Two years of being a bulimia coach, helping others through recovery and four years of full recovery have taught me a lot about what it really takes to overcome bulimia.
Today I’m going to share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during this time.
I hope that my personal insight and understanding of recovery will help you to feel motivated and inspired as you continue on your journey.
Perhaps I can even help you to see certain aspects of recovery a little differently too?
Okay, the first lesson may be a bit of a shocker, but here we go…
This is a pretty controversial statement I know, but it’s something I discovered during my own recovery and something that has only been further reinforced after working on a one-to-one basis with others in recovery for the past two years.
Exactly how can a relapse be a good thing?
Well, my understanding and experience of relapses is that…
- opportunities we need in order to understand exactly how to move forwards in recovery. They have the ability to highlight specific areas of recovery we need to work on, to bring into awareness previously unacknowledged trigger patterns and to show us areas in our recovery where some further strategies need to be implemented.
- When you’re new to recovery relapsing is often your number 1 fear. Your worry that it means you’re not going to be strong enough to recover or you think it’s means that you’re weak, but this couldn’t be further from the truth!
Every time you pick yourself up following a relapse you’re demonstrating so much courage and building inner strength and resilience. As my favourite Japanese proverb says, “fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
- When you experience a relapse a little further into your recovery you can be quite shocked by how different the experience of bingeing and purging is in reality compared to your memories of it.
I remember relapsing once because I “needed” the escape and comfort it used to give me. Much to my disappointment, a couple of months in recovery had provided me with enough mental clarity to see that any previous emotional benefits I had associated with bulimia were simply an illusion.
An awareness of bulimia’s “true colours” can be incredibly motivating when it comes to sticking with recovery through the more challenging times.
- and this is a very important thing, because counting the number of bulimia-free days you’ve experienced since starting recovery is not always an accurate portrayal of your progress.
As a Recovery Coach I try hard to get people to look at the bigger picture, to explore how progress can be made even in the face of relapse and to distance themselves from all or nothing ways of thinking.
Although I personally did have the support of my husband during recovery, I’ve met and worked with lots of recovering (and now recovered) bulimics who just don’t have that kind of support.
Sometimes it’s because they have made a decision to keep their bulimia a secret, other times it’s because family members and loved ones have been unsupportive and lacked understanding of the role they can play in recovery.
If you’re in this position right now I want you to know that it’s okay if you don’t have support at home, you can still recover, as long as you’re willing to find that support somewhere else.
Whether that’s through peer support, professional support, local support meetings or something like our 1-to-1 Recovery Coaching Program, building up a support system is so essential to your recovery.
We all need to feel understood, we all need to have people to confide in, we all need that reassurance that the things we’re experiencing in recovery are normal. On the most basic of levels, we simply need to know that we're not in this alone.
We’re always hearing the line, “when it comes to the treatment of eating disorders, early intervention is key” and of course it makes sense that the earlier you can seek treatment the better.
But I think that a lot of the time claiming that early intervention is “key” deters long-term suffers from seeking help. They start to think it’s too late or that it will never be possible to recover from a lifetime of disordered eating.
But you know what?
That’s just not true!
Anyone can recover from bulimia, no matter how long they’ve suffered for.
I must have written that line a thousand times since I started to work for Bulimia Help, but I feel it’s so important to get the message across that it is NEVER too late to recover.
Maybe you remember the amazing interview with Pat Mary? I was lucky enough to coach Pat through her entire recovery and guess what? She managed to make a FULL RECOVERY after suffering from bulimia for 43 years!
About a month into recovery I remember becoming secretly obsessed with the idea of “the perfect recovery.” Despite what I’d heard about the ups and downs of recovery I decided I was going to be different, that I was going to be stronger and somehow avoid relapses, weight fluctuations and all the other typical “complications” that people tend to face on the road to recovery.
My time as a Recovery Coach has shown me that I’m not the only person who harbours this secret dream either, it‘s actually quite common. Unfortunately, by demanding so much perfection from ourselves leave no room for error, no space for compassion when things go wrong (and at one point or another they always do).
The truth is that recovery can be messy, it‘s painful, scary and seriously intimidating at times. By pretending that it’s not, or convincing ourselves that things can be different for us, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
In recovery you need to remember that you are only human, it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to not be perfect. The faster you can accept the true nature of recovery the faster you’ll find yourself adapting, changing and recovering!
Like many people, I used to convince myself that if I really wanted to recover I first had to learn how to love myself, how to be confident in my own skin and how to be fearless in the face of emotional distress.
I thought I needed to learn how to stop feeling vulnerable and sensitive all of the time and I presumed I’d have to find a way to boost my self-esteem and uncover the secret for letting go of my drive for perfection too.
With a list that long no wonder I kept avoiding recovery! It sounds impossible and you know what? It probably is!
The good news is that you do NOT need to change your personality in order to recover and the even better news is that you will start to see certain aspects of your self changing naturally over the course of your recovery.
With bulimia no longer in control of your life you begin to embrace healthy coping mechanisms, you give your brain chemicals the opportunity to rebalance and in the process you naturally become less obsessive, you find that self confidence you‘ve been craving, you gradually discover how to love yourself and you see that feelings like vulnerability are absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
One thing I keep hearing from the people who I coach is how they’re also finding their perfectionism diminishing over time and this is something I can really identify with too.
In the past eating disorder research has generally failed to make this connection, however I was pleased to discover a recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders does support the idea that people who achieve full recovery experience a significant decline in perfectionism.
I suppose the bottom line is this - you don’t need to worry about trying to change yourself in order to recover, but you’ll definitely begin to notice incredibly positive changes happening naturally during the process.
Every day I get to work with so many wonderful, courageous and powerful people in recovery, but one thing that many of them have in common is the belief that they are inherently weak.
Newer members of our Coaching Program tell me that they fear they do not have what it takes to recover, older members who have suffered relapses often confide in me that they feel too weak to truly beat bulimia.
But as overwhelming as those feelings can get some times, we must realise that fear, worry and other negative emotions do NOT equate to weakness.
I sit here on a daily basis surrounded by so much strength and inspiration, amazed by the strength of character and sheer determination to recover that so many people have. I see people fighting the battle of their lives every single day and it baffles me that this can be construed as weakness!
Of course I've been there myself, so many times during my own recovery I felt weak and vulnerable too. Bulimia clouded my vision so much that I was completely unable to acknowledge my own true strength.
The important thing to know is that you are not weak because you suffer with bulimia and you are certainly not weak for choosing recovery!
This is NOT weakness - this is the most impressive demonstration of strength I have ever known!
No matter what’s happening in your recovery right now, no matter how far you have left to travel, no matter how many times you have fallen, if you are still here then you are stronger than you know.
Please take a step back, look at how far you have already come, how dedicated and determined you are right here in this moment and let that inner strength shine through today.
Becoming a Recovery Coach was really just a natural progression for me and an expansion on what I was already trying to do here - offering support and guidance to those who were still struggling and who were in need of compassion, understanding and guidance.
Over the past couple of years I’ve dedicated my time to ensuring that as many people as possible are able to experience the same level of happiness and freedom I am blessed with today.
I have background in Psychology and Social Work but I’m not a therapist, a qualified counsellor or an “eating disorder professional” in the traditional sense. I’m simply someone who remembers what it’s like to feel hopelessly trapped by bulimia, someone who has been through all of the ups and downs that recovery has to offer and someone who understands exactly what it takes to recover.
If you’re new to Bulimia Help or unfamiliar with our 1-to-1 Coaching Program and want to know more you can learn all about it here: www.coaching.bulimiahelp.org
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The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.
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