Growing up, my greatest friend was my late 1980’s/early 1990’s model Fischer-Price tape player. You see, I was an only child until I was nine, had parents who worked long shifts (whom I would often go days without seeing) and I was relentlessly bullied. Each night, I would grab my cat, Babs, turn on my favorite tape, and listen to it until the comforting voices on the tape lulled me to sleep. My tape of choice was a read aloud version of the book The Velveteen Rabbit. I remember the woman had a slightly English lilt to her voice and read in such a nuanced way that the book no longer seemed like a children’s book. I remember many nights, near the end of the book, when my tears would drop silently onto Babs’ head as the boy in the story became ill and when the rabbit met Real rabbits.
Twenty something years later, I no longer listen to the tape before bed, Babs passed away after twenty-two long years and my cassette player has been replaced with an iPhone. However, my love of The Velveteen Rabbit remains strong. Each time I see a copy in a thrift shop, book sale or shop I purchase it; I must have five or six different copies now. Recently, I revisited The Velveteen Rabbit to read to my nephew. As I reread the book to myself, I realized it was too long for him to sit through, but I discovered an important lesson from the book as it relates to my own recovery.
While getting the lay of the land in the nursery, the velveteen rabbit asks the skin horse what it means to be Real. The skin horse replies, “It [Real] doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” The rabbit then asks the skin horse if he is Real. “The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” said the skin horse, “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
That is when it hit me, why my ardent love for The Velveteen Rabbit finally became useful, why all those nights falling asleep to the book, crying into my cat, served a purpose. The skin horse’s words hit on what the journey to recovery is like. Recovery does not happen all at once; it is a compilation of small steps, bites of meals, and disagreements with Ed. Eventually, those small steps, bites and disagreements add up to become full Real recovery. Recovery does not happen to you. Trust me, if my therapist could wave a magic wand upon my head or have me click my ruby slippers three times to be cured of this malicious disease, I would very much take her up on that offer. However, as it stands, that is not how recovery happens. Recovery is a process, something that becomes a part of your life. And, believe me, it will take a long time. Recovery, like becoming Real, is not for the faint of heart. It takes a great amount of strength and courage to recover; those that break easily when Ed comes trotting down their path to recovery may have a harder go of recovery than those who resist her temptations.
Recovery will challenge you to look at the way you perceive yourself, the ways others perceive you and the way you think others perceive you. You may think your hair has been loved off or your eyes have dropped out (I hope this is not the case) or you have become loose in the joints…or your thighs are too wide, your stomach too big or your butt not big enough. But, for those who truly love you—and you should count yourself among the list of those who truly love you—none of those things will really matter. Recovery is based on the acceptance you gain for being who God made you to be. Let’s face it, He did not make me to be a six foot two all-star power forward. I have come to accept that that was never my place in the world. Through recovery, we learn just what that place may be. In recovery, we learn who we are, what we like, our talents, our gifts, our abilities, every little thing about ourselves…outside of Ed and her influence. Through recovery we become our Real selves; recovery uncovers our Real authentic beings.
We learn that our looks need not matter to those who love us, as they have an unconditional love which has little to no basis on our appearance. We ought to strive to have that same unconditional love for ourselves. I have spent so long criticizing my body; punishing it for every perceived flaw or transgression against my being. I should have been thanking my body. Every time I breathe without thinking, blink without trying, walk without planning each muscle movement…I am reminded of the wonderful Realness of my body; it’s ability to continue on in the face of adversity and self-destruction. The same is true with the rabbit. Despite the boy playing with him until his seams became loose, his fur discolored and his nose worn away, the rabbit became Real. His less than perfect body was perfect in the eyes of the boy; flaws did not exist. In fact, the very things that other’s perceived as flaws in the rabbit were the very parts that the boy loved the most.
Finally, recovery is for always; just like being Real. Recovery is not something we can do for a few hours or a few days—recovery is for always. Starting out recovery will seem like walking to school in the snow with no shoes, uphill both ways of course. Each meal, heck, each bite, will seem like a battle that cannot be won. However, as you continue with recovery, it gets easier. Each meal becomes less of a challenge. Each bite is no longer a war. As long as you always remember the ultimate goal of Real recovery (not only from the eating disorder, but also recovery of your Real life) you are taking a step towards being capable of loving yourself as the boy loved his rabbit. Recovery is Real. You are Real. You can and will be able to do this.
1 Peter 5: 6-11
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.