LOUISE O'NEILL: No matter how much time recovery takes, no matter how much energy — it is still easier than living with an addiction

There are a few words that I use extensively in my daily life. Patriarchy. Misogyny. Feminism. Intersectionality. (I am great craic, please invite me to your parties.)

Recovery.

Recover — noun — to become healthy again, to regain a former condition, find again, get back.

Here are the things that I have done in the past in increasingly desperate attempts to recover from an eating disorder.

Past Life Regression. Angel Healing. Hypnotherapy. Homeopathy. Aromatherapy. Ayurveda. Chinese Medicine. Prozac. Biofield Therapy. Three months in a mental health hospital. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Therapy, psychotherapy, counselling, psychiatry.

I will do anything in order to recover, I kept saying. I will do anything except gain weight and eat normally and accept my body for what it wants to be because that is giving up. 

I’m not a quitter. I am strong. I am invisible.

I am so, so tired.

“What does recovery look like to you?” the first therapist asked. The second one asked the same. So did therapists numbers three to 17.

I thought recovery would be triumphant, a life without pain. Somehow I would have transformed into a cross between the Dali Lama and Jesus, gracious and placid, slow to anger, eager to turn the other cheek.

But recovery would be in a body much thinner than my own, of course. I’m just not that hungry, I would say as I pushed a plate of food away from me. But in recovery, I would actually mean it.

Here is what recovery actually looks like for me. I eat three meals a day and three snacks, never allowing more than three hours to lapse without eating something. The meals are balanced, containing appropriate amounts of fats, carbohydrates, and protein, as devised by my nutritionist. I have an app in which I must track every piece of food that I eat and then monitor how I feel before and after eating and whether or not I engaged in any eating disorder behaviours. (Weighing self, restricting etc). I have talk therapy every week and I also regularly check in with the incredible people at the Eating Disorder Centre in Cork. I speak with an online coach once a week for 40 minutes where we specifically focus on body image and my food diary. I exercise daily (but not excessively, that’s not allowed), I meditate, I practice mindfulness.

I keep a gratitude journal to remind myself that I am lucky to be alive. Each week I do some sort of alternative therapy that helps me to get back into my body, this body that I would all too often rather ignore and pretend that I am a floating severed head. Reiki, massage, acupuncture, and yoga are my preferred methods. 

I also lean heavily on my parents and a few select friends for support. (Me: Can we talk? Dad: Cork are playing Kerry. Me: I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS AND I NEED TO DISCUSS THEM NOW RIGHT NOW.)

It truly takes a village.

But yes, recovery is work. It requires time and effort and commitment. For me it has been a limping, shuddering thing; a non-linear process. Ups and downs.

 One day at time. All the clichés. It can feel as if I am fighting a war on three fronts — writing this column, editing my third novel, writing my fourth, working on the screenplay for the movie of Only Ever Yours while battling the voice in my head that tells me none of it is worth it if I am not bone-thin and whittled skinny. 

It tells me that I would be happier if I was ten pounds lighter, and then another 10lbs more. Maybe I would be happier if I didn’t exist.

Professionals tell me the voice will go away. But it has been 17 years now and that voice sometimes feels like the only thing I know.

And yet, I wake up every morning and I know how lucky I am. I have enough money to pay for the support that I need, help that should be available to everyone regardless of their income but shamefully, is not. This is not something that I ever take for granted. I have a family who loves me and who have never given up on me. I have friends who are willing to listen and who tell me that I am worth more than what I weigh, that I have more to contribute to the world than hungry eyes and a mouth taped shut. And no matter how much time recovery takes, no matter how much energy — it is still easier than living with an addiction. Life becomes more honest, somehow, more true. The world comes into focus and your breath will be taken away at its beauty. Recovery is not giving up, it is giving in to love, surrendering to a hope that things will get better. And it does.

As a child, when I was on a long car journey, I would stare out the window at all the people I saw as we drove through towns and villages. I would wonder about their lives, at the fact that they had their own families and friends and I would never know anything about them. I had the sudden urge to raise my hand in salute so they would notice me, see me. 

I wanted them to know that I existed. I feel the same way when I walk through a city’s streets and I think about all of these strangers that surround me. I wonder about the burdens they carry without complaint, the struggles they’re facing. 

I wonder how much effort it was for them to get out of bed this morning, to present an image of ‘I’m Fine’ to the world. And I hope that the people they meet are kind to them for we never know the battles that others are fighting. It costs so little to be kind, in the end.

To recover. To find again. To get back. I want to find myself again. (We all do.) I want to get back to my true self. (We all do.)


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