Meaning in recovery

I've been thinking a bit these last few days about life in recovery and life after recovery. I've had to work with human resources to sort through some work-related issues pertaining to my disability leave. I know I'm not ready to go back yet- I don't think I'm yet capable of being able to eat everything I need to day in and day out. I also have some more weight to gain, and as my metabolism has begun fighting back big time, progress on that front has slowed dramatically.

All of these issues, together, have prompted me to ask a bunch of rather existential questions of myself, and what I want my life to be like once I put this damn eating disorder behind me.

The long and the short of it is: I'm not exactly sure. I know writing will be at the center of my life, as I enjoy it and have found that others are willing to pay me to do it, so all is well. I have also found my groove in ED advocacy, in spreading the word about the latest treatments and the latest research and helping people make sense of this. I'm not sure whether I want this to be a career or more of an avocation, a hobby and passion outside of whatever kind of day job I end up with.

I have this fundamental need for recovery to make sense, for it to have meaning.

For years, I ascribed meaning to my eating disorder. It was my feminist "up yours" to the diet industry. It was an existential crisis writ in skin and bone. It was a misguided search for control and power. It was a way to separate from my family.

Blah blah blah. I think my eating disorder has meaning within the context of my own life (i.e., it's kind of hard to be sick for a decade and not have it come to mean something, even if it was "I frittered away my 20s with anorexia."), but I don't think an eating disorder necessarily means anything. Which left me grasping at what I wanted to make of recovery. If my eating disorder didn't have an inherent meaning, how could recovery?

But just as I worked so hard to find meaning to my eating disorder, I need to find meaning for my recovery. Not as a way to explain it or even understand it, but as a way to propel myself forward. Some people wake up and hear the chirping birds and just bounce out of bed, ready to take on life. I'm not one of those people. I want a reason to put up with the hell of refeeding and recovery.

Ultimately, I just want recovery to be worth it. I need to believe this, down to my very core, that recovery will have been worth it. As this belief faded, my relapse only picked up steam. Sure, I was physically doing better, but I was still mentally a mess. The benefits of holding on to life and sanity suddenly couldn't equal the costs of maintaining my weight and keeping strong tabs on my exercise. Yes, my relapse was a hell of a lot more complicated than that, but this was at the core.

I realize that a meaningful life isn't a prerequisite for recovery, and that building a meaningful life will be one of my major tasks of recovery.

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A:) said...

This makes sense, though I have an amendment.

There may be no meaning to your ED -- and I think you know what, but that does not mean you can't make it mean SOMETHING. You have gone through the life experience and perhaps have developed traits, ideas and passions that you wouldn't had your life been ED free.

More to the point, and something you talked about in your post is to make your recovery and JOURNEY mean something. An ED is just an illness -- like diabetes or cancer, but a RECOVERY can take many different paths. There can be slips and successes and relapses and remissions -- you can make it a beautiful thing and it can be whatever you desire.

Finding meaning in recovery may be more fruitful than finding meaning in your ED -- which is useless.

For me I see my recovery as the time after my diagnosis -- I have a yearning for recovery and despite the relapses, I started recovery as soon as I was diagnosed -- it was forced on me but it is still part of the journey. That journey made me who I am today and has opened my eyes.

I like to think I am more compassionate, open-minded, etc and that recovery has helped me become more trusting and confident.

Just some thoughts :)


Tiptoe said...

Carrie, great post. I think there are a lot of people who feel like you. I know I certainly do.

I've always wanted to know, almost like a guarantee that recovery was going to be worth it--that I would not be disappointed as I have in other things in my life.

I think when we lose sight of what recovery is, whatever our definition of it is, it is easy to fall back into relapse and just say screw it.

Keep fighting through all this mess, because I think the outcome for you WILL have meaning and somehow come together for you. It won't be easy, but since when have you taken the easy route of things? ;-)

Kim said...

I've thought a lot about this "meaning" issue too. I've come to the sometimes-sad conclusion that my anorexia doesn't have much meaning. I've ascribed meaning to it because a) I'm a writer who likes stories with an arc, and b) who likes to think things are meaningless? Meaning is a funny thing. It's all very individual and personal. What we tell ourselves often matters way more than what IS. So, who cares if I ascribe meaning to my disorder (to its development, its continuation, etc)? I ascribe meaning to my recovery too. I believe I have learned along the way, just as anyone with any disease probably learns through the process of struggling to recover. I've become way more compassionate. I don't judge anyone. I love more. I'm more understanding of my feelings, as gushy as that sounds. I appreciate life more. Your recovery is whatever you want it to be. That's what I firmly believe. It's YOURS.

K.Pete said...

When I start thinking about it all being "worth it" then - if I'm not careful - I quickly revert back to old habits. I KNOW what I'm getting myself into with old habits - but who knows what the future holds?

It is then - when I'm lucky and am able to step back a bit from my troubles - that I look at that question a little more closely. Who knows what the future holds?? No one knows what the future holds. And isn't that a grand thing?

I don't believe that life is about the end result or the finish line. Life is about the experiences along the way - the detours, the speed bumps and the stop signs. Granted I forget this all of the time - but what gives me hope and what keeps me going is believing that it's the experience that is the important part. Sure I don't want a lot of the experiences I get - I don't want my ED - I don't want the recovery - I didn't want either of my siblings to die before the age of 30 ... but that's when my conscience kicks in with an old saying:

"Life isn't about learning to weather the storms - it's about learning to dance in the rain."

We can't control all of the storms that come our way - but we can control our attitude and our courage. If the point of it all is not recovery in itself but instead the challenge of accepting these trials while smiling through them - even when you want to give up - well that right there is something. And I get - "Yeah but WHY would I choose to go through this when I don't HAVE to?" Well life is about progressing - stagnancy gets you no where. :) You won't learn a whole lot of new things if you revert to old habits - but if you move forward - you challenge yourself, you learn, you grow, you LIVE.

Why do you do it? Because it's a challenge, an opportunity for learning and growth and a way to experience life and ALL of life's emotional intensity. It's not about the destination - no no - it's about the journey. And if you make the JOURNEY the meaning - then regardless of the outcome - it WILL be worth it. said...

I keep trying to post a comment because this post and all these comments has me thinking. I keep trying to post but I haven't quite figured out WHAT it is I'm thinking, which makes posting a comment a little difficult :) What is the meaning in this? I have learned a hell of a lot about myself; I have become more empathetic; I think I've actually become a better thinker having gone through this; I guess if you "choose recovery" then you have the potential to contribute a ton more to the world than you otherwise would have had - so, in a way, it's your responsibility to the world to "choose recovery." (I'm thinking a lot more things too like... 'yeah, but cant I contribute to the world and not eat very much at the same time?')

Last night, I left a message on my therapist's machine saying, "Seriously, why do I have to eat? I mean, I know so I don't die... but besides the living thing, really, why do I have to?" (Yes, I literally said that last night. I'm currently going through a pretty big back slide and have been trying to think about why it matters to stop going through the back slide).

I'm still processing everything I'm reading - both from the original post and the comments - and, therefore, don't have anything conclusive or meaningful to post. Except to say THANK YOU for the post and for the comments. You have me thinking and sometime soon, I'm sure, I'll have my thoughts more organized and can communicate them better (if this post is still up). But, for now, THANK YOU.

RCK said...

Thank you for this, Carrie. Two things in particular came up for me in reading it.

Last week my therapist starting pointing out that I try to ascribe meaning to *everything* in my life--*everything* I put in my mouth, every block I walk or minute I spend not working, every book I read, every conversation I have. And then she nailed it--it's exhausting, she said. Yup. Her challenge to me was to just let things 'be' and to notice when I try to make them fit a meaning or scheme that I think I should be following. So instead of "I lost my jacket, ergo I am an irresponsible idiot," which makes me feel weirdly good because self-degradation is such a comfy place to be, what about, "I lost my jacket--these things happen." It's weird how hard I'm finding this challenge; at least, for someone who thinks of herself as fairly tolerant and open to the world.

Like others here, I keep trying to make meaning of both the disease ("I was/am sick because...") and the healthy recovery aspect ("Eating this avocado makes me a healthy person, which means..."). But I'm finding that these ways of meaning can also slot me into some pretty narrow spaces. Like, am I really a good or bad person because of a disease and how successfully I am dealing with it?! I mean, really??

I'm a writer too. I am a poet, actually, in a graduate creative writing program. For a year I've been working on a manuscript of poems that examine the experience and narratives that arise from ED--and one of my key aims from the beginning has been to try to leave meaning off the page. Not that the manuscript is meaningless--far from it. But my aim is to try to let the reader come to the page, read, experience, get inside the skin of this disease, see what conclusions arise, bear witness to the unreliability of 'meaning' depending on one's perspective (i.e., how does the idea of 'goodness' change when one is sick or well?), and hopefully walk away with a greater sense of compassion, non-judgment, and understanding of what ED entails. I'm vehemently against "poor me" victim stories (one of the reasons that I LOVE your blog, btw, you're such a badass fighter) and against histrionic, sensational details of 'lowest weight' numbers or 'ribs showing' stuff in my writing, so there's none of that. And in getting outside of quantitative details of the disease, I'm finding an incredible freedom in simply writing the experience without tying it into a neat narrative bow; in leaving endings open, with the reader and the speaker hovering in the balance between recovery and ambivalence, or between 'true' and 'false' perception.

Every time I try to make something 'mean,' that meaning seems to turn itself inside out and teach me something else about surrendering control. I mean, EVERY time. So, I still look for meaning, yes, and I think I always will--but I think I'm starting to be much less attached to the answers I come up with. Which, for me, brings hope, adventure, creativity, and wonder, and not nihilism or despair.


Cammy said...

Wow, great insights, Carrie. Somehow you always seem to find a way to articulate things that just swirl as chaos in my head. I agree, the "point of it all" question is definitely profound. There's no doubt that you are intelligent, compassionate, funny, and generally great in many ways, and allowing yourself to live the kind of life you deserve is enough "point." I understand, though, that there is a need for meaning, I definitely feel that too. Try not to pressure yourself, though, sometimes you have to let things develop as you go. I know it's hard, when you're goal-oriented and driven, to break the habit of forging onward from Point A to a defined Point B. Just like you said, building a healthy life is a process that you go through in recovery, and contemplating the opportunities you are opening for yourself is pretty exciting. :)
Take care and treat yourself kindly, <3.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking a lot about this recently. I took an official Myers-Briggs recently and have a new label - INFJ. Apparently this personality type is particularly prone to wanting to find meaning in everything. Perhaps some of us are just more prone to needing this than others.

I really like what A said - that we can make recovery mean something. When I was sick, I made the anorexia "mean" something, even though the meaning was created from my malnourished brain.

For me, in order to let go of the meaning I felt anorexia had for me, I have to create some kind of meaning out of recovery.

The last time I was in recovery - for a couple of years - e.d. advocacy was also really important to me. Not only did it help me feel like something good could come from my illness and recovery, but it also kept me in check recovery-wise and reminded me how important staying healthy was.

This time around, I'm not sure how I will incorporate my experience with recovery into my constant quest for creating a meaningful life.

But thank you for making me think. :)

Sarah at Journeying With Him said...

Carrie, I also share your passion for wanting to be involved in ED advocacy and love of writing. I am not sure what form this will take in my future and I get very anxious sometimes thinking that I "need" to know RIGHT NOW. Something I am working on is realizing that even if I wasn't accomplishing anything at all beyond just being myself, waking up, being a good wife, I am still getting something of significance done. Your latest post made me go back to this one to remind you that every time you leave your bed to share yourself with the world, you are doing a very courageous and meaningful thing, no matter WHAT your job or hobby.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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