When it comes to recovery, I’m a jack of all trades. As they say in She Recovers: “We are all recovering from something.” As for me, I’m recovering from an eating disorder, alcohol abuse, and codependency. Some of these are year-old afflictions that have since softened. Others are more present in my day-to-day.
This year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week has given me the opportunity to reflect on my recovery journey and all it’s done for me. To me, being “in recovery” doesn’t feel like a scarlet letter. My addictions aren’t skeletons in my closet. If anything, they’re friendly ghosts who remind me of their presence by occasionally knocking a spoon off my countertop, so to speak.
In my therapist’s office, I like to describe my addictions as masks. The inner pain I feel — the anxious void, the subtle undertone of unworthiness — is always the same antagonist. What changes is the antagonist’s mask: the Addiction Of The Day. I used to believe I danced with many nameless strangers. It was exhausting, my preoccupation with distilling, unpacking, and “recovering” from a myriad of compulsions. Now, I’m soothed by the idea that no matter the mask, the part of me that wants attention is always the same.
In fact, the longer I’ve been in recovery, the more I’ve grown to enjoy it. If you find yourself in the grey area of addictive behavior - be it an eating order, alcohol abuse, people-pleasing, or any number of things - here are five ways that being in recovery - and owning my recovery - has changed my life for the better.
#1. Being in recovery gives me permission to put myself first and set firm boundaries.
“I’m in recovery” is a simple phrase that paints a vivid picture. In three words, it simultaneously implies a bleak darkness somewhere in my past and a brighter intention for my future. No matter how long it’s been since I last had a drink, or purged, or lost myself in a partner, I am still healing, and I make my decisions from this mindset. Being in recovery gives me permission to spend extra time and money caring for myself when I’m feeling low. It also gives me permission to turn down invitations to occasions where the compulsion to indulge could be too tempting — even if others are disappointed by my decision.
#2. Being in recovery means I take my addictions seriously and prioritize my healing above all else.
I spent years wondering whether my behaviors were “bad enough” to warrant special attention or care. After all, I was never hospitalized for my eating disorder, I never got into a drunk driving accident, and I’ve never been with an abusive partner. For many years I tiptoed around words like “alcoholism,” “bulimia,” “codependency,” and “recovery,” concerned that I wasn’t entitled to such striking claims. Eventually, I realized that addiction is a gradient, and recovery is a journey for any person hoping to part with addictive behaviors. (Articles like this one were enormously helpful in this realization.) It’s relieving to be staunchly “in recovery” and give my masks the attention they deserve. It’s quite liberating to name my addictions for what they are — addictions — and no longer reproach myself for being unable to find the sacred ground of moderation.
#3. Being in recovery reminds me that I am susceptible to compulsive behaviors even when they haven’t visited me in months or years.
I’m typing this blog as the rare Seattle sun shines over the Cascades. Today I signed a lease for my first one-bedroom apartment, had a heart-to-heart with a girlfriend over coffee, and treated my body to a restorative run around the arboretum. But beneath all of this goodness lies the simple truth that this week has been a hard week: I’m feeling lonesome in this new city and I’m processing some heartache.
Being in recovery encourages me to be diligent on days like this, which are ripe with the possibility of addictive indulgence. I know the states of mind that result in an uncorked bottle of wine. Being in recovery encourages me to take preventative measures like reaching out for support from other recovering folks, going to a meeting, or getting some exercise. Instead of judging myself for being tempted, I remember that I am in recovery — an ongoing, non-linear journey — and take the appropriate measures to keep myself safe without self-judgment or shame. Days like this are simply par for the course.
#4. As someone in recovery, I am part of a community of folks who all have a similar, mask-wearing antagonist that wants relief from pain.
Two weeks ago, a recovering friend and I bunkered down with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and the intention to watch The Incredibles 2: a night destined for greatness. I unwrapped the ice cream and scrounged through his silverware drawer. “I love tiny utensils,” I mused, comparing the sizes of two spoons. “Me too!” he exclaimed. He went on: “Actually, when I was younger I used to eat everything with cocktail forks.” I laughed, surprised; I had done the same thing in high school. We turned to face each other and realized, at the same moment, that our tiny-utensil obsession was likely a rest of our eating disorders. We burst out laughing, doubling over at the profound absurdity, sadness, and humor of it all. I laughed because it was funny, but more so, I laughed with gratitude and compassion. As someone who’d been there himself, he really got it.
Those of us in recovery share a common understanding. We have been there for the craving, the yearning, and the emptiness. We’ve been there for the rationalizations and the coping mechanisms And, most importantly, we’ve been there for the potent victories of recovery. Each person’s recovery journey is unique, but they’re all woven with a similar thread. Our shared experiences create the opportunity for profoundly powerful connections and deep understanding. We look out for each other. We get it.
#5. Being in recovery gives me permission to loosen my grip and surrender.
As full-time coach and self-improvement glutton, it’s probably unsurprising that I’ve spent an enormous — dare I say disproportionate? — amount of time attempting to understand my masks and the antagonist beneath them. Though my psychoanalytical deep-dives have yielded many rewards, the work of self-understanding is exhausting. It is, without a doubt, Work.
That’s why, even as a secular person, I have found so much relief in the concept of surrender depicted in the Twelve Steps. Simply put, the first two Steps encourage us to 1) admit that addiction has made our lives unmanageable, and 2) acknowledge that we can be “restored to sanity” by putting our faith in a higher power.
As a historically perfectionistic, occasionally over-controlling person, I find such solace in these steps. They’re a breath of fresh air! They remind me that I don’t, in fact, need to overcome my addictions on my own. Instead of assigning myself the unrealistic responsibility of designing a perfect, addiction-free life, I can acquiesce to the power of these addictions by prioritizing my recovery and seeking support.
As a result, I’ve gotten much better at asking for help. I’ve added structure, routine, and community to my life to support my recovery. My social network has become richer, my days have become more diverse, and my heart has opened with trust.
Honestly, owning my recovery is a celebration.
It’s a celebration of choosing myself, choosing my wellness, and choosing to live the best version of my life. I firmly believe that we’re all recovering from something. By owning and celebrating that recovery, we open our hearts to community, resiliency, humility, and self-compassion.
What are you recovering from? Share your story in the comments below or message me directly!
[P.S.: Are you a recovering people-pleaser or recovering from codependency? Join the Put Your Truth Into Action Facebook Group to connect with other women who are journeying toward freedom, self-respect, and confidence by speaking their truth and setting boundaries in their relationships.]