Recovery isn't failure

I'm guessing I'm not the only ED person to struggle with this thought: that recovery somehow means giving up, that it somehow means failure. Failure and I? We don't mix.

It's odd- my most spectacular failings have not only occurred in this past decade, but they've also been the direct result of my eating disorder (ie, being basically kicked out of school, placed on medical leave at work, having left more jobs than I care to count to seek more treatment). And it's true, these things do make me feel like a failure. Many of my friends have careers and children, and I'm living with my parents. Thinking about this doesn't exactly lift my self-esteem.

Yet the problem remains: if the eating disorder has been the one thing that has uniformly screwed up my life, how can recovery be a failure?

The answer? I see my own recovery less an embrace of the future and more of a throwing in the towel and admitting I couldn't hack it.

Who's shocked that this attitude has left me less than fully recovered? Anyone? Anyone?

The odd thing is that I don't view other people that way- I get excited when I learn someone else has kicked the ED to the curb, or has finally decided to seek intensive treatment. I can see it's such a positive step. But it's almost as if my Puritan Work Ethic has gotten twisted into the eating disorder. That same work ethic that allows me to study and write for hours on end, that has kept me out of blinding debt, is the same ethic that says "Don't give up now!" Silly Carrie- quitting is for babies!

I love the quote that says "Quitting something that is bad for me isn't giving up," although I could never quite convince myself of it. I'm not sure quite how to see recovery as something other than quitting or giving up. I can tell myself all of the things I would be able to do without the stupid eating disorder following me around, and that's something (that is, admitting that the ED is actually preventing me from, I don't know, living my life), but I still feel SO TREMENDOUSLY GUILTY for "giving up" and gaining weight.

Maybe, in the end, I won't be able to convince myself that recovery didn't somehow involve "quitting" just before I showed everyone how good I could be at this anorexia thing. It helps to know that I'm the only person that thinks this, but one thing I haven't learned is that you can't have it all. There are always choices and trade-offs. Give up food and free time and sanity to gain a semblance of control over your life. Maybe I'm intellectualizing this, but it's fairly simple math- is the price of whatever worth paying?

So yeah, I'm quitting anorexia and giving recovery a shot not because I'm a quitter and just gave up, but because I realized that anorexia just wasn't worth it anymore. It's like saving for a new car to realize that your old one works just fine, as soon as you get the brakes fixed, and you would rather use the money on a trip to Europe. Not quitting. More like repurposing. For me, it's repurposing my time and energy and life to something that will be more rewarding.

Next task: find that something...

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tia @ dietcolagirl said...

wow, i so needed to read this post. this is exactly what i have been really grappling with lately. giving up, not being the best anymore. you got me thinking and i really appreciate that. thanks for this!

Finding Melissa said...

I can really relate to this - and I think that you've hit on a key point in the last paragraph, and certainly one that helped me.

When I stopped viewing recovery as a sign of weakness or a failure, it was because I recognised that there was a difference between choosing proactively to get better and recovering because I couldn't stick at being ill. If recovery was the result of an active choice rather than my incapability of doing an eating disorder, I could move beyond the giving up theme.

This was by no means easy, and included using CBT like reminders - why I am doing this, oh yes, I want to get bettter, but it did make a huge difference.

Great post - and such an important point!

Anonymous said...

So so true. Excellent post.

So often it seems that beating an eating disorder is a failure (gain weight, lost control, lose identity, etc.) but you've got a point about how failure truly comes by allowing the eating disorder to ruin everything else.

Definitely thought-provoking and helpful. Thanks!

Telstaar said...

Good on you! I relate to so much of what you said, its just chaotic logic really and ever so frustrating. I'm glad that you're repurposing and gonna give this a go :).


Cathy (UK) said...

Despite what I wrote yesterday (about finding intellectualising helpful to my own recovery) I guess I have to admit that the things that really helped me with my recovery were 'daring' to make changes (in order to recover).

You know the Nike advert 'Just Do It'? Well that's the point I was at 4-5 yrs ago when I was a physical and mental mess. Years of AN had made me quite 'mad'. But I couldn't make those changes alone. I have had A LOT of support - from a very skilled and kind psychiatrist (who I still see), close friends and family.

For many years I had seen recovery as failure. AN felt 'safe' and it also felt to provide me with a sense of 'power' - the latter associated with having the 'guts' and 'endurance' to put myself through pain and suffering. I was an ascetic who derived a sort of 'satisfaction' from hurting myself.

I know that a lot of people dislike the term 'rock bottom' in EDs, but with hindsight I feel it is very sad that I was only able to make changes and kick AN out of the door when I was in a life or death situation.

Great post Carrie!

Katie said...

Similarly to the last post where I said I thought I focused on being smart because I didn't think I had anything else going for me, I think last year I had gotten to the point where part of me was scared to recover because losing weight was the only thing I was doing 'successfully' in my life anymore. I had a sense of feeling like if I was going to be a failure at life, I could at least be 'good' at anorexia. I can't tell anyone how I stopped equating recovery with failure because I KNOW I used to feel that way, and now I don't. Maybe it's because I know how incredibly hard I have worked to gain up to a healthy weight, pretty much on my own. Maybe it's because I know that staying anorexic would have been a lot easier. It's a horrible way to live, but at the time you don't care because you're numb, so staying anorexic would have been the path of least resistance. Looking at it in that way, how can recovery be failure? Surely failure is something that happens because either a person is not trying hard enough or they are lacking skills in some area, and to recover you need determination, hard work, courage, and the willingness to learn as many new coping skills as you can cram into your head in the quickest amount of time. I don't see anorexia as failure either, I see that as an illness. But I see my recovery as the biggest success of my whole life so far.

balancingontwofeet said...

You always seem to be right on with what I'm thinking. Amazing.

Adrianna said...

"Everything has trade-offs" is the first of the ten principles of economics. So not only are you right, but leading business experts agree with you.:)

No one can have it all. It's such a simple truth, but no one seems to remember it. Even more frustrating is that it's currently the 'in' thing for women to try to have it all, just like dieting.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

I struggle with this all the time - that anorexia is the only thing I've been really good at and if I recover, I will be a failure and weak on my part.

But with each day, I get more and more tired of anorexia's presence in my life and the wreck its left behind. I'm beginning to think I'd rather fail at being anorexic than continue to live with it; it's become too painful.

The Artful Dodger said...

I was having a lapse a couple of months back; the kind where you've already dug yourself back in deep before you've skipped a meal, and you've reclaimed the ED as the "truth" to such an extent that you cannot believe how you could have let it go before. Two days into not eating and my mood was even lower, I felt controlled for the first time (I'd always felt like I was in control of it before) and trapped and remembered all over again why AN doesn't work for me anymore. The thing was, I didn't feel I could get past the "well, if I give in and start eating normally again after only a couple of days people will see what a failure I am, I will not be able to see it as anything but failure.

Something someone said to me which was very simple and somehow broke the spell at the time was:

"quit to win".

That's all he said to me and at that moment it just made the illogic of anorexia very clear. I was surely losing out by sauntering back to whence I had come (working hard to get away from the ed).

A:) said...

Thanks for posting this Carrie -- I still feel like this and it hurts to live with the shame everyday. It is funny how illogical and very little sense it makes, given your last post talked about intellutualizing things. . .

I have stayed in recovery, by promising myself that I could go back if I didn't like it and recovery was a temporary experiment that may or may not become permanent. This may not be as great as "banishing my AN from my life forever!" but it has got me farther in the last 20 months than ever.

I am hoping that eventually these feelings of inferiority will fade. I don`t think there will be any huge realization that AN is bad, or recovery is something to be proud of. I just think that as someone recovers, that issue will matter less and less to the point where the individual fills their life with other things than ED.

I think one of the biggest hardships of this illness is that mental recovery lags behind physical restoration. Think how much easier things would be if our mental processes/distortions improved in tandem with weight? I bet there would be a lot less relapse. . .


Carrie Arnold said...

Reading everyone's comments, I think I've more formally synthesized my thinking on this: I'm not actually "quitting" at anorexia. I'm putting it "on hold," the way I did my original plans of getting my PhD. As time has passed, I think less and less of that seeming "missed opportunity" and more of all of the other doors that have opened as a result of scrapping my initial plans to be a researcher and instead going off and being a writer.


Grace said...

"Many of my friends have careers and children, and I'm living with my parents." Yes, exactly. Same here. It doesn't exactly make me feel very successful. And I know that I still feel like I've failed big time by being in recovery. If I was a better, stronger person I keep telling myself, I would be super-anorexia, have my own home, and a fabulous career. Of course, this is not true. And thank you so much for writing this because I think so many people feel this way. I think it's so amazing how you manage to take these thoughts and deconstruct them so well to show how absurd they really are.

Anonymous said...

I relate to this. For a long time I felt that if I gained weight, then all the energy I had put toward being thin would be "lost". I felt that recovering would be the same as acknowledging that everyone else had been right all along, and I didn't want that to be the case. I wanted my little personal mission toward thinness to have been, somehow, "worth it".

I also feared that once I gained weight, no one would care to help me anymore. Well, actually, this happened to a certain extent. It is very hard to get anyone to listen to your struggles (even professionals) when you aren't wraith-like. I wonder if they know how much this affects us? At one point I actually lost weight, because I figured, "Hey, if I can get down to X weight, then maybe I could talk to therapist and recover." Yeah, totally rational.

Anonymous said...

soooo very true.. i get the remorse and regret "leaving and giving up" anorexia because i am giving up my comfort and secuirty which is hard for anyone to do. it's like telling a schizophrenic to have just a few cumpulsions and give up their medicine..

"let they food be thy medicine and they medicine be thy food"

i couldnt view recovery as failure because i never would have gotten better and everyday would have been a battle. the vicotry in anorexia is death and i am not interested. the vitory in recovery is love and that, i am interested in

finding ourselves throughout recovery though is all part of "giving up" because i am still learning who i am what i like, what i want, what my passions and even my opinions are

Stina said...

Love this post - completely relatable! I can be quite the annoying cheerleader for anyone else recovering, but when it comes to myself. . I shun any encouragement because 1)It's a sign of my weakness that anyone has a reason to encourage me about anything and 2) I already feel like i'll fail at recovery. glad to know I'm not the only one that feels this way!

Alley Cat said...

I love this. It's so hard to switch mindsets because they seem to be simultaneous, but I found that facing my anxieties (both E.D.-related and not) helps me to see that recovery is SO worth it!! When I live and learn without any "safeties," it's always worth it, even though it's hard. The most recent thing I learned was a realization that I now use as a self-affirmation; I am much more proud of the me that does not use E.D.

I also appreciate your previous entry. It helped me, so thanks!

Colby said...

There are a number of different treatment programs and approaches to support people suffering from eating disorders who decide to get help. I’ve found Silver Hill, a substance abuse and psychiatric hospital, to be a good source of information and resources. Talking/blogging about eating disorders can be extremely helpful not just for yourself, but for others in need. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

This has helped me. I still feel like a failure but at least I know that I'm not the onnly one who thinks this way. One part of me knows that my ED made me unhappy but another part of me is so reluctant to give it up. Thank you for posting this.

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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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