Is eating disorder recovery a choice?
If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have said ‘no’. If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have said it’s not really a question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, it sits somewhere in the fuzzy middle. But now? For me (and that is a really important part of this), I’d say ‘yes, BUT…’. Here’s what changed.
If you follow eating disorder (ED) recovery accounts on social media, chances are you’ve seen these slogans about choice and recovery. It’s normally some variation of ‘EDs aren’t a choice, but recovery is’. I think the aim is to inspire those of us who are struggling that we can recover, offer some sense of empowerment that we can take charge, and remind us that we will not always be under the grip our ED. After all, EDs can dominate our lives in such a way that it is sometimes impossible to think of anything else. But I don’t think it’s that simple. To clarify, it’s not telling someone they can recover that I think is the problem. It’s the focus on choice; telling people that they have the choice to recover, that is potentially problematic. It has a very individualistic focus and feels like it blames the person with the ED. The choices we make are the result of so many factors, and intention and willingness are only part of that. What if you can’t access treatment? What if you are experiencing a relapse? What if you do have access to treatment and still don’t feel like you can make ‘the choice’? What message do you take from this slogan?
I think it implies, albeit probably unintentionally, that we should be able to recover regardless of life circumstances. I find it has a ‘snap out of it’ quality that mental health awareness campaigns have tried to dispel. Reading slogans like this a few months to a year ago made it feel like I was not trying hard enough, that was my fault I still had the ED and added to the self-blame and guilt that often accompanies them.
So how did I move more towards the ‘yes’ camp? I moved further into recover. I have more supports in place now than I did a few months ago. I’ve been working with my therapist to develop better strategies and I’m being more open with people. This has meant that for the first time in a long time I bought the ice cream, ate it, and enjoyed it. I made the choice to have what I fancied rather than what I thought I should have, because now I have the tools to do so. For me, I’m at the point where some things regarding my recovery are a choice, although these are still often quite challenging choices. A year ago, I didn’t have those strategies, and a few months ago I was only starting to build the foundations. My circumstances were different and so my answer was different.
So that’s my ‘yes, but…’. Yes, some parts of my recovery now are a choice, but circumstances matter. Being able to make these choices isn’t something we all have the opportunity to do. And we should remember that when we’re tempted to apply these slogans universally. If they work for you that’s great, just remember that they might not work or apply for everyone. I’ve found I need strategies and support consistently in place to be able to make my recovery choices. And the further I move into recovery, the more choices I’m able to make. I started at ‘no’, but maybe one day in relation to my recovery journey I’ll be able to just say ‘yes’. At least, that’s what I hope.
What do you think? Is recovery a choice? I’d love to know!