Frantic and afraid, eating food out of a trash can, I promised myself, I will never do this again
. I will stop bingeing.
And then, the next day, or maybe even later that same hour, I would get triggered, and guess what I would do next? Eat uncontrollably. To say that I felt like a complete loser is a total understatement.
I felt like a failure.
I’d been in recovery for an eating disorder
for years, and I knew what I should
have been doing: I could have called someone for help or gone to a therapy group — but I wasn’t doing those things. Why?
This was one of the most frustrating parts of my recovery. Even though I knew what I should be doing, I wasn’t doing it.
Why am I not getting better
, I’d ask myself. Or am I slowly getting better, and I just don’t know it?
Recovery is, weirdly enough, like Chinese bamboo
I know, who thinks about recovery and bamboo
? But before you give up on me, please hear me out.
When Chinese bamboo is planted, nothing much happens. In fact, during the first year, even the best fertilizer and water doesn’t seem to produce growth.
Year two will come and go, and again, despite caring for the seed, nothing seems to happen. (Hmm…does this sound like your own experience in recovery? This is definitely what my first years in recovery felt like).
Years three and four pass, and you guessed it: nothing appears to be happening with the bamboo. This would be quite disappointing, don’t you think, especially with all of the time and energy spent nurturing the seed.
By year five, things feel kind of hopeless with the plant. Can you imagine being in recovery for five years without experiencing steady progress? I’ve been there and I felt depleted, too!
Then, surprisingly, sometime during that fifth year, in a span of only six weeks, the bamboo plant shoots up about 90 feet! Isn’t that amazing!?
During all of that time, it had seemed that the plant wasn’t growing. For five years, the bamboo didn’t look like it was changing, but it was. It was building a solid foundation underground so that, during that fifth year, tremendous growth could happen.
Don’t you love this metaphor for recovery? I think it’s a great thing for those of us in recovery to keep in mind.
Personally, it took me years — more than five — to fully recover from my eating disorder
. But, importantly, during those years, I was growing; the growth just couldn’t be seen on the outside. However, I was definitely growing under the surface — my attitudes and perspectives were shifting inside.
Consider this perspective: if all of that tremendous growth had happened in year one with the bamboo, the plant wouldn’t have been nearly as sturdy. Wind could have easily toppled over such a tall plant without a solid foundation to support it.
Like bamboo, recovery takes time
Looking back, I believe that my personal recovery is much stronger today because of the time it took me to grow my “recovery roots.” I surely didn’t know it at the time, but I was creating a solid foundation so that I could withstand anything that might come my way and knock me down.
If you’re getting frustrated doing the hard work of recovery, please don’t get discouraged by a relapse. Even if you are in and out of treatment for years — remember that you are building a foundation of skills, lifelines, supportive communities, and alternative behaviors that will serve to make you stronger, to make you unstoppable in many areas of life.
Don’t quit before you and your recovery (like our patient friend the bamboo) grow strong. Remember to keep watering. Keep fertilizing. Something is
indeed happening inside, even though you may not see it or feel it.
One day, even if you stay focused on recovery, a trigger might occur. One day you will know what to do. And, better yet, you will do it.
My guess is that you will metaphorically shoot up much more than 90 feet. My hope is that one day, you will be fully, fantastically, recovered.
Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author, popular speaker, and a National Recovery Advocate for Eating Recovery Center’s Family Institute.