I’m still not “there”…and that’s OK

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and I took a moment today to think about my journey over the last 15 years.

It’s incredible easy to be hyper focused on where we want to go and how far we have to go to get there. Whether it’s recovery or healing or health or career related, we have a tendency to get trapped in the cycle of needing to have/be/do “more” before thinking we can be “there” or be “enough”. I, for one, do this all the time.

Even at this point in my recovery where I am fully functioning adult – no longer starving myself and working out compulsively for hours on end – where I exhibit the behaviors that would deem me “recovered”, I still find myself trapped in a cycle of feeling that I’m not there yet, wondering if I will ever get there, to the place I deem as fully healed.

I long for the days that the words, I feel fat or I look fat don’t enter my mind. I long for the days where every day I celebrate my body and live my life because I have a body, not because I am my body. I long for the days where I live with the realization that my currency is the content of my soul – who I am – not how I look or how I think others see me. And don’t get me wrong, I do have plenty of days like this. In fact, I have more days like this than I do days where I’m self-critical. But the self-critical thoughts come up and, in those moments, small as they are, the fact that they are still there, pulls me into the cycle of not being “there” yet.

As I reflected on the last 15 years, I realized something. I was hyper focused on the self-critical thoughts themselves, instead of my unwilling participation in them. Instead of seeing how far I had come, I was simply looking at how far I had to go. In many ways I glorified “recovery” as a life that’s free of triggers and compulsions; the same way we equate success to living a life that is carefree, one in which we’ve “made it”.

In life we create a binary “before” and “after” picture – what life looks like before we get “there” and what life will look like once we have arrived at our final destination. But that kind of black-or-white thinking can’t always accommodate or account for our lived experiences.

The irony is so much of recovery (or any journey for that matter) is about learning to let go of binary thinking altogether, to dwell comfortably in the areas of gray.

My journey is not without complexity, tension or struggle and my recovery can’t be summed up in a before and after photo. A picture can tell you a thousand words, but it doesn’t tell you the whole story.

I’ve maintained physical health and nourishing food habits for the last two years and have made huge strides in how I see food over the last four months, but that maintenance has often felt like active work. While I am not crippled with anxiety each time I eat, my struggle with body dysmorphia is ongoing, something that can complicate my enjoyment and sense of freedom with food.

I’ve learned how not to use food and exercise to “manage” or “control” my anxiety, but the impulse to control unmanageable feelings is still there, still problematic, and now that food and exercise aren’t my outlet, it shows up in other ways (hypervigilance about time management, arbitrary rules, obsessive lesson planning and playlisting, to name a few).

Someone once asked me, “How did you do it?” and I remember looking at her and saying point blank, “Girl, I’m still doing it. Every. Damn. Day.”

Recovery is possible. Healing is possible. Whatever you’re going through, it is possible to get to the other side of – but it’s also complicated. Regardless of the benchmarks we use to define our progress, growth or success, its true meaning is carved out by individual experience, by the you’s and me’s that actually live it. More importantly, being recovered or getting to the other end of whatever you’re going through, doesn’t mean you won’t struggle again with the same shit. You will. It means you will inevitably face struggle, just less often with time, and with time, you’ll learn how to handle it in more self-loving ways.

The irony is so much of recovery (or any journey for that matter) is about learning to let go of binary thinking altogether, to dwell comfortably in the areas of gray.

Whatever you are working towards, and however “far” you think you have to go, I encourage you to take time this week to truly bask in everything you’ve done up until this point – and to realize you can and will find your own way.

It won’t always be easy and you may not be where you want to be, but, remember, you are also not where you used to be and that’s the gift of your continued growth.

See How Far You’ve Come

Sit down and breathe

Honestly, if there is one thing to quiet the mind from the million voices and worries that fill your head, it is conscious and deliberate breathing. Take just 5 minutes (the time you would otherwise spend scrolling mindlessly through Instagram or Facebook) to let the voices and thoughts become quiet so you can be present.

Ask yourself, “Where was I this time last year? Five years ago? Ten?

The answer may surprise you. Change comes slowly and it’s hard to see the progress we’ve made. Whether the progress is mental, emotional or physical, change is always happening whether we see it or not.

Make a list of your accomplishments from the last year or last 5 years

It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant it seems. Everything from not choosing the self-critical thought to getting on your yoga mat to hitting a career milestone. Each step is important and when we make a list of our accomplishments, especially the small ones, we allow ourselves to remember the finish line isn’t the only thing that matters. In fact, without the other smaller things, the finish line wouldn’t be possible.

Ask a friend or loved one to share how they see you

We’re not very good at being objective with ourselves. In fact, at times we are damn near unrealistic, so sometimes those closest to us have a clearer view of how much we’ve grown than we have of ourselves.

Realize that it’s never “done” and you’ll never get “there”

We all have this picture in our mind that whatever our goal is, there is mountain top that we’ll reach at the end of the journey. A finish line. An end. And it’s that binary thinking that keeps us stuck. Instead of focusing on where you “need” to be, focus on each step you are taking. It gets richer and more beautiful the longer you stick with it.