Living in the solution

On tonight's episode of "This Emotional Life," a recovering alcoholic shared his story, and the importance of the fellowship he found in Alcoholics Anonymous. Although I can definitely relate to the benefits of fellowship--just look at this blog!--it was another comment by this man that struck me as just so wise.

"There's no cure for alcoholism," he said, "but there is a solution. And that is to stay sober."

It's rare that you can combine realism and hope in a sweeping statement about addiction or any other mental illness, but this completely captures my views on recovery from an eating disorder: there's no cure, but there is a solution. That solution is to keep eating, to maintain an appropriate weight (whatever weight your DNA prefers), to stop binge eating and purging, and to reach out for support when these behaviors start to sound even slightly more appealing.

The other truth is that the solution to alcoholism or ED isn't like the solution to a math problem. You do the math, scribble in the margins, and there you have it. The Answer. You may get it right, you may get it wrong, but you can move on to the next problem. The solution to these mental health issues isn't something you can check off on a to-do list. You have to put it on every to-do list you write, every single day, for the rest of your life. And that is overwhelming to contemplate. Massively, majorly overwhelming. So much so that calling it a singular solution seems kind of ludicrous. It's more like that there are millions of solutions, solutions that you have to find and choose every single day.

Frankly, I prefer the math class type of solution.

To some extent, the "solution" seems obvious. Want to not be a drug addict? Stop getting high! Want to not be depressed? Stop being sad! Want to not be anorexic? Stop starving yourself! How did we not think of this sooner?!? I knew for years that if I wanted to recover from my eating disorder that I had to eat and gain weight. I knew that the weight I was maintaining wasn't conducive to health. But I had two major questions to answer: how do I get better, and how do I stay better? The "solution" isn't so much eating; it's figuring out what I need to do in order to keep eating, even when that's the last thing I want to do. The "solution" doesn't mean never wanting to lose weight again, or always approaching every meal with gusto. It just means that you approach every meal.

I'd love for there to be a cure for eating disorders, but I'm not exactly holding my breath. There is just too much that we don't know. But we do have a solution, and that might just be enough.


Cathy (UK) said...

This post helped me a lot today Carrie. It is 32 yrs since I developed anorexia nervosa. I spent the first 6 yrs struggling in an unhelpful healthcare system, had a few yrs of relative remission in my 20s (when I ate well because I was planning to marry my boyfriend and I wanted kids) - and then I relapsed badly in my early 30s to reach a life-or-death position at age 38.

Apart from currently having a damn chest infection secondary to 10 days of flu, I am now at the healthiest (ED-wise) I have been since I was 11. Gaining 32 pounds has helped certain aspects of my physical and mental health, but it hasn't cured my anxiety, depression or obsessionality - i.e. the three ailments that drove my anorexia nervosa for many years. I have had to develop alternative means of dealing with these ailments, which sometimes means I physically cut myself off from people, I engage in manic cleaning sessions, I put headphones on and drown my thoughts with 'Deff Leopard' or 'Kiss' - i.e. anything that prevents me from resorting to starving myself again.

The concept of recovery in anorexia nervosa is elusive for some people. I will always have to work hard at preventing my thoughts overwhelming my mind and body. For me there's no easy fix. said...

This is like when I realized "Oh! In order to not be eating disordered..... I can't do eating disordered things!" It's not enough to theorize and "find myself" and yadiyadi... I have to actually eat too. I can't say "I want to not have an eating disorder.... I think I'll skip breakfast (or leave off one slice of bread on a sandwich or eat half the portion of veggie chili instead of the whole portion)." There's only one way to not have an eating disorder: DON'T DO EATING DISORDERED THINGS. (I'm not sayin' it's easy or enjoyable... but the more you do healthy things, the easier those healthy things become)

mariposai said...


I've been following your blog for over a year now and find it really inspiring and helpful... :-)

The cure/solution thing is so true - at the beginning of treatment I naively assumed that I would be cured and thus able to eat whatever and whenever I wanted without any ED behaviours or thoughts. Now I am starting to realise that ED won't magically disappear, but I have the power to manage it and limit the extent to which it controls my life.

Sarah x

Katie said...

I often remind myself to think of recovery in terms of the first step in AA - admitting powerlessness over the substance. I always thought that was a cop out, a way for people to abdicate responsibility and say that they couldn't do anything about their illness. Later on I realised that actually, there are clear parallels between that and recovery from eating disorders. I can't control my eating disordered behaviours. If I lose 5lbs or cut my intake down or start running every day, things WILL get out of hand. BUT, I can control my recovery. If I keep doing everything I can to stay healthy, don't use behaviours, maintain my weight, keep talking to people, then I can stop myself from getting ill again. I really like that way of looking at it now :)

Still, if someone found a magic wand capable of curing all ill I don't think I would say no!

Abby said...

Once again, amazing post that speaks to me on so many levels. How many times have we been stereotyped with people telling us to "eat a burger" and get better? Anyone who has struggled with any kind of addictive behavior knows it so much more complicated than that.

However, alcoholics and drug users can avoid their weapon of choice. For us, we can't avoid food entirely or easily get away from a society that lauds restriction (diets), overactivity (more exercise is better) and physical beauty.

I know there's no easy solution, but it is helpful to think that at least I can do everything in my power to not fall prey to that and use it as an excuse. Just because I can't "fix" things right away doesn't mean I have to make them worse. Great reminder, and one I need on an hourly basis.

Kim said...

I prefer math-type solutions too. Frankly, the treatment center I was in way back when sort of implied that recovery was a thing to check off on a list. At the time, I disagreed, but they were firm about recovery being a destination you arrive at. I see it as a journey. I'm still working to accept what you said here: "You have to put it on every to-do list you write, every single day, for the rest of your life." It is overwhelming, but it's management, like with any disease. And, yes, the solution is to maintain weight in a healthy way. Of course, that doesn't solve EVERYTHING, but it sure helps prevent problems from compounding.

I Hate to Weight said...

i loved this blog and all the responses. lots to think about.

i do have days where i don't think drugs and alcohol, but i have a harder time with the ED. it's been around a lot longer. and i DO have to eat.

aargh, too much to think about sometimes!

Amber Rochelle said...

Wow, I love this post. Thank you. I'm one who is always willing to do pretty much everything for recover EXCEPT give up control, increase my meal plan, etc. It's irritating when people say, "Just eat." I always tell them it's not that easy. But in reality, I guess that's the only way out.

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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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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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