If you don’t dive the parachute won’t open
We appreciate certainty in life. We put one foot in front of the other, typically we will know where out next step will land. Taking repeated routes, which rarely take us further than where we have already been. For me, my eating disorder was a very well-trodden path. It provided much of the certainty I was so desperately craving. It was familiar. I knew where my actions would take me, even if it was to places of total self-destruction and I guess that’s why the idea of letting it go was so terrifying.
However, after hitting rock bottom multiple times and my life falling apart around me I began to question, was this really how I wanted to live? I desperately wanted to believe that there could be another way. I had lived free from an eating disorder before, and there was a little bit of hope within me that maybe I could do it again. But this lack of certainty made the choice of recovery challenging. As an individual who strived so desperately for control, I wanted to know what the path of recovery looked like. I wanted certainty that life would be better. I felt like I needed this proof to counteract the voice in my head that was telling me that I would not be ok without it.
Deep down I knew this was unrealistic. I would be searching for forever if I was looking for proof, and I certainly didn’t have forever. I got to the point where my reality was too painful, and I felt I had nothing to lose by trying another path. My well-trodden path kept leading to the same crippling outcome.
It was about 6 years ago I took the biggest jump into the unknown. The first time I properly commit to my recovery. It was like standing at the end of a cliff with someone telling me to jump. I learnt at that moment to leap and to trust that the parachute would open.
It was a case of blind faith, of having to believe those around me who said that my life would be better without my eating disorder, who convinced me that the narrative I was being fed was complete lies. As much as it was destroying me, it was my safety blanket, it was my identity, and who would I be without it?
Deep down there was a niggling feeling, I wanted to give myself a chance. I thought of the 11-year-old in me who deserved more than this. I struggled to find compassion for myself in the present, but I had it for her. This was the opposite of the life she had dreamed of. Instead of heading off to university with my peers my days were spent with my head down the toilet throwing up the food I had regretfully stuffed down. I was beginning to see that my eating disorder was full of empty promises. I wouldn’t be more loved if I was thinner. Life wouldn’t be better if I was more restrictive with my food. It would never be satisfied. It always demanded more, and I wasn’t sure I had much more to give.
Hope and faith came in little injections. One of the most powerful of those was hearing the stories of those who had gotten well. I remember so clearly to this day sitting across from a woman in recovery from her eating disorder talking of the ‘normal’ life she had. In particular, I was astounded at her ability to find contentment in the little things. At the way she moved through life without thinking about her body and food every minute of every day. The fact that life could still be really challenging but she didn’t need her eating disorder to help her get through it. I began to think if she could do it there might be a chance I could. This was as close to proof that recovery would work for me as I was ever going to get.
My logical brain was desperate to see what the path of my recovery would look like, how much weight I would gain, how I would manage my feelings, and who I would be without my eating disorder. I can see now that I was in fear, desperate to try and find a way to prove to myself that I would be ok. I also remember a therapist saying to me if it doesn’t work, and your life isn’t better in recovery, come back and let me know. This provided some sort of safety. I remember thinking I can try this and if it doesn’t work, I can backtrack.
So, I bottled up the faith of those around me and I committed myself to recovery with very little faith it would work out for me. But utterly broken and unable to live the way I currently was for any longer I knew I had no other choice. I made the commitment to myself every morning that I would get up and eat my breakfast, and I would do the same again at lunch and dinner. I made a commitment to stick to my meals and not binge and purge, to stop punishing myself with exercise and engaging in any other unhealthy coping mechanisms that were destroying my life.
I remember at the beginning it did feel like I was just in free fall. The feelings that I had suppressed for so long began to surface. They were coming up far quicker than I felt I could handle (I was handling them they were just new and scary). I felt so exposed, with my eating disorder being stripped away from me I felt like for the first time in years people might truly be able to see what was underneath the mask. I felt utterly terrified all the time. I felt like I was falling and there was no one there to catch me.
The parachute did open. It just took time, and the view from above was more magnificent than I could ever have imagined. The beauty was in the little things. It was in being able to roll out of bed and eat my breakfast, without having to ‘earn’ it. It was in saying yes to a slice of birthday cake. It was in not knowing which restaurant I was going to end up at for dinner and not caring. It was in gaining weight and still actually liking me, in fact liking myself a whole lot more. The magic moments of recovery have been endless, and they still occasionally surprise me. That is not to say my recovery has not been without difficulty, and that life doesn’t still present challenges, however, I wholeheartedly believe that the jump into recovery was the best choice of my life.
There’s a saying “What if I fall? But what if you fly”. I like to live my life by it today. For me, recovery is real-life proof that beautiful things are on the other side of the unknown. Fear will try to convince me otherwise, but I will never know unless I try. History would show that every time I unbound myself from my fears (the majority of which I have come to know are irrational) immediate uncertainties are followed by the most gratifying outcomes. Today I find that the beauty in taking the leap is surrendering to the uncontrollable and rejoicing in the space of unlimited potential. I have learnt that in this space I might find what I had been hoping for, but I may also discover what I never thought to look for.