Building mastery

It's something I've been noticing lately in my own life: a growing mastery of basic recovery skills. You know, the things other 31-year-olds take for granted, like the regular consumption of breakfast and not exercising myself half to death. In the beginning of recovery, I couldn't do any of these things unless someone was sitting right there and giving me death eyes to make sure I wasn't misbehaving. Preferably with an Ensure for any infractions.

There's nothing to deflate your ego quite like flipping through your friends' wedding and baby pictures on Facebook while realizing that you one even trusts you to, like, you know, eat.

When I first attempted to eat with no real supervision after attempting recovery, it was kind of laughable. I'd start off getting a small, nonfat cappuccino (more air, less milk!) and say I had some massive, calorie-laden drink. Then I'd switch to coffee or tea while simultaneously maintaining I had that beverage. After all, I wanted that drink. I even might have actually intended to order it, on some subconscious level. But faced with the gargantuan menu and the knowledge that there were calorie-free options just waiting for me, I caved to the anxiety. Then, ashamed that I couldn't do something as simple as order a simple snack, especially after promising on my kitty's tail that I would Behave Myself and Actively Choose Recovery, I lied about it.  I justified this by telling myself that I wouldn't cheat again, that next time, I would have the massive calorie-laden drink.

Repeat ad nauseum.

All during this time, I would have sworn up and down that I could easily handle everything on my own. Easily. "I've got this," I said.  After all, I could publish long feature stories in magazines. Surely I could eat adequately.

Except I couldn't. Each time I tried, I would bite off more than I could chew (is that pun intended? I'm not sure...).  Sometimes, I would be forced to be ready because the insurance company said I was ready, dammit. Others, my treatment team thought I was ready.  And still others, I convinced my treatment team I was ready to take on more responsibility for my own recovery. Each time, the result was the same: it was too much, too soon.  The eating disorder triumphed again.

Ultimately, I began to lack confidence that I could ever feed myself properly again. Maybe I was just one of those few who would struggle forever. Maybe I would never get better.

The problem wasn't me or my (seeming) inability to recover. The problem was the complexity of the task and my available skills to master it. It's like asking a five-year-old to do calculus. I'm sure there are a few Einsteins out there who can, but most of us can't. Not that we won't ever be able to do calculus after we learn addition and subtraction and algebra and infinite sums, just that we can't yet do calculus. We don't consider a kindergartner a mathematical failure if they can't figure out a differential equation. Yet I would be discharged from treatment with a sheet of paper containing a list of foods I was supposed to eat and a pat on the back and have no freaking clue where to go from here.

What I really needed was fewer sheets and more time and practice.  I needed to start way more slowly than most people thought. This grated both my ego and my patience (like I said, nothing like a good career to contrast your epic catastrophes around eating).  So I started with tasks I felt confident about, things like putting milk in my coffee (yes, caffeine is a massive theme in my life) or spending short times unsupervised and not exercising. Then I began to build on that. I could figure out an entire snack or spend a whole afternoon by my lonesome and not lace up my gym shoes.

It took years for me to get where I am now, which is that I can eat independently and not overdo the exercise (though the latter is still the largest struggle for me) even if no one is the wiser. I'm not always perfect, but I can be honest about that, too.  I have mastery over basic recovery skills, whether it's feeding myself or calling a support person.  I'm doing calculus.  It took me a little over 11 years to get there from my 2+2s(kindergarten until junior year of high school), but then I ended up a math minor in college. The successes, whether in recovery, math, or even figuring out how to program your DVR, snowball. They build upon themselves. That's what things tend to do, whether successes or failures.

It took me a long, long time to be able to slow down and take recovery one step at a time. To stop feeling that I "should" be able to do something because everyone else could and it sounded easy, ergo, I should be able to do it.  It's still hard for me to admit that I couldn't do these things, and not always for lack of effort. I can't juggle or do those silly Magic Eye things, either, despite a plethora of people who do have those capabilities. I've accepted that, more or less.  It is what it is.

I guess, in the end, recovery is a process. A long, hard, difficult, pain-in-the-ass process. But I tackled it one step at a time, and I did, eventually, get there.


Dawn said...

thank God! You have no idea how much I needed to hear that right this instant!

hm said...

Do you currently consider yourself "recovering," or "fully recovered"? I would like to hear your thoughts on this, as well as your thoughts on the difference between the two. If you feel inclined. :)

I feel as though I will be stuck in the exhausting muck and mire of "recovering" for...ehhh...ver. I'd like to believe that "recovered" is possible, as my RD tries to convince me.

Or maybe "fully recovered" just looks different for some people than others- maybe for some, it stays pretty close to the line between "recovering" and "recovered."

Anyway, your post made me grateful for my RD, who is taking things very slowly and doing lots of hand-holding- giving me definitives, specifics, not a lot of choices. I struggle with feeling resentful towards her and towards myself- I'm NOT A FUCKING BABY- but, the fact is, if left on my own, I wouldn't know what the hell to do, so I'd default back to my previous ed settings. She is keeping me afloat. I need to be grateful.

Susu Paris Chic said...

How inspiring! I am on that same road. Not yet there but getting closer. As I gain more weight, it really challenges me. But I see that my reactions to it get milder as I gain in health. It is a fight. Every day.

food solutions said...

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Chantell said...

Thankyou for such a genuine, realistic post...It really helped me to hear your views on recovery, and to know that it does take quite alot of patience and tenacity to get there...I feel like my ED will always be there, like the shadow you cannot erase, but I am trying...For the sake of my children, mostly...Very inspiring to hear your words!

sonya topaz said...

Thank you so much! Your writing has been a huge inspiration for me. Knowing it's hard, recognizing successes- seeing the growth.
Even when you've struggled, I've had to grow by owning my own recovery.
Sometimes I send your posts to my family to help them understand my thoughts and where I am ("see, I'm doing well... better, but it's still hard")
thank you thank you thank you thank you.

Incredible Eating Anorexics said...

i relate to this a lot. thanks. for this post and your whole blog. its ace.

Katie said...

It's wonderful to hear that all your hard work is paying off Carrie! You so deserve for things to start getting easier for you :) I know what it's like to be kicked in the butt by the realisation that yes, you might have a rather epic IQ and you may well be top of all your classes/have great career prospects, but if left to your own devices you can't even feed yourself. It's very humbling to realise that you can't force yourself to function like an adult just by being clever enough!

Anyway, it is AWESOME that you are doing well and I'm so happy for you :)

I also wanted to say to hm - I don't know what Carrie's answer will be but personally I don't like to think of it in black and white terms of either struggling perpetually or being fully recovered, with nothing in between. I'm in full remission - the eating disorder plays no part in my day to day life right now. But it was a very gradual process, and for the longest time I had a couple of behaviours, a few urges, nothing too hard to deal with but a bit frustrating and annoying. I also appreciate the fact that if I get a stomach bug or don't eat quite enough due to stress, all those thoughts WILL come back until I start eating properly again. It's not an all or nothing thing - some people do reach full recovery and I may well call myself recovered rather than in remission one day, but you don't have to worry about reaching the finishing line of full recovery to be free of the eating disorder! You can be mostly free long before that, and I am completely free when I'm otherwise healthy and stable :)

I have no idea if that made sense, I'm a bit tired...

Jessie said...

And that's all there is to it.

Kate said...

Bahahaha! I get what you mean about choice variety and the lacking skills to make this task easier. I remember coming home from 18mths fieldwork in a small village on Lombok, Indonesia, and crying at my local Target. The choice of socks was overwhelming. There were too many. All I wanted was a pair of socks. Easy, right? Still a hard task even to this day (10 yrs later). And I'm the same as you re: food choices. Just give me what is on my plan. Anything else sends me into a tail spin. Will it send on cravings? Will it make me fat etc? Blah, blah!!

We each have our lacks in abilities. Such a weird thing ours is re: food and eating. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

You're so strong and inspirational Carrie! Hearing that after, I've had so many thoughts of 'I'm just one of those that never recovers.' this gives me hope!

Anne-Sophie said...

What a great post. I am on the same path, started my recovery about a year ago. Just like you, I am very impatient with myself, but I found the less pressure I put on myself, the more steps forward I can take.
I truly and whole-heartedly believe that recovery is possible, even if it takes a while.

Anne-Sophie said...

hm, like I said in my comment above, I believe that recovery is possible. I am still "recovering" and I am still working hard on myself, but I will not give up hope that full recovery is possible. Even on bad days, I try to remind myself of all the people who have made it.
I wish you all the best on your way to recovery!
Take it as slow as you need. It is a process after all.


Anne-Sophie said...

Susu, I am walking on the same path as you do. I have been able to maintain a healthy weight for almost 6 months now and I am super proud of it. But I remember how difficult the initial weight gain was. But it is so worth it, believe me. I have so much more passion and energy and I feel that it is just the beginning.
If I can encourage you in any way, I am here for you.


Anne-Sophie said...

Chantell, I find it awesome to hear that you are willing to fight your ED for your children, but please don't forget about yourself. YOU are just as important. Please take care of yourself.

Anne-Sophie said...

thank you for sharing your words. I completely agree with you. Recovery is a process and I feel that I am able to take a few steps each day in the right direction and every time I do that, I feel better.
It is about the little changes you make. When I look back how miserable I was a year ago, I can now say that my situation is 100% better and THAT is powerful too.

Anne-Sophie said...

Like you, I show my family articles or blog posts from time to time in order to make them understand my situation a bit more.
This blog is an amazing resource.

Angela E. Gambrel said...

I consider myself in recovery. Some days, I find feeding myself a perfectly normal activity and I just do it. Other days, I struggle. I wonder if there ever will be a time I can say, "I am recovered." I partly think this because I am still so spartan about food, unless I go out to friends or family dinners or out to eat, and then I am forced to eat outside my safe zone. I am at a healthy weight, but I am still incredibly picky and wonder if I will maintain residuals of that the rest of my life. I don't really know the answer. Of course, Dr. S. says I will be fully recovered. But I can hear the voice inside my head...

I'm glad you made the point about starting slower. I remember feeling so overwhelmed when handed those sheets each time I left the 9th floor. I would just stare at them and wonder, "What now?" I was finally able to just simply ask how many calories should i eat and can I get some of them from Ensure since food is still so difficult. And then it was easier.

Anne-Sophie said...

I can relate to you. I still mostly eat "safe food" and rarely change my eating habits. However, I feel that I am starting to be OK if I eat something that is out of my comfort zone. Maybe it just takes a lot of practice?

PurpleDreamer said...

This is exactly what I needed to hear today. I am struggling with these baby steps. The perfectionist in me is saying all or nothing, but the realist inside is well aware that it just doesn't happen like that! Logic doesn't seem to apply where ed is involved.

It's befuddling to me that I'm well educated, have a successful career, am strongly independent, yet, I can't kick ed. Yet. Like you said, it's hard being a 30-something learning skills that 8 year-olds have already mastered.

Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and it is great to see how you have grown. You have been an inspiration to me in my own recovery. I was wondering if you could write a piece about managing the holidays (especially the month long eating event marathon) while recovering from an eating disorder. Thanks!

hm said...

PurpleDreamer: Can so relate to your comment. Being highly educated but still struggling to know how to eat is a bit of a mindfuck, isn't it? Also a mindfuck: Being able to feed one's babies, ones children, completely adequately- but not being able to transfer those skills reflectively back onto oneself. WTF??? Knowing that I am feeding my children properly makes me feel belligerent towards my treatment team when they tell me I am not feeding myself properly, b/c it seems so illogical that I'd be able to do the one and not the other. I want to argue that they simply MUST BE WRONG. Eds are so confusing.

Mary B said...

This post was brilliant and highlighted some of the things I needed to hear as I transition from treatment back into the real world! Thanks for the perspective and the reminder that mistakes happen and patience is vital to recovery. It's always inspiring to hear reflections like this:)

C-Girl said...

I absolutely love calculus, but I certainly could not have done it as a five year old… that metaphor really resonated with me. Thank you for your insightful words… I can certainly attest that it is a "one step at a time" journey of learning. When I first began recovery, I was much like you… I thought it was like taking a magic pill and carrying out the sheet of paper with the "meal plan" on it and then everything would be great. WRONG. It's hard, it a battle, it is an everyday climb. I rejoice in hearing that you are at the top, congratulations…. Continue looking up to the top and writing with such a genuine heart. Thank you.

KrisB said...

Carrie, I am the mom of a long-term suffering young adult who is working on recovery. I read this post a couple of times, nodding my head, laughing and being amazed. Amazed because it's so darned obvious that recovery is comprised of thousands of baby-steps that take time to fully learn and internalize, but I've never really heard it articulated so well before.

If you think about it, everything we do, even the most "simple" thing is comprised of many steps, which usually have to be performed in a certain order - even as mundane a thing as putting on socks properly. Most of us learn and can do this naturally and fairly easily. Others have great difficulty with such a task, i.e., my teenaged nephew who has severe autism. When you try to teach it to him, you discover that there can be as many as 50 steps to this task that others take for granted.

I love this post of yours. May your mastery continue!

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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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