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Recently, I was speaking to a friend about the different expressions of eating disorder recovery I have experienced over the last few years. She is in the early stages of her own recovery journey and was asking me how I balance progress with continuing to invest in other aspects of my life.
Ultimately, she wanted to know how I continue to recover without constantly thinking about recovery.
There is a shift, at different points for different people, when recovery becomes less about repairing and more about rebuilding.
It is important to realise we cannot reach solid recovery if we simply replace our eating disorder with our recovery.
We need more; we were made for more!
To me, repairing means focusing on creating healthier patterns of behaviour and working on underlying emotions and beliefs.
Rebuilding, on the other hand, looks like finding out who you are without your eating disorder. It means investing in things that genuinely make you feel alive.
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Balance is not about trading in one for the other; both are not only helpful but also necessary.
Without strengthening the parts of our lives we are repairing as healing increases, we backslide. Without building a fulfilling outside life, we lose all motivation and miss out on living in real fullness.
The most important thing is there are elements of both in your every day. Too little or too much of either and your recovery and your life will both suffer.
I am quite a visual person, so I picture it like a pie chart. In different seasons the distribution shifts one way or another. Usually, as we move towards stronger and fuller recovery, the part representing ‘the rest of your life’ increasingly dominates the chart.
When actively engaging with my anorexia, all of my time and energy was totally consumed by my eating disorder.
As a consequence, every other aspect of my life suffered. When I chose to pursue recovery, it was difficult to know where to begin rebuilding.
I remember in the first few weeks barely having time to do anything in between planning, painstakingly eating, and dealing with the emotions around the three meals and three snacks on my meal plan. Any leftover minutes were spent agonising over decisions or using distraction techniques to avoid compensating.
Though somehow, in this period of time I managed to maintain attending lectures and placement for my medical degree, I had absolutely no time or energy left for rebuilding. I was at capacity simply holding the metaphorical plaster of behaviour change over the wound left by my anorexia.
For that phase, it was necessary and right for repair to take centre stage. However fast forward the months and years to now, and it would be both unhelpful and unhealthy if I continued to purely repair. My life would feel incredibly empty without having rebuilt and my overall recovery would surely suffer as a result.
Of course, the process of recovery is anything but linear.
There may be times in the future when the pendulum of balance needs to swing back towards repair, which is okay. Both are crucial aspects of healing and neither is superior.
If things seem to be wobbling, it can be really helpful to address this balance between repairing and rebuilding. For example, if I am too busy being spontaneous and zooming around seeing friends and going on trips, I can sometimes eat too many ‘snacky meals’. Then, I begin to find ‘proper meals’ create more anxiety than in the recent past.
In recognising this, I can rebalance by choosing to slow down a little and invest more in repairing. This can be done by thinking more about my meals and planning them in advance. I can give myself more time to journal through my thoughts and emotions after a meal, or bring it up in my next therapy session.
Wherever you may be in recovery, repair and rebuilding are both incredibly important aspects of your healing.
Today, I challenge you to look at your current balance. How much are you repairing your heart, and how much are you rebuilding your life? Is it working for you?
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