"Forwards Ever, backwards never". That was the motto that existed in one of the African schools I taught in. It's a great mentality to have. Always look forward, and don't dwell on the past, because the past is in the past and there is nothing you can do to change it.
But you can alter the path your future takes.
In just a few weeks, I will be finishing my treatment for my eating disorder, I hope for the last time.
My mind is full of apprehension. My latest period of treatment has been intense, stressful and very costly. At the same time, I have learned an enormous amount about myself and how to overcome the barriers that I've faced before.
What is recovery like?
I've been asked by a number of people what is recovery like? What options are out there?
Recovery can be a very confusing place. One minute you accept you want to recover, and the next day something happens which makes you will your eating disorder to take the control back again.
Recovery is not a straightforward process. There are plenty of treatment options available (unfortunately at a price, but hopefully this will change...but they do exist), and some treatments are more appropriate for different types of eating disorders, others suit a person better. I did not suit art therapy, whereas the expression can be very cathartic for other sufferers.
I have had weekly one to one therapy; the approach has been more DBT, but my therapist has introduced other approaches additionally. I have also met regularly with a dietician to look at the psychological issues surrounding my issues with food, as well as challenging some of my educational thoughts.
Of course, these options have been treating a long term eating disorder as an outpatient. If I was an inpatient, I might have spent some time on bed rest, and focussing on the nutritional elements before I was able to consider any form of therapy. Depending on my progress, I might be allowed to engage in group therapies tackling body image, assertiveness, self esteem, and also nutritional education groups. Progress as an inpatient also helps you to build skills that will benefit you when you are discharged back into the community, such as building social networks, tackling the roots of the problem through therapy and family therapy, and learning life skills such as cooking and shopping. None of this you can engage with until your weight is healthy.
The last point I found very frustrating when I was an inpatient. I thought that therapy would help me eat, and therefore if I had therapy, the eating might become easier. I understand a lot better now, because your mind will constantly be in the eating disorder mindset. Until you give up the compensatory behaviours, you cannot address the roots.
This is also true in recovery. There are significant challenges when you are trying to normalise your eating, or increase your meal plan, and suddenly you have a binge episode. I have found this and it has caused anxiety and is a demotivator. Especially when often the binge episodes had been less regular when I was eating less. As your appetite returns, BUT, you are still below what physiologically what should be a healthy BMI for your ethnicity, and body type, your body will try and regain that weight and thus goes for the highest energy foods possible.
It has taken a while for me to accept this, but in order to recovery, I have to be in my target weight band and not below, otherwise weight maintenance (minus the bingeing) isn't possible.
This kind of factor can be a backward step, and the kind that puts you off recovery. Surely you're better off with your eating disorder in the driving seat?
What have I learned?
Recovery from an eating disorder is fraught with peaks and troughs. No-one can be perfect every day. Ever tried to go on a diet? Some days you'll stick to it, but then someone offers you something delicious, and so the diet will end up starting again tomorrow...or the day after...and so on. Recovery is just like that, life throws you off guard and your safety net is easier to return to and it's much easier to put off getting back on track till tomorrow...or the day after. The time to start is straight after a slip up.
I've learned that when negative events happen, I need to keep positive and react in an open minded way. I need to be assertive if someone has upset me, and to problem solve situations that might be escalating out of control. There are always solutions to problems. I have also learned that by working through the puzzle piece by piece, I can overcome it. Sometimes the solution is to ignore, and to do something nice for myself, because let's face it not everyone else is in control of their emotions either and so sometimes people do say or do upsetting things out of turn even if we know how to deal with our own.
My treatment is finishing in a couple of weeks and I'd be lying if I didn't say I was scared.
There will inevitably be bumps, cases of two steps forward, and one step back, and there will be times when my meal plan looks overly ambitious and I want to run back to my treatment team wondering why I ever finished.
However, I'm looking forward to this as a chance to close this particular book in my life and open the first page in the new one, ready to seize the new opportunities life brings.