Recovery Month - September
September is National Recovery Month celebrating all of those who are in recovery from substance use. On August 15, I celebrated seven years free from drugs and alcohol, something I never thought would be possible. I was years into recovery from my eating disorder when I developed Substance Use Disorder and admitted that I needed help. I was terrified and full of shame when I arrived at my first 12 step meeting over seven years ago. I did not get sober right away. Though I do not believe that my eating disorder and my addiction are the same, I believe that they share the same recovery with my whole heart. So, in honor of Recovery Month, I would like to share with you what I have learned from recovery from Substance Use Disorder and how it has influenced my recovery from my Eating Disorder.
Powerlessness and Unmanageability
Powerlessness is a critical piece of recovering from substances. It is the understanding that my disease is not simply a choice or weak willpower for substances. It is the understanding that I am a sick person needing help to get well and not an immoral person needing some form of salvation. When I finally found recovery from substances to be possible, I quickly began to see how this same concept of powerlessness applied to my eating disorder as well. I was not a bad person needing to become good. I simply had an illness. This acceptance of powerlessness and understanding that my eating disorder made my life unmanageable made my recovery feel more safe and obtainable. It helped me shed years of shame that I somehow was choosing my eating disorder and that I just needed to “stop it.” The concept of powerlessness helped me accept that I had an eating disorder and was still enough even if I was struggling. It made it easier to see that my eating disorder was not me and that when a behavior, thought, or obsession showed up, I didn’t need to fight it all by myself. I could ask for help the same way I was learning to ask for help with my addiction. I have an eating disorder, but I am not my eating disorder.
Though the eating disorder manifested first in my life, the same elements of my addiction were always there. Both were about isolation and hiding the parts of myself that were unacceptable. Recovery is about connection and building an identity outside the disorder and addiction. It wasn’t until I began my journey with sobriety that I realized my recovery was not critical and full of fear. I became aware that my recovery was about grace, empathy for myself, and learning to treat myself with dignity and respect. In the beginning, my “God” was a “Gift of Desperation,” which quickly evolved to taking “Good Orderly Direction” from those who were further into the recovery journey than me. I realized that my recovery accepted me no matter where I was that day, even through my struggles. My recovery quickly became my higher power, and I began to turn to my recovery instead of my disorder or addiction. Today I realize that spirituality and spiritual practices are crucial to both of my recoveries.
Community and Connection
As previously stated, my eating disorder and substance use disorder were fueled by shame. Though I don’t believe that shame caused my disorders, I believe that shame contributed to much of their evolution and destruction in my life. When I finally arrived at my first 12 step meeting, I realized that I needed the help of a community if I was going to get better. A saying in the 12 step rooms is, “I stay sick; we get better.” I needed help from others to find my voice, my values, and my identity. Building a community with others who understand helps me find compassion for myself when I struggle and face the shame of my disorders. The ability to stay accountable to others is a critical piece of my recovery.
Honesty, Open-Mindedness, and Willingness
When I first found myself seeking treatment for my eating disorder, I felt broken. I was overwhelmed with the idea that my life was unlivable, yet I had no idea how to live my life without my eating disorder. I was even more dismayed when years into my eating disorder recovery, I found myself needing treatment for Substance Use Disorder. How do I recover? H.O.W. is precisely “how” you find recovery. Honestly, open-mindedness and a willingness to do whatever it takes has allowed me to arrive where I am today in my life. I needed to get honest that I was sick and needed help, I needed to have an open mind and listen to others as to what I could do to help myself, and I needed to be willing to put my recovery first no matter what. I am not always in a place of willingness, nor do I always have an open mind. However, when I am struggling, I find that this is the best attitude to help me continue moving forward and hang on to hope just one day at a time.