I’ve read a lot of stories about recovery, but not many of them talk about the actual process – or its ongoing struggles. It’s hard to write in the present tense. You don’t have the objectivity of distance and your heart looks awfully raw and bloody, slapped on a plate. Plus, you’re just so sick of the whole thing. Sick of having to keep re-engaging in the same battles and of relearning the same lessons. Sick of judgements – especially your own.
Recovery should look like this: complete and irrevocable. It’s not enough to wrestle with and win some significant battles: let’s declare a complete armistice. War is over! I am Normal. Yes. No more food issues. No more OCD weirdness. The old me’s dead – shoved into a suitcase, chopped up and and pushed out to sea. So long, weirdo!
It’s a lovely idea. But it’s also part of the thinking that gets you into trouble in the first place. That ‘all-or-nothing’ I’m crap or I’m fine schtik. Do it properly or die trying. Victory! – or death. It’s setting yourself up for failure. Worse still, it’s anti-gospel. Not just the fact you’re trying to pull your own socks up – the expectation that ‘getting better’ is an event. That any remaining struggles mean you haven’t changed and can’t change and God’s indifferent.
I’ve had to tell myself this today because I’ll been pulled into an enormous black cloud. I say pulled – but that’s nonsense. No-one’s pulled me anywhere. I’ve talked myself into it and once there, have bedded down for far too long.
So here’s the occasion: our church is having a women’s fellowship dinner tonight and I’m not going. There are different reasons for this – I get very tired in the evenings, because of my gut problems I need to eat very simply (and early), I haven’t been feeling great this week.
But they’re not the only ones. Here’s a few more:
I’ve got into a pattern of staying in. It feels safer, more comfortable. I’ve got my things around me, I can get into my pjs and draw the curtains and – phew! – stop.
Though I have to because of my stomach condition, I hate ordering off menu. It makes me feel like a weirdo.
I get nervous going out. I feel like I’m not funny or interesting and all the colour and choices and noise is a bit overwhelming. Part of me wants to hide away and part of me wants to talk to everyone. Immediately.
It’s a reminder of the time before I got sick, when I used to go out every night and felt fun and beautiful and alive. A reminder of wasted years I’d rather forget. A grief I don’t want to unwrap.
I still hate eating in front of people. It makes me feel really stressed.
Large groups of people make me nervous.
So – there we have it. Lots of different explanations – some more palatable than others. Guess which ones made it onto the official reply? The first list.
But it’s the second that’s provided fuel for today’s stream of self-hatred.
‘You’re a coward. You’ve still got eating and OCD and social interaction issues. You’re no better than you ever were – sure, your weight’s fine and you’re not hand-washing or hiding completely…but you’re lying if you think you’re normal. You may as well give up now’.
This is the thing with recovery. Sometimes you reach a certain point, where it’s easier to stay in the same place rather than take risks . To make peace with a certain level of dysfunction and label it ‘the way I am’. But at heart, you know that’s not the way forward. Plus, whether you beat yourself up or make excuses, you’re staying in the dark. But the gospel says that it’s really ok to be you. That you’re known and loved, whether you perform or not. But light needs to be shone into those murky corners – for your own sake, as well as that of others.
And that’s the shape of recovery. You move forwards and win battles. My weight has been stable for a few years now. I can eat a variety of different foods and (when I push myself) I can even enjoy food with others. I’m no longer compulsively hand-washing. I’m not locked in the house with panic attacks.
But. I still have OCD and food issues. I still get depressed and I still panic when I can’t control my environment. Am I where I was? No. Am I where God is leading me yet? No. But I’m on the path.
I’m not going to the women’s meal and that makes me sad. But there’ll be others. I am going to a friend’s hen dinner next week – and by God’s grace I’m going to enjoy it too.
You see, it’s not all or nothing. It’s baby steps, into the light. So don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes – but don’t settle for a lesser slavery either. Don’t lie to yourself – but know that it’s okay to be a work in progress. Live in the truth – but also in grace. My prayer is that I will too.