Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” That is basically recovery in a nutshell. Use your mistakes–because they will happen–as learning opportunities and motivation to continue working towards recovery.
21) Perfection does NOT exist. It never has and never will. Constant striving for this unattainable ideal of perfection only serves to frustrate us and allows Ed to flourish. Being genuinely ourselves is enough; no one is asking for perfection, despite what Ed may tell us.
22) There is no shame in having a mental illness. We have come to a place in our society where there is this huge taboo on discussing mental illness, and having one is even more unmentionable. Where did this shame and stigma come from? Mental illnesses are not character flaws or wide-spreading contagious diseases or world destroying. It is time to lift the veil of stigma off of mental illness and dispel society’s myths and misconceptions about what they entail. There should not be a disgrace attached to mental illness.
23) Visual reminders of recovery help me stay on the path to recovery. The reason I have recovery tattoos and wear my recovery rings (one says, “the journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step” and the other is the Scripture verse Jeremiah 29:11 “I have plans for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”) is because when I see them, I am reminded why I so desperately want recovery.
24) Finding alternative thoughts and behaviors for when Ed steps in. I have a list by my computer of activities I can do when Ed wants me to engage in behaviors, they include: writing, photography, knitting, reading, or even taking a walk.
25) Be honest with your doctors and/or therapists. When you lie, they know. They are not stupid people. And although we may think we pulled a fast one on them by lying, we did not…they know. Lying only slows down and hampers recovery. By being honest with doctors and/or therapists, they can help guide you in the right direction and assist you with further recovery.
26) Find what you love about yourself and embrace it!
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got! I am only 26, it is not like I have a cache of sage advice. Always remember to take care of yourself and stay strong in recovery.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.