Tag Archives: growing up

Both Sides Now: Recovery and Absolute Thinking


Hello Recovery Writers! I hope you all are well. As most of you know, I have recently had some struggles with my past behaviors and gotten back into therapy. This has me thinking about all sorts of issues in recovery which, of course, I end up writing about. I hope my ramblings are helpful to some of you. Peace, Sarah

There is good and bad in everything. I don’t believe anything in life is completely bad or completely good; it’s all shades of gray. Unfortunately, as addicts and people with eating disorders, we tend to think in terms of extremes and absolutes. Black and white, good and bad, yes or no, all or nothing. And that kind of thinking is part of what keeps us sick and addicted.

In my recent struggle with the reemergence of my own eating disorder, I’ve been thinking more about this. In the past I’ve certainly realized that despite how much damage my eating disorder and various other behaviors did, and despite the fact that they nearly killed me, they also ironically saved my life. The eating disorder, the cutting, the pills; those things protected my sanity even as they were destroying my life and my body. So I honor that. I appreciate and respect what they did for me. And in that way, I cannot see my eating disorder or my cutting or my addiction as entirely bad things. Someone who’s not well-acquainted with a situation such as this might wonder, how can you say that? And I would say, there were good intentions at the heart of it. People who have been there know what I mean.

And just like I can’t say that my eating disorder and self-destructive behaviors were all bad, I can’t say that recovery is all raindrops and roses. As much as I enjoy the freedom and peace and new opportunities that come with recovery, a lot of new responsibilities show up as well. When you recover, you have to grow up. You have to function like a person, like an adult. You have to do the everyday mundane things that you got to neglect when you were sick: laundry, bills, dishes, cooking, shopping, cleaning, etc. When you were depressed or manic or caught up in your disease, you probably ignored most of these things; I certainly did. I became quite dependent on other people for help with managing the grown up stuff like rent and insurance because it all seemed too overwhelming for me to deal with. I never opened my mail because I couldn’t handle looking at bills that I didn’t know how to pay. However, when you get into recovery, this changes. You have to learn how to deal with these things, face your fears, become more independent. You eat your meals, take your pills, get to your appointments. And there is a sense of accomplishment and pride in those things that is really cool. But sometimes there’s also a kind of wish to go back to when it was easier, when you could just throw up your hands and say, I can’t! I’m sick! and people would take care of things for you. I would never advocate staying sick just to avoid responsibility. But I can’t say that it hasn’t crossed my mind before either. When you grow up in a way that’s really abnormal, destructive, or abusive, it’s not uncommon to get to adulthood without having learned basic life skills like how to balance a checkbook or cook for yourself. So a lot of the time it can be easier to fall back on addiction or other behaviors rather than try to learn those skills and be independent. And I don’t judge anyone who does that— it’s scary as shit to take on being responsible for yourself, and it’s taken me a hell of a long time to get even halfway there. We are creatures of habit who seek to avoid pain, avoid fear. And so often that’s what leads us back into illness.

Really I think that what it comes down to is how much benefit you will get out of which state. Will you get more benefit out of being sick at the moment? Or will you do better with being recovered? There are benefits to both. There are also drawbacks to both. In my opinion, the benefits of recovery far outweigh the benefits of staying sick. And the consequences of staying sick far outstrip the discomfort and anxiety that can come with recovery. However, at certain times, that perception can shift and it can seem like a better idea to go back to the familiar comfort of your illness. I get that. I just did that. And I think it was because I felt like I was so overwhelmed with all the grown-up stuff I was doing, I just needed to be in a safe and comfortable place of dependency on something I knew I could count on the be there for me. And what fit that description better than my eating disorder?

I hope that soon I can come out of that place, and can re-create a feeling of safety outside of my eating disorder. As I’ve said before, recovery is a process and it comes in shades of gray. It’s not perfect or shit, all or nothing, a slip and back to day one. It’s just life. You forgive the bumps in the road, move past them as best you can, and keep pushing forward. The more you are able to do that the easier it is to remain in recovery; the more compassion you have, the easier it is to strike a balance between the extremes.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011