Recovered - I love it / by Michelle Cowan

I’m listening to a YouTube video of shamanic drumming. Oh yeah, now I’m ready to write this blog post.

It’s strange to be a writer for so many years, to have always had so much to say, and to now feel nothing. Nothing’s knocking on the door, much less beating down the door to get said or written or sung. This is a strange feeling for me.

The plain and simple truth of it is that life is good now.  I feel recovered from the eating disorders. Thoughts sometimes enter my head like, “Oh, I’m definitely going to binge tonight,” or, “God, I really want to eat a ton right now.”  I’ll even occasionally eat more than I feel comfortable with. Sometimes, I obsess about exercise more than I would like to admit. But would I classify any of this as disordered? No. I honestly think I’m recovered.

I’m interested in reading Jenni Shaefer’s book Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, where she discusses being completely recovered. How has she dealt with this transition? It’s such a strange feeling to have had these thoughts and behaviors for so many years and to, now, not experience them in the same way.  I’m not sure if time has eliminated the thoughts and the desires or if I’ve learned new ways of dealing with the thoughts that have essentially neutralized their effect on me. Okay, maybe I am sure that it’s the latter, but I’m not negating the possibility that the universe is sending fewer of these distractors my way. Whatever the case may be, it’s a fantastic feeling.

It’s scary to come out and say in a public way that I am “recovered.” Our culture constantly repeats, “Pride cometh before the fall,” and with this, implies that saying, “I’m over this,” is a form of pride.

I don’t pretend I could never fall to the eating disorder again.  I don’t even claim to be totally free of unhealthy thoughts or feelings. However, I do feel like a completely different person, and in the last year or more, I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of situations I thought for sure would “go ED” not go anywhere at all.  Those binges I think are going to happen… don’t happen. I go without exercising, and I don’t obsess about it.  I get back to it the next day I have a chance, and I do an exercise that’s fun. I don’t restrict my food. My weight sometimes goes up, sometimes goes down, and I’m fine.  I like my body.  I don’t hate myself.

If anything, I have an aversion to anything diet- or weight loss-related. That’s the one conspicuous remnant of this disease.  But it’s helpful. I don’t need to put myself in triggering conversations.  I don’t need to start believing that diets or obsessing about my body is okay.  That’s not healthy.

I’m glad to be away from it, and I don’t see myself going back into the ED any time soon.  I still want to help others dealing with these issues, but I’ve entered a new stage of life with much less drama involved.

I will admit that a major component in my most recent “up level” in recovery has been falling in love… and remaining in steadfast, true love for, well, eight months now. I’ve reached many plateaus on this 11+ year journey of recovery, but this has been one of the most interesting and satisfying. They always sneak up on me, these places where I feel steadier, more stable, and more insightful about myself and the world around me.  Love snuck up on me the same way.

Lately, I’ve been reminded of Aimee Liu’s book Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives, in which the only consistent factor in the lives of the “recovered” women she interviews seems to be that they eventually fell in love – usually with a person – but sometimes with a pursuit they love more than the eating disorder. 

It’s difficult to love anything more than an eating disorder. ED is powerful, comforting, and most of all, familiar. It takes a powerful love to transcend that. But all of these women had found something they wanted more than their EDs.

For a long time, I thought my great love would be music or writing or some kind of cause. But when I face facts, I don’t love music that much. I get lost in it.  I enjoy a state of flow when I’m in it. But no single thing was more appealing to me than sitting around and eating.  It took major life changes for me to find things I loved more than my eating disorder.  It turned out that a way of life was what I loved more than the ED.  I only made true progress when I started to see how I wanted to live my life. Once I truly defined my values and saw how much I loved life when it worked a certain way that I stopped doing behaviors that prevented me from having that kind of life.

I would slip and have tough times off and on. I probably will continue to experience these same ups and downs throughout my life. Every several months, I have to reorient myself to life so that I’m living in a truly whole way and not just according to some arbitrary routine I’ve developed.  I’ve learned to vary my schedule, change what I’m involved in, and basically live life differently very, very often. It’s when I get too mired in routine that the ED pops up. 

Of course, too much volatility in my life leads me to the ED, too.  So it’s all about finding balance. There is a level of change that stimulates but doesn’t overwhelm me.  I’m continually learning to find it.

I’ll tell you one thing, though: romantic love is the one sure-fire shakeup. You can’t count on it. You don’t know when it’s going to come. But when it comes, it makes life better.  At least, it does for me.  There are others who fall in love more easily and end up hurt by love a lot more often than I have in my life. Those people also enjoy more love-highs than I have. Meh, to each her own.

So here I am, in love – in real love – and also feeling very recovered. I’m in a good place. Before, I’ve been afraid to say out loud that I’m in a good place. I feel like it primes me for a fall. But thankfully, I now see that my psyche is not a mirror of the American consumer audience. My brain doesn’t have to behave like people who can’t wait for their favorite up-and-coming star to win a slew of major awards and then get thrown in jail for drug use or general stupidity. I don’t have to be on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, worried that my success will be followed by an inevitable failure.

This society has blinded a lot of us to the generosity and beauty of human nature.  Many in America think human nature – or some external force in the world – wants nothing but to build people up and then tear them down. People even think life works that way– that what goes up must come down. Well, Earth may be governed by the law of gravity, but my heart and my life are different matters. I want me to succeed. I want other people to succeed.  I’ve seen people continue to climb and enjoy life more and more. I’ve seen people live beyond success and failure, beyond achievement or pursuit, beyond our definitions of what life should be. I want that. What happens when there is no “failure”? What happens when I just enjoy life as it is? What happens if I really don’t ever get sucked into the eating disorder again?

Sure, maybe I got some help from love in this latest stage of the journey. I used to think it was weak to need something like love to recover, but now I don’t care if I’m weak or strong. We all need love to be okay. We do. And frankly, it helps to have someone around when I get in a peculiar mood, someone who’s there when I might otherwise lock myself in my apartment and eat, someone who’s there to help me move on when I do eat too much or start obsessing about when I’m going to work out next. It helps to have someone I think about more than myself. When my heart opens up, I’m recovered, right then, right there.

I’ve been waiting for love. I’ve been thinking about it.  I was ready for it.  And I was a hell of a long way on my recovery journey already by the time it hit.

Honestly, I can’t even imagine what the next thing might be at this point. Like I said at the beginning of this article, I feel nothing. I feel content. I feel ambitionless.  But here’s a secret: my mind’s still trying to think of something new to do. Michelle isn’t done yet. I’m just learning to bask in contentment for a minute. Can I do it?