Recovery as a Rose

I had another session with Dr. H this afternoon (and another chance to play with her Keurig!) and we were discussing any number of things.  She asked me how my week went in the most wonderful way.

Think of your week like a rose, she said. There are thorns, there are buds, and there are blossoms.

Roses have thorns.  So does recovery. There's no way around it.  Thorns are the difficulties, the things that don't go as planned, the slips and the slides.  The horrible, awful, no good, very bad days.  You don't have to like the thorns, but you do have to learn how to avoid them--or at least live with them. 

Like I'm guessing some of my readers do, I have conflicts about struggles.  I don't like struggling.  But I also don't like admitting when I'm struggling.  I also also know that talking about my struggles is the path to getting them to stop.

File under: hard place and rock, between a.

I told Dr. H that I feel either I "have to" be a perfect anorexic or a perfect recovering person.  I can get the awful, unproductive mentality of "I already screwed up, so why bother?"  {{Why, hello, black and white thinking.  Nice to see you.}} Or I'm so embarrassed and ashamed of what happened that I cover it up.  Screwing up somehow means that I'm a disappointment. Neither of which is conducive towards recovery.

Which is when Dr. H told me about the rose metaphor.  If roses have thorns, so does recovery.  You're the only one who expects you to be perfect, she told me.  Which is true.  But then, I've always been the main force pressuring myself, so that's not news.  Nor does it tell me how to stop pressuring myself. 

Nonetheless, thinking of recovery as a complete package--screw ups, missteps, and all--helps relieve some of that pressure.  Part of learning how to do anything involves making mistakes and then learning from them.  Recovery is no different.

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Our Lily said...

That's such a great way to think about recovery! I know how many times we can be in a situation where we feel like a disappointment or like we are somehow failing because we are finding things hard. Its good that you are admitting it though, i just hope you can remember that really nobody is and can ever be perfect

Cathy (UK) said...

It sounds as though your sessions with Dr H are going really well; I'm glad for you Carrie :)

I recognise from experience that recovery is not a smooth process, without any setbacks, and in that way there is not such a thing as a 'perfect recovery'.

But what is a 'perfect anorexic'?

I have frequently heard people use this sort of terminology (which includes 'the best anorexic' etc.) and have never understood what they mean. It suggests an affinity with being anorexic - which I understand because I felt 'safe' when engaged in all my counting (calorie) rituals and exercise regimes - although I hated my emaciated and very poorly functioning body.

It's the concept of 'perfect' or 'best' anorexic that I struggle to understand. What does it mean?

Katie said...

Cathy - the idea of a perfect anorexic differs from person to person. Some people think that maintaining a very low weight whilst still working/functioning is perfect, others judge themselves by the amount of time spent in hospital, still others think you're only a perfect anorexic if you're dead. I wrote a post on my blog almost two years ago about how my new goal was to be the worst anorexic ever :P

Carrie, I definitely have these struggles over struggles. I have "off" weeks sometimes after stomach viruses or when I'm extremely stressed out when my recovery just seems to go to hell. It's always really embarrassing to admit to, because I was SO gung ho about recovery during the first year, and it feels like a huge failure to ever struggle. But I always catch myself, always pick myself back up, and I always find that talking about it helps me do that. It's annoying, because when you're slipping a bit the last thing you want to do is confess, but of course secrecy just makes things worse.

Point of ramble: yes, I understand. I wish I didn't (I wish you didn't either) because it sucks, but there's no such thing as a perfect recovery. Struggles are just opportunities to test your coping skills. There, I can find a silver lining in anyway!

Katie said...

anyTHING. I can find a silver lining in anything. Proofread, Katie.

Cathy (UK) said...

I'll read your post Katie, and thanks for the explanation.

I know my first comment was digressing from the point of this post, but I was intrigued by the terminology that I have often seen used by individuals with EDs.

The analogy of recovery as a rose is actually rather good. And it is helpful when therapists/clinicians recognise the complexities of recovery. I describe myself as recovered, but recovery (especially eating enough) is something I have to work at, simply because I don't really enjoy food that much. As Katie says, there can be minor relapses, but to be able to pick oneself up again means that recovery is going in the right direction.

Jen said...

Carrie, this is a terrific post and synthesizes, in my listening experience, what so many of us (me, too) struggle/struggled with on our path to recovery.

How wonderful it can be to let go of that perfectionism! The phrase progress, not perfection has been my mantra for a very long time.

The rose metaphor (am I using the correct word here) is terrific.

Thank you for this post and all that you have and continue to offer on your blog esp the latest link to the new book that includes the Kate Tchanturia and James Lock paper. I've been waiting for its publicatioN!!!!!

hm said...

"I told Dr. H that I feel either I "have to" be a perfect anorexic or a perfect recovering person.... Neither of which is conducive towards recovery."

And neither of which is true! When did your anorexia ever reward you by telling you that you were being a "perfect anorexic"? Usually mine screams at me to work harder, I'm a failure, I'm fat, lose more, etc., no matter how far down the rabbit hole I go. I might get a momentary "You made the right choice there" but always followed by "NOW DO MORE- THAT'S NOT ENOUGH, YOU LAZY *****."

And if you were perfect at recovery, what hope would the rest of us have who look to you for an example as we slip and slide along in the muck?

We're all broken. Being open about being broken, being broken together, that's what helps us bond, helps us learn, helps us grow.

I beat myself up for not being perfect all the time too- and I get the drive of the "perfect anorexic" voice, and I have the shame of the eating crow part of recovery. But there is freedom in letting go of the truth- and I think it's great that you are being honest. There is nothing new under the sun, so none of your struggles exist in a vacuum that no one else has ever visited. :)

Dawn said...

Wow, thanks! I so needed to hear that. I've had a rough few weeks on the road to recovery and feel very similar to what you described. When I eat and take care of myself, I feel like a anorexic failure, when I starve I feel like a recovery failure. It's just good to know that I'm the only one who expects perfection and that it is not the end of the world if I am not perfect. THANKS!

A:) said...

This perfect at recovery thing is really something I don't understand.

I have always been careful and cautious and that also applies to recovery. I continually have one foot back in my ED and the other foot in recovery. I have made progress with weight, behaviours, etc. but each pound gained still triggers a giant meltdown and my first thought when faced with something new/different/scary is always NO.

I never understood the perfectionistic recovery mindset. I mean why would you WANT to be perfect at recovery -- that is just so -- SCARY! I can see that it could be bother helpful and a hindrance. . .

I think the problem with encountering a thorn is that it becomes so big and scary that it seems like that is ALL recovery will ever be and the bad feelings will never go away. . .

My mantra in recovery has been to "wait it out" and see if things are as terrible as they seem in the moment before making a decision to relapse or recover. Similarly, I still see recovery as a giant experiment. . .

Its a good analogy. . . Someone once said to me "Recovery: Even thorns have roses. Life: Even roses have thorns."

A:) said...

thorns also protect roses from harm. so it's important to see the thorns (thoughts, struggles, acting out in behaviors, etc) and ask how they are, in a way, protecting or benefiting you. when my therapist urged me to look at my ED in this way, it really helped me.

i can also relate to the "perfection" paradox. When I first entered treatment, I tried so hard to be the "perfect" recovered person since I "failed" at being the "perfect bulimic." yet the "perfect recovered person" is simply burnt out and the perfect bulimic is dead. the trick is to just be... me. which is a trial in itself.

thanks for the post :)


Mary B said...

That is an awesome analogy. This post really hits on what I've been dwelling on lately: I've already messed why bother trying again? Reading this helped me to remember that I am not the only person who experiences this dead-end, all-or-nothing thinking. Do you have any suggestions about how to overcome this type of thinking in recovery (tip day, perhaps)?

C said...

I'm not anorexic, but I subscribe to the perfectionistic mindset, all-or-nothing. I also suffer with high anxiety, but am working on this. Today (yesterday!) I made soda bread for the first time on my own (as I am experimenting with what foods may help my digestive issues). I had already tried it with my mum with spelt flour.

This time I used an white flour that was wheat and gluten free. What I didn't bargain on was that it was probably unsuitable for the soda bread recipe as it was made from potato, tapoica and rice flour (which probably hold a lot of water) and so ended up with a very hard crust and it was still uncooked in the middle! It was only just edible, but not if you wanted to keep your teeth intact! I had to throw away the loaves :-( but I will try again with a different flour. In the past I'd have given up straight away and thought there was no point in trying again as I got a simple recipe wrong. I'm getting there, love the rose & thorns analogy.

Anonymous said...

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was one of my favorite books when I was little. I am pretty sure that some 20-odd years later I still threaten to move to Australia.

Shells said...

What a great, comforting thought! Liking this one a whole bunch!!! Well described, and lots of great stuff to think about!

Shells said...

And can I just mention how my parents never had to punish me as a child because I did a much better job at scolding myself for not doing my chores (failed daughter!!) than they could. :)

Dana Udall-Weiner said...

I love the rose analogy, and the idea that recovery is not meant to be perfect. I often think of the 12-step saying, "Progress, not perfection." And I like the maxim "Perfect is the enemy of good." I seem to be filled with lots of cliches this Friday morning. :)

Afterglow said...

I really identify with this post. I, too am very hesitant in admitting my struggles. I think that I'm at the point where I just know the 'right thing' to say to avoid all of the awkwardness. I know what to tell the people that I do talk about my ED with.

To some degree, it is a relief, I don't really have to deal with it, but on the other hand, it just hurts me. I am going nowhere fast and because I can't/won't come 'clean' with my continued behaviors, I can't stop them.

The rose is a great analogy. I need to remember this.

Thanks 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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