How to start recovery?
Updated: Nov 8, 2022
In my last post, I reflected on my intentions and feelings as I start this new project. And I want to use that as a bridge to start writing more about recovery. Specifically, how and where to start your healing journey.
Writing a blog: the current situation.
Am I a writer? No.
Am I ready? No. (What would that even mean?)
Do I have plenty of free time in my current schedule? Not quite.
Do I have guarantees about what I am doing? Nope. Zero.
Will I receive encouragement as I go? Maybe.
Will I receive comments and questions that make me doubt this is a good idea? Most probably, yes.
If I look back at younger me, finally reaching out for help, and starting recovery:
Did I have any previous knowledge about mental health, healing from an eating disorder,…? Not really. (Does YouTube count?)
Was I ready? … I honestly don’t even know what to base an answer to this question on. But no. I was mostly done, exhausted, from trying to play by my mind’s rules and getting worse, and from trying to heal alone.
Did I have plenty of free time in my schedule? Not plenty. It was a question or prioritising things. Which I was lucky enough to be able to do.
Did I have guarantees about what I was doing? No. (Note that I had zero expectations other than “anything different than this must be somewhat better.”)
Did I receive encouragement as I was doing the work? In a limited way. (I have so much more to write about this one. All in due time.)
Did I receive comments and questions that made me doubt this is a good idea? Absolutely, yes.
There are some similarities.
1. Don’t wait to be “ready” to start recovery
Recovery taught me one important lesson there: being ready isn’t a thing, most of the time.
We rarely start anything without some amount of uncertainty, fear, or doubt.
So what do you need to start? Willingness.
Because willingness and the ability to make a choice, are where our power lies. It is where we can start choosing (a tolerable amount of) discomfort and uncertainty, in the short term, for the purpose of healing, in the long term. It is where we can take small and wobbly steps forward.
2. Don’t wait until you feel "sick enough"
If you are wondering whether you have an eating disorder or not: that is already plenty enough to start doing something about it.
If you are looking up symptoms or seeing other people’s accounts of their suffering or recovery online and it strikes a chord, then it already deserves to be explored further with a professional.
And please know that not feeling “sick enough” is a symptom. So please go ahead and add this to the list of reasons why something is worth being addressed. Now.
3. Reach out until you get the help you deserve
I cannot stress enough how receiving adequate support makes a BIG difference in recovery. The earlier the better.
Unfortunately, reaching out is also where it may already get harder for some because eating disorders are still highly stigmatized and because a lot of disordered behaviours are normalized by society.
As a result, I would suggest first reaching out to foundations, charities and helplines (a few examples are: NEDA, ANAD, Butterfly Foundation, NEDIC, beat, and Bodywhys). Their hotlines or website can be helpful to start verbalizing what is going on right now, and they may be able to give you some direction when it comes to receiving further professional help. Another reason these can be a helpful first line of support is that you often stay anonymous as you reach out – which may make it easier for you to open up.
Additional sources of support will of course also be beneficial as you start and in the long run. That includes family and friends, but also your general practitioner and other medical professionals.
Wondering who to start with? Write the names of possible sources of support, then for each, consider what information they have shared about themselves and their ability to help.
Do they often talk about diets?
Do they comment on their own and other people's bodies?
Do they hold views on what are "good" or "bad" foods?
If you answered yes to the above, maybe consider choosing someone else.
Do they show up compassionately for you/others?
Are they willing to listen and empathise with you/others?
Are they reliable and trustworthy?
You do not have to be able to answer "yes" to all of the above, but these are general pointers to maybe identify who in your list is best equipped to meet you where you are and help you take the next step(s).
4. Make the most of available resources
Recovered people and recovery professionals
Recovery is hard, especially in the beginning phases. Life in recovery unfortunately often gets harder before it gets easier. Recovery also takes repeated practice. You will probably feel tired, maybe annoyed at the things that don’t go so well. Recovery will be uncomfortable, sometimes physically too. Learning to tolerate that discomfort will be key. I am writing this to manage your expectations and to illustrate the importance of knowing this isn’t forever, that this is (SO!) worth it, and that there is hope for you too.
You may not know any recovered people in real life, but this is one of the gifts of the Internet: you now have access to a number of recovered humans openly sharing about their journey and life beyond, online. Be cautious as you navigate online space – and consider reading this piece I wrote for ProjectHeal’s blog.
There are many books out there on recovery.
Generally speaking, I recommend staying away from personal stories except if specifically recommended to you by a recovery professional.
This may be a biased opinion, but I truly believe that the 8 Keys books by Carolyn Costin are a fantastic resource. And if you choose to work with a CCI-certified coach as part of your treatment team, you will most certainly go back to these (very!) regularly.
(Note: I will write a blog post on book recommendations at some point soon – and refer it here when that’s ready.)
Last but by no means least: community. Another biased opinion since I am the co-founder of The Recovery Collective. But communities can provide many benefits, such as:
You are the average of the people you surround yourself with: a recovery community (such as the Collective) is a recovery-supportive environment that is non-triggering and is at your side, ready to celebrate your wins as well as support you through more difficult phases of recovery.
Reaching out to others is a key coping skill. A recovery community provides you with a safe and brave space, where you can practice this skill.
It provides a sense of belonging and validation, breaking patterns of secrecy and isolation, two hallmarks of suffering from an eating disorder.
It is a valuable adjunct to your treatment team. Don't take my word for it and check out what members of The Recovery Collective say about us here.
And it is a source of joy, fun and light in a journey that can be very hard and dark.
I recommend being very selective and careful as you choose your community. Make sure to be careful and take into account factors such as moderated forums, clear guidelines for exchanging in writing or on video, and the content of discussions or workshops.
One last note...
by Ijeoma Umebinyuo, whose words resonated within me the first time I read them, and continue to every time I come back to them:
Start where you are.
Start with fear.
Start with pain.
Start with doubt.
Start with hands shaking.
Start with voice trembling but start.
Start and don’t stop.
Start where you are, with what you have.
Anne-Claire Jedrzejczak (she/her) is a Carolyn Costin Institute Certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT500), and co-founder of The Recovery Collective. A former finance professional, Anne-Claire’s eating disorder recovery journey led her from the high-paced corporate world to the study of yoga, and eventually to eating disorder recovery coaching and mental health advocacy. She now guides others to meet their recovery goals, transform their relationship with food, their body, and themselves so they can live an authentic and fulfilling life.