If you work in marketing, you know about “always on” content. It’s content that is always there. It never sleeps.
For my personal brand, my “always-on” content is my eating disorder recovery. Some days it’s loud, some days it’s quiet, but everyday it’s there — buzzing underneath the surface.
Let’s jump to the past for a second. When I was a Junior in college, I went abroad to Denmark for a semester, a truly wonderful experience in my life. But somewhere in that experience I convinced myself that I couldn’t gain weight like others did when they went abroad. I had a boyfriend waiting for me back home — imagine how disappointed he would be?! So I worked out —a lot — and I had a singular apple for breakfast every day in a place where I should’ve (could’ve would’ve etc.) had an amazing Danish pastry.
And this behavior? It didn’t stop when I got back to school. For the rest of my time at university I was spending two plus hours at the gym every single day and I was eating probably 600-700 calories a day (except for the nights I binged three times that). I got a therapist and started to reach out to friends, but graduation came and there was still no end in sight.
Finally, a year and a half post-grad I hit a tipping point. I was tired, exhausted even, of the chatter in my brain, of my broken relationship with food and my body, of my inability to really, truly let people into my life. Thanks to a friend who told me to “do something about it” and me finally being ready, I signed up for an interview at an ED recovery center in Chicago. I remember booking myself a meeting room in my office that day, and bawling my eyes out as I made the call, telling them that yes, I wanted to come in and talk about a spot at their center.
I had the interview the next day. They checked me in as an outpatient and assigned me nine hours a week with my “check out” contingent on when I was deemed ready.
It felt good to make that first step. Felt like something definitive. Recovery meant getting better, right? Like, totally healed? I imagined recovery to be a journey with a fixed end point, a destination, where thoughts about my body and my food intake and whether I’d exercised enough would completely disappear.
4 months and almost 150 hours later I was checked out.
That fixed end point though? That recovery destination station? It was nowhere in sight.
At first I found this completely frustrating. I had spent minutes, hours, days of my life, missing out on things so I could “fix” this part of my life. This part that had taken up far too much of my time already.
Why did I still have nights where my anxiety made me hunger for binging? Why did I have trouble taking a day off of working out? And why was bread so damn terrifying? Despite all the progress I had made, when the bad days came and I wasn’t doing recovery “perfectly” I felt just as lost as I had before. Why could a blogger meditate and be intuitive with food and I couldn’t? What was I doing wrong?
Turns out, recovery shame is real, and I’m a firsthand expert on the subject.
In fact, I’ve begun to realize that this perception of recovery as a destination as a “fixed” end point, was really just another false expectation I was holding myself to and pressuring myself to reach.
What I’m learning now is that rather than fixing me, every day of recovery is actually about finding new ways that empower me and equip me to handle my anxiety. Demi Lovato’s story really resonates with me, and she explained exactly how I feel all the time when she said, “I don’t think I’m fixed. People think that you’re like a car in a body shop; you go in, they fix you and you’re out, and you work like you’re brand new, it doesn’t work like that you know. It takes constant fixing.”
Constant fixing, constant re-calibrating and constant checking-in…that’s what recovery is. It is a journey, a constant. And there is much more re-calibrating to be done as I continue to face new experiences and challenges. The good news is, that now that I’m trying to let go of the pressure to be “fixed,” I don’t have to overcome my challenges alone. I can acknowledge them, ask for help, find solutions with the people I care about.
Honestly, for the past couple of years, I’ve been worried that I couldn’t even be a real body positivity advocate if I was still fighting the good fight myself. But now I’m starting to realize being a body positive advocate can be a lot of things. It can be acknowledging that there are shit days, finding strength and compassion to get past them, and it can be helping others realize that some days it’s okay to just be meeting yourself exactly where you are.
So, have grace with yourself. Take a moment to be grateful for the steps you have made. For example, I’m better at listening to myself, and even if I don’t always follow up, that’s a big change for me. I’m better aware of my body and can acknowledge when it needs rest and what it’s actually craving (pasta and mint M&Ms). Some days it’s fucking hard to find that grace. But the difference is now it takes me one or two days to get over a bad day when before it kick-started or amplified a shame spiral.
Really, today the difference is that, for me, this “always on” ED recovery content of my life is more like a digital banner ad (#adnerd) that sometimes catches my eye vs. the ongoing narrative that once ruled my day to day.
And I know, I know, it’s so cliche, but no matter where you are in recovery, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. The long, ever-changing, ever-empowering, humbling journey.
Once I started to be able to accept that, I finally accepted me. All of me — including the anxious thoughts, thighs that squat 70lbs and the burning passion I have for cheese.
I hope that you’ll accept all of you too.
For more information about treatment at Insight for eating disorders, click here.