Tag Archives: statistics

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

Near Life Experiences: Death vs. Recovery

How many of us with eating disorders have had a near death experience?

According to a lot of the statistics, it’s more than you’d think. These are some of the numbers I found:

* Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
* A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
* The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
* 20% of people suffering from eating disorders will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems

The thing we forget about statistics a lot of the time is that each one of those numbers represents a person; in this case, a person who is in alone, sick, and in pain. And when we’re in our eating disorders it’s very easy to forget the reality of these statistics entirely, to forget their implications. We forget how close a relationship we have with Death; how it follows us like a shadow, is draped about us like a cloak, holds us just slightly separate from everything else in our lives. Every day that we live with an eating disorder, whatever type of eating disorder it is, is a day when we walk the line between Life and Death. And far too many of us live in that state until sooner or later, Death ups its game.

I dodged this more times than I care to remember. I went for sixteen years, ignoring everything from stomach ulcers to heart arrhythmias. Only twice do I remember specifically being scared enough to actually go symptom free for a while. The first time, I was seventeen, in one of my worst periods of anorexia. I developed an electrolyte imbalance severe enough to cause a heart attack. Still in the hospital two days later, I had to go through hyperalimentation because my anemia had gotten so bad that my blood couldn’t carry oxygen anymore. When I got home, I stopped all behaviors for about a month. Unfortunately, as my discomfort went up, so did my denial. I went back to my eating disorder.

The second time, I was actually in treatment. I had been inpatient for two months when my severe reflux (from years of bulimia) caused aspiration pneumonia. I ended up having to have part of my lung removed, was in a coma for two days, and in the hospital for a month. My heart stopped in surgery and I was clinically dead for over a minute.

Even that did not inspire me to recover.

This is the insanity of eating disorders. That you can literally die, be given a second chance, and still go back to the behaviors that nearly ended your life for good. I suppose by the time you get to the point that I had though, Death just isn’t all that scary anymore. In fact, for a lot of people, it can seem like a good escape from a life of pain. I know that’s what led to my continual relapse, my suicide attempts, and what leads to many others’.

The problem with that idea is that if you decide on that escape plan, whether on the form of suicide or continuing in your eating disorder, you’ll never know what life feels like when it isn’t painful. You’ll never get to experience all the things that are possible when you reach the other side; the beauty, the love, the freedom, the peace. Death, as many have said to me, is a permanent solution to temporary problems. I was fortunate enough to be given enough chances to come to that conclusion. However, we never know when our time is up. We must treat each day as an opportunity for change, a new chance to make new choices. Because as long as we’re still breathing, anything is possible.

© Sarah Henderson 2010