Recovery in purple and orange

Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.

—Herman Melville, Billy Budd

And so, too, with the eating disorder and recovery. "How long have you been in recovery?" people ask me. I don't know. For that matter, I don't know exactly when I first became ill. I remember when I first lost weight and became terrified at the prospect of gaining it back. I remember the first time I went to the gym twice in one day. I remember the first time I made myself throw up. But I don't remember exactly when it was I first became so afraid of food. It happened so gradually- one food gone here, another cut there, and all of a sudden, I was living on carrots.

Recovery has been the same way. Yes, there was a moment in time almost a year ago when I grimly accepted the need to gain weight. And there was probably a day when I finally became weight restored. Which are milestones, but they don't tell me much about the progress of my recovery. After all, I've been weight restored before and my recovery was shaky. As I spend more time in recovery, I've noticed a (very) slow diminishing of the ED thoughts and behaviors. Unsupervised lunches at work are no longer a fight (and as much as I've been peeved at my jacked-up metabolism, the intense hunger pangs have helped in that respect). I can contemplate exercising less than my maximum number of allowed days by my treatment team. And there are still plenty of things about my thinking that are disordered: freaking out at "unplanned" food, rigidity with my meal plan, major body dysmorphia, etc.

Yet looking back at a year ago (when I finally began giving up the eating disorder) or even a decade ago when the ED first began, I can see major differences. If now is purple, then those times are definitely orange. They're different colors; it's obvious. But when did that purple become orange? That's what I can't figure out.

I don't know if I need to figure it out. And maybe recovery isn't just one "color" but the blending of colors as I move from anorexia to life.

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Kim said...

Yes, I think recovery is a blending. I have a tough time pinpointing when the illness started too. I remember the worst of it, of course. It was well under way in 1997...but I have flashes of memories of fearing food before that. The year before, I know I started being conscious of restricting. It was so gradual. Recovery is the same. I always say I started recovering in 2001, with inpatient treatment. But, that's not really true. I tried outpatient help for a long time before that. And I wanted to be done with anorexia as early as 1999... I just didn't know how. I used to think recovery was so black and white -- typical of me ;)

Cathy (UK) said...

I certainly agree with the 'blending' aspect of recovery. Real recovery (and by 'real' I mean disappearance of ED thoughts rather than weight changes...) happens very slowly and gradually.

However, I do clearly remember the onset of my anorexia nervosa (AN) at age 11. Interestingly, I never even tried to lose weight. I lost weight inadvertently because I was over-exercising and under-eating to relieve anxiety. My mother noticed I had lost weight (having been a naturally skinny child), weighed me, and rushed me off to the doctor - who told me I should eat more and exercise less.

The point at which my AN began was when I noticed resistance to change. This 'thing' in my head 'instructed' me that I mustn't deviate from my eating and exercise regime. When food was placed in front of me, that 'thing' (the ED 'voice') 'screamed' at me 'don't eat it'. I found myself throwing food away when no-one was looking and lying about what I had eaten. I was frightened of that 'thing' in my head because it felt to have taken control of my mind and my body.

AN was fast onset, but recovery has been painfully slow...

Melissa said...

Thank you so much for writing this. I have been struggling recently with how to define my recovery and resist my instincts to analyse - and label - and control the whole process.

This has reminded - and reassured me - that recovery happens by degrees and has been, for me, a mixture of force and nature; push, pull, holding on, letting go... And this is okay. Because the lines don't matter, I suppose, as long as colours are becoming brighter...

elizabeth marley said...

I've just recently started working toward recovery and it's completely bizarre. A few weeks ago, after eating a real, human-sized meal with my boyfriend, he asked me if I was "better now." For a moment I looked back on all of the real, human-sized meals I've eaten lately and thought "yes, I must be."

But, as you said, recovery really is not about the ability to eat. Actually wanting to nourish your body is a good thing, but shutting up the voice that tells you you don't deserve x, y, or z is so much harder than it sounds.

I think this is easy to understand for us in recovery, but not necessarily easy to understand for those who love and care about us (or those who are just curious enough to ask). Recovery, for those who have never had to recover from anything like this, is easily defined as the opposite of "sick". Which I think puts a lot of pressure on the person in recovery to be Recovered.

I kind of rambled on there...I just wanted to say thanks for writing this.

Missing In Sight said...

Well said. Recovery is a change from one color to the next. It isn't a destination, a place you have finally arrived. It's a long, slow process. Life is about the journey.

It would be nice if we were one day cured, but it's more like diabetes. Probably for the rest of our life we will have to "manage" our eating disorders. At least that's the way I see it.

Katie said...

This is where I feel like the odd one out ;) I did have defining moments, both when I first decided to recover, and when I realised that I was free of eating disordered thoughts and behaviours. But lots of different things led up to those moments, it was a bit of a case of "it happened slowly, and then all at once".

James Clayton said...

Blending is a really good way of thinking about recovery. As much as there are 'definitive moments' and mini epiphanies, seeing it as a blend instead of black-and-white or all-or-nothing terms (oh, how the eating disorder likes those absolute rigid ideas) is helpful.

It's all about subtle shifts, shades and degrees indeed. Thanks for that nice image :)

Nobody Girl said...

For someone who is nowhere near recovery, I can only imagine there will be moments in recovery as there are when I am not, that your mind is quick in trying to trick you, your heart vulnerably following. I wish you the best of luck. It's a tough journey, I'm sure! You deserve kudos for attempting that path that many have yet to try!

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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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