Recovery: A Process, Not A Destination

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Feminine stereotypes? Forget it. I cut my hair short three years ago and I’ve never looked back. I get more angry at the team playing against my college football boys than most of my male friends. And, as I’ve written about before, I hate shopping.

A lot.

That’s not strictly true, of course: I enjoy shopping for shoes and tee-shirts. Things you don’t need to try on. Things that always look good and come in a variety of colors and patterns. That’s fun.

But every time I decide I need a new pair of pants, everything gets unnecessarily complicated. And I remember that recovery is a process, not a destination.

Obviously, there was a small event that sparked the need to write a post about this, and that small event happens to be back-to-school shopping. I’ll be starting my last year of college in about two weeks, and it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of one of the last times my parents will be willing to take me to the mall and get me a few new things to wear. After all, my Ramen-noodles-and-Goodwill budget days are just on the horizon.

As far as I’ve come in recovery, there are still some things that are incredibly difficult for me. Going up a size or two in clothes is one of those.

Now, I can rationalize my way through my discomfort until the cows come home. I can say that sizes across stores are not consistent, that size isn’t important and it’s how much healthier I am now that matters. I can remember how much I liked that pair of jeans I tried on twenty minutes ago, and how comfortable I was in them. And yet, when I hit that moment that the jeans in the size I thought I was no longer go over my thighs, I still get that sinking feeling in my stomach.

Why is this my particular issue? I don’t know, but every time I have to go to the mall, I notice that my thoughts become more negative, and my behaviors inch closer and closer to what could be considered a relapse. I want to be able to fit into the clothes I used to wear, though I know that there’s nothing wrong with my body the way it is now.

There are plenty of things to be learned from this pattern, but I’m going to focus on two of them here that might be useful to people other than myself. Meaning I’ll let slide the fact that I should probably stop shopping at Forever 21 for the sake of my sanity.

First, the fashion industry is not designed to bolster positive self-esteem.

This is as depressing as it is readily apparent. The media has recently bedeviled stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and, more recently, LuluLemon, that deliberately exclude what they call “plus-size” women and what logic and rational thinking call “the average-sized American woman.” Runway models are being recruited at eating disorder clinics. Fashion magazine editors are airbrushing out hipbones and ribcages on their models, leaving us with impossibly thin women with the consequences of extreme thinness erased with Photoshop. Sizes across stores are not consistent, and so it’s almost a given that you will go up three sizes just by crossing to the other side of the mall.

All this is to say that it’s not surprising that shopping might make somebody feel bad about themselves.

It doesn’t justify the practice, nor does it mean that looking for jeans is invariably a death sentence to your self-esteem. For me, it sometimes helps to realize that the problems I’m having are not because I’m crazy, but because there’s something endemic, something inherently twisted about the system. I’m not giving myself a free pass to mope, but I don’t need to blame myself for it.

Second, and I’ve said this before, recovery is a process, not an end point.

Sorry for the cheesy Tumblr inspirational pictures. Sometimes they're what you're in the mood for.

Sorry for the cheesy Tumblr inspirational pictures. Sometimes they’re what you’re in the mood for.

It’s more frustrating than usual that shopping can still get under my skin like this, because I really thought that I was doing well in recovery. I am able to go several days without worrying about my weight or beating myself up, and while my weight is still not quite as stable as I might like, it’s certainly better than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect.

It’s been a year since I actively began recovering from anorexia. I’ve marked September 1st on my calendar as my one-year anniversary, and I intend on celebrating in some random and exciting way. I’ve made a lot of progress. And while I do believe that full and total recovery from any eating disorder is 110% possible, it’s not the kind of thing that can be done by snapping your fingers and wishing it away.

Recovery takes work. It takes slip-ups. It takes realizing what pushes you over the edge and figuring out ways to face it head-on.

My head-space is still healing from yesterday, but I know that I need to find a way to look at shopping in a new light. I need to find a way to sit with the discomfort I have with my new body, and hopefully in time embrace the way I look and feel.

I still feel like I’m living through a real-life version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers at the moment. My mind has been moved into a body that I don’t know how to manipulate. It’s like puberty all over again, and heaven knows puberty was awkward enough the first time around.

Recovery isn’t hopeless, and mental doubt and difficulty is not a prison sentence.

It just means that the road is always more winding and complicated than we want it to be.

But every road has to end somewhere.

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7 comments

  1. Allison, I just love you so much. Your honesty, your willingness to process and hold the discomfort, to sift through the layers of yourself and your thoughts, just take my breath away. You are so squarely in the center of your journey and that’s a perfect place to be, sweetie. You are monitoring your feelings, your thoughts, your reactions; you are present. Never has a bigger statement or example of health and well-being been made. I honor your truth, your words, your process and I love your reply above to Terri. Rock on with your positive message, sista. XOXO

  2. 110% recovery from eating disorders: I really don’t know if that’s possible. Recovery as in no relapses, yes. But I think it’s unlikely that most people who have had anorexia will ever be comfortable being fat or overweight. In fact I don’t think many people are comfortable with it full stop. Sme are just in denial or they sort of ignore their physical body ( until their health catches up with them). Good on A and F and Lululemon. Just because being overweight is common doesn’t make it good or healthy. Self acceptance does not make poor eating habits good any more than high self esteem amongst smokers does.
    The answers to non eating disordered but healthy eating behaviours are pretty obvious and readily available. The best reference is “Salt, Sugar, Fat- how the food giants hooked us” by Michael Moss. But in summary just don’t eat processed foods. It doesn’t matter whether its the Mediterranean lifestyle, Paleo, Vegan, Viking or Forks over Knives…the single common denominator is avoiding processed foods especially sugar and processed carbs which have been designed to make people eat beyond satiety. This simple principle already adopted by many people who can control their weight in a healthy manner would save the USA millions and millions if it was the norm for everyone. And then there would be no need for plus sizes…. I have travelled extensively to regions such as Nepal and rural China and Africa and I can assure you that there was no need for plus sizes there ( although in the westernised parts of those places especially Africa then yes obesity is becoming a problem)
    Sorry for the long reply but I really don’t think acceptance of an unhealthy BMI in the general population as a norm is a good thing at all.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Terri. As will probably not surprise you, I disagree with you on a few points here, but to begin with I agree that having a healthy lifestyle is great, and I’d love for everyone to feel happy and healthy in their bodies. The thing is, though, being plus-sized does not automatically mean that one is eating poorly, not exercising, or is in any other way unhealthy. Bodies come naturally in all different shapes and sizes, and you can take great care of yourself, not go within fifty feet of processed foods on a regular basis, and still wear a size that A&F considers too large for their self-proclaimed “cool kid” demographic. Health and weight, while they may intersect, are not synonymous, and you cannot tell how healthy someone is based on their dress size. You can be a size two and eat fast food twelve times a week, or you can be plus-sized and exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. Here are a few studies you might want to look at: this, this, and this.
      As I say, bodies naturally come in varied sizes and shapes, which makes it very difficult for me to believe that there are no people of size in Nepal and rural China, or the entire continent of Africa. I will admit, though, that I’ve never been there, so it’s possible you know better than I.
      Finally, the secret to non-eating-disordered-and-healthy-behaviors is more complicated than finding a book on nutrition in my opinion, because there is so much psychological investment in food choices and body image when someone is working through an eating disorder. Eliminating processed foods is good for your health, but if taken to extremes (which is often the nature of an ED), it can lead to obsession and overcompensation, which is even less healthy than having the occasional bologna sandwich. Moderation and self-care is key.

    2. Terri, I agree about avoiding processed foods and sugar but not to create thin people. Thin is not healthy, necessarily. Health is not a size, my friend and generalizations about other people never seem to work.

      I am a recovering anorexic who is now fat and completely at peace with it. In addition, I am healthy. PERFECTLY healthy at 5’5″ and 245 pounds. I also rarely eat processed foods or sugar. I eat extremely healthy, green foods, drink a gallon of water each and every day, and exercise 5-7 times per week. Yet, I’m still fat. So, I’m living proof that you can be fat and happy with it. You can be fat and healthy. You can be a recovering anorexic and find inner and outer peace.

      Fatness is not simply a matter of diet and exercise; it’s the total picture of family history/physiology/hormones/activity/attitude, etc. In other words, one’s size is not always tied to lifestyle. We need plus-size people here. We need thin people here. We need healthy people here. We need sick people here. We need people who are willing to be here and becoming greater beings and expanding their consciousness. That does not come in a size, dear-heart. The being is endless. The soul is endless. The body is just a reflection of the inner terrain. Some people need to be big. I am one of them. I am damn happy about it, too. Come over and see what I’m talking about at BigBodyBeautiful. Kind regards. BigLizzy

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