“Take it 1 day at a time. One meal at a time. One snack at a time. Then put it behind you. It’s over, it’s done.”
It’s no secret that I am a perfectionist. Anyone who knows me at all knows that. I love everything to be exactly in the right spot, I triple check my homework, I practice one measure of music for an hour, I calculate what grades I need to get to keep my 4.0, I sort everything, whether it’s by color or alphabetical, or sometimes both. It’s just who I am. Now did you know that perfectionism is linked to eating disorders? Perfectionism is about control, and controlling how much or how little you eat is just another way to feel like you are in control. Before I actually had a diagnosis, I began researching like crazy. Some people had mentioned to me that this could be an eating disorder, but I wasn’t ready to accept that. I was going to read everything about them to prove to myself that I was “fine.” Then I read one article that changed everything. I found out that it is very common for people with eating disorders to be major perfectionists. Talk about a major callout. Reading that sentence changed my whole perception. That link to such a major part of my personality really got me worried.
That’s what made fighting so hard. I had to fight my ED voice AND my perfectionism voice.
The first few days at TK were some of the hardest days of my life. I didn’t know what to expect. I had never done anything like this, nor had I known anyone who had. I didn’t have any kind of reference point. I just knew that I wanted to get better, and I was going to do whatever it took.
After a few days or a week or so, I was feeling pretty discouraged. I felt like I was getting nowhere. If I didn’t eat, I was disappointing the staff and myself. If I did eat, ED Voice was mad, and I felt physically sick because my body wasn’t used to food. There was no way to win. One night I stayed up later than I usually liked because I just felt so lost and so hopeless. I waited until one of my favorite BHS’ was done helping everyone else so I could talk to her. The conversation we had in one of the group rooms at like 10:30 at night changed the rest of my recovery. (10:30 is pretty late when you wake up at 5:30 everyday)
She introduced a totally new concept to me: baby steps. While I was feeling discouraged and overwhelmed, she was proud of me. She was proud of the baby steps. She printed out a quote that I continued to read throughout my time at TK, and I even return to it now in the new struggles of recovery.
“Sometimes falling down is part of the process. That uncomfortableness is where change happens. Where we evolve. Where we turn that weakness into strength. This struggle that you’re going through is part of the process. And you will make it through.”
Process, not perfection.
I realized that I had unintentionally set unrealistic expectations for myself. I felt like I was in treatment, and the only thing I could do was eat everything they gave me. 3 meals, 3 snacks, 100%. That just wasn’t realistic. And no one was expecting me to do that right away, except me. When I was asking that much of myself, of course I was going to be disappointed. I was setting myself up for failure. When I decided to shift my perspective to the baby steps, everything changed.
We decided to set more realistic goals. We started small. The new goal was to attend every meal and snack and sit with the food in front of me. Then eat 50% if I could, and finish with a drink supplement if I needed to. Just lowering the expectations made me feel so much more confident. By setting realistic goals, I was able to meet them and have the strength to surpass them. It wasn’t about eating 100% at every meal. It was about showing up. Taking the baby steps to eventually reach those 100%s.
Baby steps are just as important in recovery. It’s easy to get discouraged when I slip up or when ED thoughts creep back in. It’s easy to focus on the negative, or focus on what we can’t do. What if instead, we focused on what we can do?
I still get anxiety in unfamiliar restaurants or with big groups. Ok, but I can cope through it. I used to say no and not even go.
I still see my body in a negative way. Ok, but I’m learning to love it instead of finding every way to change it.
I still don’t have normal hunger/ fullness cues. Ok, but I am able to push through those and stay on a 3 meal/ 3 snack schedule.
Recovery is hard. It’s going to be hard. Recovery is up and down. There are good days and bad days. But no matter what happens, I am still fighting.
I am not perfect, but I’m still fighting.
What baby steps have you taken to become the person you want to be? No matter what they are, you’re doing it and I’m proud of you.