Someone recently posted a question to a group of people with eating disorders: On a scale from 1-10, how badly do you want recovery?
The answers ranged from 0 to 1,000,000. Many answers stated that it depended on the day.
And that’s the part I find particularly fascinating…
In my own recovery, I certainly cycled through periods of wanting recovery so badly I would do anything for it. On other days, I resigned myself to accepting the fate without hope. On those days, I just didn’t have it in me.
What was interesting to me, and I began asking myself this question, was, why on some days did recovery feel so easy? Why, on some days, did it feel like it was the first and foremost thought on my mind and I believed with all my heart that I could conquer the eating disorder? And then, why on other days did it feel like I had come face-to-face with a beast that I had absolutely zero control over?
What changed between those days? Was it me? Or was it the eating disorder? If I had so much strength some days, why couldn’t I carry it with me into the really hard and crappy days? Why did I have the strength of steel sometimes but became as breakable as a twig at other times? What was the difference on those days?
Finding this answer really mattered to me. I was so curious to understand where the strength came from and why I couldn’t just will it back when I wanted to. I thought that if I could figure out how to harness this strength, I would be able to make significant and lasting progress. I was desperate to learn.
So, I just began watching. I imagined I was a photojournalist out in the jungle perched behind a towering wall of trees trying to catch a glimpse of the infamous creature that seemed to elude capture.
What I began to see is that this elusive creature, strength, never left my side. I was never, ever without it.
But, on days when the weather was good, when the sun shone, when the air was fresh and the sky was clear, the difference was that I could see. I saw my strength hanging by my side. I would take it out and swing it around and stand tall and brave. I held my weapon of strength proudly.
There was no imminent threat on the sunshiny days. I was wielding my power against very little force. It was easy to use.
On the days when the weather was fierce and stormy though, it took tremendous effort to use my strength, my powerful sword of steel. I could barely see it to reach for it. I could hardly hold it up if I was able to get my hands on it. The struggle made me feel weak and useless. At the end of each storm I felt battered, bruised, beaten. I felt like a failure.
I watched these scenarios play out over and over and over again. I tried to figure out what I had control over and what I didn’t. Why did I sometimes win, and why did I sometimes lose?
In many ways, I had refused to accept the storms. But I had also not, up until that point, understood that strength comes in many forms. I had only been using one form.
When I started to see that I couldn’t prevent the storms, that their appearance in my life couldn’t be controlled, that’s when I questioned the usefulness of my sword.
I found that swords of strength are fabulously effective in good weather. In stormy weather, however, they don’t do much other than to attract more heat and lightning to its shiny blade of steel.
My sword of strength was an incredible tool. But, it was the only one I had. It was time to learn to wield other tools, tools that would be far more effective in weathering the variety of storms that life presented me.
My sword of strength was my willpower, my determination. They’re incredibly strong qualities. But, as I came to see, also highly ineffectual against the tyranny of shame and self-condemnation.
There is a time and a season to everything.
When things feel easy, I know I’m using the right tool, the right weapon to help me survive the storm. When things feel hard though, I now recognize it as a sign that it’s time to switch strategies, to pick up another tool. It’s a time to put down my willpower and to pick up my humility.
Willpower carries me far when gentle winds are filling my sails. When the wind picks up, however, my willpower must be lowered and put back in the harness.
Storms require caution and care. Patience and faith. I started to sharpen these skills and add them to my tool belt.
Recovery isn’t a place without storms or imperfection. It’s the building of skills and being able to discern which one to use at any given moment.
And, when I started to do this, learn and hone new skills, the storms became less of a threat. They no longer sent me cowering into a dark space of fear and helplessness. Instead, the storms allowed me to sharpen my skills and refine my strength.
And I found the value in the storms as much as in the sunshine.
Coming soon…the Starving ED podcast! Check it out!
If you have any questions or comments, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!