In it for the Long Haul
By Maia Polson
Eating disorders are known for crafting exceptionalist thinking. Everyone else can follow those standards, but I’m different. Or, Everyone else deserves love and affection, just not me. My eating disorder was, well, no exception. But in recovery, I feel that I have confronted and successfully challenged a good portion of that exceptionalism that my illness thrived on. Even when I take strides in recovery that seem to be faster than expected, I always remember that rule of thumb: “Recovery takes an average of 7-10 years.”
Of course, everyone’s path is unique, and I have come to believe that recovery is not a phase of life bounded by requirements and a timeline. I take that 7-10 years to mean nothing more than this: recovery takes a long time! I’ve been surprised in the past year at how quickly my own eating disorder has been fading from my life. So quickly, in fact, that I’ve become susceptible to some of that exceptionalist thinking. Maybe I’m different. I’m just on the fast track; one year and I’m cured.
This past week’s round of body image has snapped me back into recovery-minded reality. I experienced a new shift in how I felt and looked, and eating disorder thoughts and preoccupations swooped back in, the familiar thought patterns that had been habitual for so many years. I learned this week that, although I am certainly living recovery, the old thoughts and behaviors will take a long time to become distant memories. So I guess I’m not the exception to the rule, my recovery didn’t happen in a year, and the eating disorder professionals of the world know what they’re talking about (most of the time).
7-10 years doesn’t just refer to the time it takes to stop engaging in symptoms and change the way I think about my body, myself as a unique individual, and the way I relate to the world around me. I think it refers to the time it takes for the eating disorder to become less familiar. No, I don’t have any intention of engaging in my disordered thoughts when they arise, but they’re still recent, and it will take a while (perhaps 7-10 years or so) until it becomes difficult for me to remember how to get back to that negative place of self-hatred I used to live in all the time. Until then, I’m glad I’ve got my team and my support network to remind me that I much prefer living in my newfound recovery mindset and a life of joy-filled experience.