From Recovering to Recovered: Navigating the Later Stages of Recovery
Updated: Aug 15, 2020
The later stages of recovery from an eating disorder have unique challenges that we must work through to land in that fully recovered space.
The road to recovery is a long one. Often, what I see professionally and what I have experienced personally is a desire to pause halfway. Sometimes a pause is a necessary place to rest, to gather steam for the remainder of the journey, and other times that pause can turn into “well, I’m recovered enough.” The “I’m recovered enough” stance can take further root when we aren’t aware of what that last part of the road looks like. Unfortunately, it isn’t just those in recovery who are left wondering what does this place of being recovered look like but also the eating disorder professional community. There is a lack of consensus in the eating disorder field of what constitutes recovered. However, thankfully there is a strong move to have it include more than just a lack of eating disorder behaviors.
Early recovery is more clear cut, working on stopping behaviors, developing coping skills, learning to tolerate a body you are uncomfortable in, and learning about what purposes these behaviors have served.It is relatively simple but by no means easy.
The work of later stage recovery is messier with many different potential paths to go down.The pace of it starts to slow. Where previously you may have noticed significant changes with your progress in a week’s time, now it may feel like it is taking several weeks or months to see a shift.
When we look at the focus on later stages of recovery it involves exploring and emphasizing:
Interpersonal Factors- It is hard to let go of an eating disorder when there is a lack of social connection or problems that continue to interfere in being able to develop relationships with vulnerability and depth. Examining the status of your current relationships, patterns that tend to get in the way, and blocks with vulnerability can all be helpful.
Personality and Temperament Factors: When we look at individuals with eating disorders, different clusters of temperaments and personalities can be found. Within each of these it is important to learn how these aspects can be assets to us and where they can open the door for future problems. Part of healing is learning how we can harness the power of these factors and make them work for us rather than against us.
Emotion Regulation: The eating disorder served as a way to manage and control different emotions. In working on letting go of all aspects of the eating disorder, we have to continue to develop healthy ways of learning to regulate the emotions that are part of our human experience.
Hope: Being able to cultivate a stance of hope is of critical importance in the recovery process. It contributes to greater resilience and provides a sense a reasoning for why you are taking these challenging steps.
Identity: This is a big one when it comes to later recovery. Often the eating disorder has become a part of who we identify as. I have had so many clients say “but everyone knows me as the healthy eater who would never eat (fill in the blank).” It is an identity that not only we have begun to hold but that others may know us by as well. Developing an identity outside of the eating disorder is challenging and takes time. It requires us to reconnect with ourselves and truly examine what we value.
Social Comparison: We all know the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy.” When we engage in social comparisons it can decrease our connections to others. After all, it is hard to truly listen and be present with someone when you are comparing what they are eating or not eating, how much they are or aren’t working out, and how their body size compares to you. While it is impossible to fully get rid of comparisons, working towards ending the comparisons in the realm that relates to eating disorders is key.
Another way to support your work in later recovery that really draws on the concept of hope touched on above is to talk to someone who is currently living in a recovered space. Doing this can help you gain more clarity around what “recovered” looks like. Making “recovered” more tangible and known helps you continue stepping forward when you feel like stopping. Don’t settle for the “this is something I’ll be living with for the rest of my life” mindset. Being fully recovered is possible, it is a place I am living in and one I hope to work with my clients in being able to experience as well.
How do you define recovered? I would love to hear your comments on this and also encouraged you to journal and share this with your treatment team for further exploration.
Elevate Community was created with these issues of later stage recovery in mind. Please be sure to check it out here.