The Dark And Ugly Side Of Recovery


Ahh, recovery. Everyone's favourite R word. Let's talk about it, more specifically, the ugly side of it, the dark side nobody sees. Recovery from anything is such a personal thing and it's often a very brutal process so it's no surprise people don't want to share their relapses and worst moments with the world. Everyone's recovery journey looks different, even if they're fighting the exact same battle. Our brains work differently, our triggers are different, our bodies are different, our lifestyles and home situations are all different, so we all fight the war of recovery with different tools.
There’s a completely romanticised and glamorised picture of recovery painted to us, a picture that makes recovery seem so much more positive and beautiful than it often truly is. Despite what the movies have told us, recovery can't just be achieved by bursting into song and despite what the motivational speakers tell us, recovery isn't just about reading a self-help book or going on a really long walk to clear your head. It's an entirely different thing. It's an indescribably complex process, one of many ups and downs. It's the worst kind of rollercoaster, the kind your friends drag you on at a theme park despite it's big loops and steep inclines. Healing isn't linear but is a mixed bag. It has it's positive moments and its really pessimistic moments. It includes sleepless nights but also nights where you sleep all the way through out of pure exhaustion. Recovery is pretty much impossible to define in a sentence. 

More often than not, recovery isn't how the books portray it to be. It isn't the smooth ride or admirable, spiritual journey we perhaps wish it could be. It’s often ugly. Really ugly. It’s bleak, miserable, void of hope and feelings of optimism. Most of the time, recovery feels more like hell. A hell that has you spinning in a constant cycle, reliving past failures and moments you’d rather forget, struggling to shake feelings of worthlessness from your brain as you struggle even harder to see how you could ever overcome what you’ve been through. It’s crying, feeling empty, wondering why you’re so bad at this whole recovery thing, relapsing, mistakes, uncomfortable conversations and crying some more. 

After spending years battling with dieting and starvation and horrible body image issues, recovery is an everyday thing for me. It's a battle I have to start fighting all over again the moment I wake up, the first decision often being to actually get out of bed and face the world. Every day, I encounter new obstacles and challenges in various forms, whether that's to do with food, comments from family members, things I see online or in the media or having to retrain my brain to think differently when I look in a mirror. 
Mundane things are mountains for me. Getting dressed is a mammoth task because it isn't just a case of picking an outfit, putting it on and leaving the house. Getting dressed is a lengthy process of trying on a million things before settling with one I'm still not happy with, staring at my reflection for so long until I no longer look like myself, pinching my skin, breathing in as I pose at every possible angle, trying to find clothing that is practical but also comfortable and will also make me feel okay in my body. Getting dressed is a marathon that I've come to complete so much faster over time, however, I would be lying if I said I now find it easy. Since embarking on the road to recovery, the old feelings don't just go away, they are still very much there in my head, and they sometimes come out to play in the same ways they did previously.
In many ways, recovery has made the everyday things now so much more difficult than they were whilst I was actually at my lowest point. Take eating, for example. Eating is something I just simply used to not do. I made that executive decision and I threw the food away or declined it. Now, on the other hand, I am actively forcing myself to do something I spent years thinking would kill me and that comes with so many bumps and slip ups. Eating is especially hard now because I am so aware of my recovery. I'm so aware that this is something I want to do and I have to do, so I'm essentially attempting to rewire my brain and how it thinks about food with each bite I take. Once you commit to recovery, nothing is ever the same again. Whether it's shopping for clothes, going out for a meal with friends, exercising or having your photo taken, I have to completely relearn how to do these things and change my attitude towards them, as if I've been born again and have a second chance. And that takes a lot of time and a lot of mistakes being made. Recovery from any form of disordered eating or dieting is so painful, even more painful when you are so determined to not be stuck in that dreadful place. When you want to dig yourself out of that hole but still have demonic forces whispering in your ear with everything you do, it's just such a horrific process. So many breakdowns, moments of lying in bed wondering if it's actually possible for things to get better, so many attempts of trying to explain how you feel to a loved one but failing miserably and so many moments of just wanting to flick a switch, whether that's to speed the recovery process up or end it and give up completely. 

During the never-ending nightmare that is recovery, a lot of unwelcome emotions and behaviours resurface along with harmful feelings of attraction towards these behaviours, despite knowing they aren’t healthy. I still have feelings of deep self-hatred, absolutely despising everything about myself, looking in the mirror and failing to see a single thing I like, looking at a plate of food and wanting to be sick, just existing in my body every day and wanting the ground to swallow me up so no one has to look at me. For me, these feelings could never truly disappear, I know this because I lived with and befriended them for so long. I found comfort in them and trusted them for many years and they are mentalities that will just exist in my brain in their own cosy spot, probably forever. Recovery for me isn't necessarily about annihilating these thoughts and behaviours, as much as I would want to do that. For now at least, it's merely about learning to live with them and exist with them in a healthy way, it's about learning to control them rather than letting them control me and shout them down when they pipe up with their nonsense. That's what recovery is for me, it's very much about just getting by and learning to accept that that is enough. It doesn't always have to be about winning, sometimes, it's just about survival.

Recovery requires you to visit the absolute darkest places in your mind and explore them. It requires you to revisit the person you once were and spend time with them until you can understand them. Once you get off the starting line and decide to recover, you have to really dig deep to understand properly why you are recovering and what exactly you are recovering from. You have to understand why you've lived like you have for so long, get to know what triggers you, how you deal with uncomfortable situations, what are your best coping mechanisms, what are things to avoid... to solve any problem, you have to get to the absolute root of it so you can tackle that and prevent these toxic behaviours from manifesting in the same way again. If you're going to chop down a tree, cutting at the middle of the trunk is fine, however, the stump will always be there. If you want to get rid of the whole thing, you've got to get right to the roots so it can't grow again. This is the scariest part of recovery because it can put you in some really horrid situations. Tackling the problem head on is so much easier said than done but they are barriers you just have to learn to push through.

Although, some days, you won't be able to break through the barriers. Some days, the barriers are just too strong, and that's okay. It's taken me such a long time to come to terms with the fact that I won't always be on top form, I won't always want to fight, I won't always be in warrior mode, but there's nothing wrong with that. Some days, using all your mighty force to smash the barrier won't be possible, so, some days, you'll just have to climb over it, or if you're feeling extra tired, just crawl under it, OR, just sit behind it until the next day when you're feeling more rested and braver. The dark and ugly side of recovery can cause us to forget that breaks are perfectly acceptable. When we're sitting in the dark, sobbing at 3am because we don't feel good enough, we can really beat ourselves up with what stage we're at, however, pausing for breath is just as important as powering forwards. Rome wasn't built in a day and recovery can't be achieved overnight. It'll take time but you can create your own rhythm and learn when you need to stop. Recovery, for me, isn't just about changing how I feel about my body and telling my body that I now feel THIS way about it, recovery is also about listening to my body. I have put my body through SO much and I need to accept that my body won't always be on the same page as me. I need to listen when my body says, "Hey, we're going a little fast here, can we slow down for a second?" and give myself time to recuperate.

Recovery involves a lot of pain, effort and feelings of despondency. It's bloody hard work. If it was a full time job, I'd expect the salary to be mega high. But hey, I guess all you can do is keep trying. Keep attempting to find a way out of the hole. Recovery isn’t easy, it wouldn’t be recovery if it was. But the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it, something I think it's important to constantly remind yourself of. If you try hard now, you'll really thank yourself for it in fifty years - and you WILL make it to fifty years, okay?
I know it’s rough and will probably feel like something you don’t deserve, but the first step on the road to recovery is recognising that it is something you deserve. You'll mess up and have relapses, that's a given, but those things don't make you any less worthy of recovery or any less capable of reaching the place you want to be. Those things are normal and every knock-back you take will only give you extra strength to fight the next one.

Beginning your recovery process means you have to acknowledge you don’t want to feel THIS way any longer and as soon as you do that, recovery almost seems tempting. Take the bait. It could take you amazing places. Recovery sucks. It’s absolutely dreadful. But the alternative is far worse. As scary as recovery seems, staying in the same place that you're currently in is way more scary. Choosing recovery means choosing to live, not just to exist, and YOU deserve to LIVE.

Love, Emily

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