From the Archives: Waiting for the Lightbulb

Seeing as I will be away this weekend, I've selected several of my favorite posts from the archives to tide you over until I return.

Many of the recovery stories I read when I was first diagnosed with anorexia usually featured an epiphany for the now-healthy person. Usually, it went something like: "I saw a photo of myself and saw how bad I looked. I realized I was killing myself. So I started eating again."

If only...

My problem wasn't that I didn't know the damage I was doing--I could recognize it on a cognitive level, even if it didn't always have the same emotional impact--it was that I didn't really care. So my treatment stays came and went, and I went through the motions, but I was waiting for that Come to Jesus moment when everything would click and I could move forward with recovery. I said many of the Right Things, those profound statements that therapists just totally eat up- "I'm recovering for myself now!" "I'm listening to my body!" "Anorexia really isn't about food!" And so on. Part of me wanted to believe them, and a part of me probably did, but I was completely and utterly full of crap. In reality, I was still waiting for the lightbulb moment, that hallowed clarity, to see the meaning behind my behaviors and start the meaningful work of recovery.

Needless to say, I've never had an epiphany. My thinking has evolved over the years, sure, and I've certainly have some realizations, but no holy-crap-anorexia--is-stupid moments. Those moments are nice, and I'm not saying they aren't important if they happen, but they're often not the basis of a lasting recovery. I realized that anorexia often created more problems that it solved quite a few years ago, but that never meant I couldn't still be scared to eat.

I've stopped waiting for these sudden jolts of clarity and understanding. Perhaps my most important revelation is that recovery is based in the dogged repetition of recovery behaviors and not any masterful realizations. For so long, these recovery behaviors felt awful. I wanted to crawl out of my skin- I would even rake my nails up and down my stomach and legs because the feeling was so intense. Talking about my feelings, asking for help, drinking the Ensure, none of this felt normal or natural, and it definitely didn't seem to help. I didn't understand what I was supposed to be working toward. What was recovery anyway? And if anorexia made me feel better, how freaking bad could it be?

But I am learning that recovery behaviors can become more natural, just like learning a foreign language. When I first started to speak Spanish, I no doubt sounded like a demented gringo. After several years, I couldn't exactly speak like a native, but I didn't sound like a little girl playing dress-up in someone else's language. I eat. Day in and day out. I try to relax. I try to get to sleep at a normal hour. I talk to friends. I blog. These have created my recovery much more so than any mind-blowing realization.

There are no recovery shortcuts, no miracle elixirs, just the healing tincture of time and practice.

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Emma said...

Hit the nail on the head. I've had so many of those supposed 'lightbulb moments' and kidded those around me and myself (in part) that this was my turning point and things would be better from then on, only to end up disappointing. Like you say, what really helps things improve is sticking with the necessary and letting these behaviours feel normal and more comfortable with time.

PJ said...

I was saying this to my therapist just the other day - that I'm beginning to realise that there is not going to be one 'turning point' moment for me. Just that I am beginning to acquire more and more knowledge to help me through each little slip faster and more successfully and hopefully this will eventually just lead me to recovery by default.

Emily said...

I know that I should not for an epiphany to start healing. I like to think that there will be a point that I realize what's been keeping me in my ED...that I'll suddenly see things clearly. I think it's more about the little lessons in each day that lead to recovery.

Angela E. Gambrel said...

I never had an epiphany. I had several epiphanies throughout the years and I would get very motivated and tell my ED doctor all those things: "I am recovering for myself" and "I know I won't have any life if I continue starving myself" and yada yada yada. Every single time I would start out and within a week I had dived right back into my anorexic behaviors.

I have finally realized it is everyday life that keeps me moving in recovery. I will have a day or two that I restrict, and then I return to eating meals and once in a while I will even go out or eat with a friend and eat something without knowing the calorie count, and then I will get tired of adding up every single calorie, so I will stop. It is back and forth, but I think at this stage I am more in recovery than not; there are more days that I eat and don't completely panic over it then days where I am frantic because of what has passed my lips. And being able to have everyday, life moments, face-to-face with friends has become more important than the numbers, and thus I move forward three steps for every one or two I slip back. And my hope is one day, the days will equal weeks and then months, until I can say I am recovered. I suspect I will always have some anxiety about food and weight and calories because although I only developed full-blown AN four years ago, I realize I have been eating disordered (mainly restrictive eating) at least since 2001; it is much more ingrained in me than I previously thought. However, I also know that I will continue to get healthy and for the most part, the thoughts and behaviors will become only so much background noise and real life will prevail.

Jen said...

I was one of those with the "lightbulb" moment BUT just because I had the insight wasn't the end, either. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I was able to quit the ED behavior (in my case bulimia) but it took me years of working on my patterns of thinking to get those to change so I felt firmly on the path to recovery. It is, indeed, a process.

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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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