Self Care

Getting Out of the Compare/Despair Trap

By Kara Richardson Whitely

It took a long time to free my brain from the idea of before and after pictures.

These images, so common in the realm of diet culture, were toxic to my well-being, especially my mental health.

They were a snapshot made to make me feel like if they can do it, I can do it. And then the spiral would ensue. Why haven’t I done it? Why don’t I look like those pictures? Am I not enough?

While working through binge eating disorder, anxiety, and depression with my mental health provider, I realized the idea of “before and after” is a myth. I realized that if I am looking at my own body and trying to impose someone else’s idea of success, I will never win.

I found the same trap can be made in the realm of recovery. I follow a good number of folks on the path of recovery. An especially dangerous place to tread is Instagram, where the most polished moments are showcased.

When I was struggling during the pandemic, I found myself looking with dagger eyes at people in their namaste-perfection glimpses of their lives. They looked like the epitome of balance, while I felt like my recovery was hanging by a thread. I felt like they were miles ahead when I was going back to the basics, things I learned early in recovery just to stay afloat.

I felt like there was no flow – only flaws – in my life.

I had to remember a phrase heard over and over again in support groups and my therapist’s office: compare = despair.

I had to work through the jealous notion that others seemed to be doing better than I was. I had to find people to lean on, who would let me be just as I was, and know that the path of recovery is not a straight line.

I had to realize that there is a filter on what most people share publicly. I had to share openly that I was struggling, even started a Shining a Light on Recovery series, to encourage real talk about recovery so that others wouldn’t feel alone.

Just like those before and after pictures, I had to come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t reality. It wasn’t my reality. Recovery is our own path. While others tread the same ground, we’re all on our own journey.

We in the world of recovery are not here to compare. We are here for each other.

Here are some things I’ve learned for getting out of the compare/despair trap:

  • Unplug for a bit. Get lost in a new book and let that lead you for a while.
  • Find people who are going to share their authentic experience – the days they are struggling and the days they are having their best moments.
  • Be vulnerable and share when you’re struggling, publicly and within your circle of trusted people.
  • Lift each other up; don’t tear each other down.
Written by

Kara Richardson Whitely

Kara Richardson Whitely, an Eating Recovery Center Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate, is the author of Fat Woman on the Mountain and Gorge: My 300-Pound Journey Up Kilimanjaro, an honest and…

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