Treatment as training wheels

A week or so ago, I read a mother's thoughts on the ultimate goal of eating disorder treatment. I couldn't find the actual statement, but I remember most of what she said.

"The idea with treatment is to help our kids with recovery until they are strong enough to do it on their own."

The goal of treatment, then, is to help build up our own strength to face ED on our own. In the beginning, it's hard (for me, it was impossible) to do it on my own. At first, I needed someone to do it for me--or at least to insist that I kept on the proverbial recovery bike.

And just like how I learned to ride a bike, I didn't start out on my current mountain bike. I started out on a Big Wheels, and then a tricycle. When I turned five, my parents got me a kids' bike with training wheels. Let me tell you- it was a very slow transition from a bike with training wheels to a bike without. I had my parents take them off, and I crashed. So they went back on. Then I learned how to ride pretty aggressively (considering) with training wheels. I was so scared of crashing and failing again, that I resisted having my wheels taken off.

My second try didn't end up much better than my first try, in that I crashed into a mailbox. The difference is that I had enough skill and confidence to get back on the bike, and it was the start of a long love affair with cycling.

I've used this metaphor before to help explain the need to keep getting back on the "recovery bike" and that crashes/lapses aren't the end of recovery. That's not what I want to stress in this post. What I want to stress is the process: Big Wheels to tricycle to training wheels to kids' bike.

At each stage, I learned new skills and gained more independence. I didn't ride for miles on my Big Wheels- my parents or babysitter was with me at all times. I'm guessing I wanted to go off on my own, but a three-year-old just isn't ready, no matter how ready she might have been at age 8. Just as I was impatient with my difficulties in transitioning from training wheels to a "regular" bike, I have been impatient with my difficulties in transitioning to greater independence in recovery. I felt like I was "behind" all of my friends in losing my training wheels, but the fact remained that I was terrified to go without my supports. I am 30 and just starting out in my career. I feel so much "behind" my friends who have steady jobs, are married and have kids (although I don't really have a burning urge to have children. I prefer the four-legged and furry type of children).

Looking back, I honestly don't think I was ready to leave my training wheels behind any before I actually did at the age of 8. Blame it on anxiety, blame it on my inborn clumsiness. The exact factors don't really matter. In the end, it didn't really inhibit my ultimate cycling skill.

Recovery is a process, too. Time is a part of that- time and maturity and effort. But there's also the matter of acquiring skills and gaining more independence. There's the issue of having people slowly step back as they gain confidence in my own ability. It's a matter of pushing my limits at times and holding back at others. More than that, it's a matter of learning when to push my limits and when to hold back.

Training wheels aren't the end goal, nor is treatment. It's a matter of getting support and help until you can do it on your own.

Image via Martha2Mary


Anonymous said...

Carrie, I have just recently started reading your blog, found it through Laura's soap box blog.

I'm a girl who doesnt know if I have an ED or not... and I'm doing the only thing I know how, trying to figure out how to work things out.. on my own (I'm not really on my own but I'm not telling the whole truth to the 2 people who could probably help me more).
I really liked what you wrote in this post, makes me wonder what my 'training wheels' are.
I dont know if you let people email you, or if you can point me in the right direction of someone I could bounce some ideas off?

Carrie Arnold said...


Drop me an email at I'd love to talk!

Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul said...

I love this post because it brought me back to when I learned to ride a bike. I remember being utterly terrified and not having any of the excitement that all of my friends had about getting to take training wheels off. I remember literally crying when they came off, begging for them to be returned, and feeling certain of an untimely death at age six. I still struggle with this fear of the unknown and of flying solo without protection. I have certainly come a long way since those days, however, which feels amazing.

James Clayton said...

A nice way of describing the recovery process that brings back some (strangely?) happy memories of wobbly childhood bike rides.

Great and resonant stuff as ever, Carrie.

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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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