This is one of the most important lessons I was ever taught as an eating disorder therapist: getting better is scary and confusing
. If you have an eating disorder, or you love and support someone who does, then you know what I’m talking about. One minute you desperately want help and treatment, and the next minute the idea of recovery sounds overwhelming. This back-and-forth in your head makes things so challenging! The good news is that there are effective ways to deal with that internal battle. I’ve listed my top four suggestions below.
#1 – Know that it’s ok to be unsure about recovery
Why is it normal to be ambivalent about recovering from an illness? Well, it’s because not every part of an eating disorder feels
like a painful symptom of an illness. There are oftentimes a lot of good things that come from using eating disordered behaviors. Here are a few common examples that are often talked about in therapy:
- Feeling a soothing of emotional pain.
- Feeling proud of yourself for doing something “right”.
- Feeling as though you have a future you can rely on.
- Feeling in control of your life.
When you are encouraged to change for your recovery, it can feel like you are being asked to also give up all these benefits. That alone can make figuring out what you want very complicated.
#2 – Ask yourself why recovered people don’t go back to their eating disorders
One of the best parts about getting treatment at Monte Nido is the opportunity to talk to recovered staff members. One of my favorite questions asked of my recovered colleagues is “Are you ever tempted to go back to your eating disorder?”. The most common answer I’ve heard: “No, I’m not tempted. I know it’s not worth it because I know how to solve the problems in my life without it.”. That is a very profound statement! That means there are other ways to meet your real
needs without an eating disorder. If you learn what those ways are, you may also never want to go back.
#3 – Realize that you are in control of the pace of treatment
Getting better can be an emotionally draining experience. One voice in your head, the healthy voice, encourages you to change. The other voice in your head, the VERY loud eating disorder voice, warns you about all the bad things that could happen if you try to get better. Over time this battle can wear you down.
However, there is a bright side: you get to control which side you listen to. If you have to make a decision about what to eat, and you believe your healthy voice, then you can make the healthy choice. But if the time comes to face a challenge, and you are either unsure or not yet ready to change, then that is OK! You don’t have to face that challenge yet. The pace of the process is ultimately set by you. You are in control.
#4 – Asking for help doesn’t mean you have to change everything
When it comes to motivation, it is easy to get stuck in “all or nothing” thinking traps. You can hold yourself back from making even small and useful changes by believing extreme thoughts, such as this: “If I’m not 100% ready to totally recover, then I shouldn’t even try.” This is so far from the truth!
The reality is that many people who get better do so in tiny steps because changing all at once is too overwhelming. People who get better tend to begin treatment by working on what they are willing to change while being honest about what they want to hold off on. Many actually started their journeys with this more realistic belief: “I don’t want to get better, but I don’t want to be so sick and miserable either, so I’ll just change a few things.”
This can actually be a really healthy place to start building lasting motivation. By setting an intention to get help, you can begin to gradually see the benefits of recovery for yourself. Over time, this can encourage you to continue making more and more changes.
Tying it all together
While getting better can be scary, one of the hardest steps to take is your first: reaching out and asking for help. I hope this helped you see that there are many good reasons why asking for help can be so hard, but if you learn some new ways of thinking, recovery can feel more achievable. You can do it!
Joseph Sciarretta, LCSW is a therapist who focuses on helping people who are living with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, OCD, and trauma. He owns and operates Earnest Therapy, LLC - a private practice in Westfield, NJ. You can reach him by visiting his website: www.earnesttherapy.com.