3 Things I have found that are uplifting and inspiring in the world of Eating Disorder Recovery and Recovery from Drug and Alcohol addiction after working in both treatment settings.

I  spent the last 5 years working in drug and alcohol treatment centers and I spent almost as long working on my own recovery from an eating disorder. I feel privileged to work with these two populations of people knowing my own pain, suffering, and experiences can now help people see that they too can heal entirely and lead peaceful and purposeful lives. It is interesting to note, that while some of the modes of treatment and models of recovery are the same for eating disorders as addictions, I am also coming to find that there are many differences in how to treat these two, very separate ailments, and how to go about it.

Recovery vs Recovered

For instance, the 12 step program has proven to be a tried and true method in helping people on their path to recovery. Ideologies like taking things “24 hours at a time” and being vigilant knowing “you’re only a drink away” from becoming an alcoholic again… are all accepted and significant ideas as it is in the traditions that the alcoholic is always recovering. It is a program of maintenance.

In eating disorder recovery, however, it is becoming widely more received that it is possible to become recovered. Suffering from an eating disorder and recovering is a bit different from addiction because you simply have to eat– your body needs nutrients– to live. Carolyn Costin has become one of the leading experts on helping and healing those suffering from eating disorders and has been in the field for 30 years. She outlined in her book 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder,the definition of being recovered.

It states: Being recovered is when the person can accept his or her natural body size and shape and no longer has a self-destructive relationship with food or exercise. When you are recovered, food and weight take a proper perspective in your life, and your weight is not more important than who you are; in fact, actual numbers are of little or no importance at all. When recovered, you will not compromise your health or betray your soul to look a certain way, wear a certain size, or reach a certain number on the scale. When you are recovered , you do not use eating disorder behaviors to deal with, distract from, or cope with other problems. (pg. 17)

Addiction and Eating Disorder Recovery Similarities

What I’m learning, in working with both populations, is whether a person is trying to abstain from drugs and alcohol in their life or moving toward being recovered from an eating disorder, there are a few things all people could be mindful of or may encounter on the path of recovery.

  1. Isolation and reaching out–

    Drinking and partying was potentially the gateway to give way to a more serious drinking problem or a serious drug problem. Likewise, an eating disorder may start out as a harmless diet to simply look better, be healthier, or fit in. However, what I have come to find is, eventually, whether one is spiraling out of control in addiction or alcoholism or sitting in a room wishing they could stop bingeing and purging or starving themselves, people who suffer in this way eventually end up completely isolating themselves from friends and family. Addiction, alcoholism and eating disorders usually turn into an obsessive ritual–of seeking that next fix, of filling an ever-gaping hole– and suddenly nothing seems to matter anymore. You become isolated because you believe that no one can possibly understand you or maybe there is no way to change or get better. This is why an important premise in recovery, and perhaps one of the most important, is to learn to reach out again. In the 12 steps, it is taught “You can only keep it if you give it away.” This means that many alcoholics and addicts stay sober, by reaching out and helping others struggling with their same disease. This gets them out of themselves, focused on helping others, and not being so self-centered. If a person suffers with eating disorders, it is important for them also to know that they are not alone. To reach out to other people who have had similar struggles and have recovered. It is so important to be able to call these role models or peers when a person in suffering. No one has to go through recovery alone and there is always hope.

  2. Progress not perfection–

    “Recovery is non-linear,” Carolyn Costin states in her book. What this means is that there may be set backs. The drinker may relapse. The person suffering from an eating disorder may purge though they really wish not to. People right away feel a lot of shame in these instances. Thinking because they messed up this once makes them feel they have failed or that recovery may be impossible. This is black and white thinking. It is important for people in recover to be gentle with themselves. It is important to remember some areas are grey. No one becomes a drug addict or an alcoholic overnight. Also, no one is born with the full blown obsession and destruction of an eating disorder over night. These things build up gradually, over time. And so it is with the path of recovery. Sometimes, it is a slow path to recovery, but a big step is compassion for oneself and acceptance. One should be able to get to a level of acceptance of where they are and look with hope toward the future toward where they are going. I have seen people set small attainable goals, take action, share hard feelings and emotions, reach out, move out of their comfort zones, and become respectable members of society again, feeling better, accepting themselves, packing into the stream of life and living in a way that is content and fulfilling.

  3. Purpose, meaning, and a higher power:

    What are you recovering to?– The road to recovery seems kind of meaningless if you don’t ask yourself what a healthy life might look like to you or the positive elements it may bring to your life? Many people in their addiction or eating disorder give up on the idea of living “a normal life” and that’s why it is important to visualize how beautiful life looks with a healthy body and healthy mind. To some people this may mean finding a higher power: “A power greater than themselves” with whom to find life, love, compassion, forgiveness, and connection. To some it may mean finding a level of mindfulness. To some it may mean giving back to others. To others it may mean being able to do things with their miraculous bodies they never thought possible, like have a baby, or do yoga at sunset on a beach, go back to school, land a career that makes you feel like you are purposeful, etc. It seems at base level, we all seek for purpose, direction, connection, and fulfillment. These things are so important to focus on to help you get back to a balanced and vibrant life. It is important to remember all the possibilities that life has before you and that the power of wellness and recovery is indeed within your grasp.

If you or a loved one needs additional help and support on your own journey, reach out to us via texting or calling 210-502-7222 or send a message using the form below. Sometimes it’s easier to reach out to someone who’s been there. You’re not alone.