Metaphors are my thing, they always have been. For as long as I can remember, whether in the context of teaching or simply having an emotional tell-all with a friend, metaphors have come to my side, allowing me to express myself in a clear, concise—and at times, creative—fashion. I was happy to discover, during my days of attending graduate school, that metaphors are in fact a therapeutic tool under the psychodynamic approach, a modality that I use more often than not.
There were a number of metaphors that came up recently in my sessions with clients that I believe truly highlight the nature of eating disorder recovery, and sharing them—I hope—will shed light in a manner that will allow you, the reader, to both understand and then be able to provide support to those around you.
Oftentimes, within the field of eating disorders, the topic of recovery is one that is both over-discussed and at the same time, not completely understood. People want to believe that recovery will be linear and quick, that it will include a team and guidelines around food, and that there will be a specific timeline. When I say people, this includes both those struggling as well as their loved ones. But this is far from the case. Recovery is a roadmap. Recovery is a roller coaster. It includes bumps and falls and ascension and progress. It can look one way and be another, fooling everyone involved.
For instance, generally when behaviors are contained, the feelings that lead to these behaviors are amplified and as a result, the person struggling can be experiencing even more pain by stopping the bingeing/restricting/purging etc. And yet, for her/his supporters, the managements-of-behavior use is what’s noticed and the increased negative feelings are not paid any mind.
Moreover, the individual in recovery, when finally expressing a willingness to let go of the eating disorder, may appear committed and ready and excited about the possibilities that await. But over time, s/he may enter the “mucky period” when in actuality s/he’s not using behaviors and still doesn’t feel any better. This is the moment when lapses often happen.
And so you see, recovery is complicated. It isn’t like taking a regimen of medication and then poof! being suddenly cured. There I go again with the metaphors… Rather, it is investment and hardship and irrational experiences when doing what is right and best for oneself can actually, viscerally, feel wrong.
I was discussing all of this with a client, and discussing the commitment that recovery requires. People want to believe that they can pick and choose around recovery, when really it takes challenging oneself 24 hours per day. The reality is that this does not happen often. Instead, that non-linear road includes choosing the “recovery”-related thing some of the time, and not being able to other times. But we encourage individuals, when they’ve had a lapse, or are still entering this roadmap toward recovery, to use skills and try to choose the recovery-thing the next time, and explore what prevented them from doing so when an eating disorder-minded decision is made.
Recovery is like motherhood. When I said this to my client she gave me a look that clearly showed that I needed to elaborate. New mothers, or fathers, cannot simply leave the baby somewhere when they get tired. (Let’s not pick apart this metaphor quite yet, roll with me…) Sure, there are grandparents and babysitters and distractions. But at the end of the day, parents do not leave their children when they get tired. They cry and scream and call friends and complain and also try to remind themselves of why they are grateful, and then perhaps vent some more. This is recovery. Recovery is carrying this baby on your hip at all times that is blaringly loud and tempting you to simply put it down and go back to the other way of life.
Recovery means needing to soothe that baby and feed it and care for it even when it wakes you up in the middle of the night shouting at the top of its lungs. When all you want to do it shut the door and go back to the thing that will “feel good,” you need to open that door and pick up the screaming child and soothe it, even though you don’t know when it will stop crying or allow you to have peace of mind. Recovery is commitment without knowing. It’s keeping that inner baby, that part of you that’s just discovering what the world can hold, this raw part that’s afraid and having a major tantrum, close to yourself. It’s not giving up on yourself or closing the door even when you’d like to. But it is also having time to yourself to rediscover who you are without the eating disorder—much as a parent might find just a little bit of time to him/herself while the baby naps.
Recovery is not simple or clear. It doesn’t come and go, it occurs all the time and takes patience and practice and talking out one’s emotional experience. Recovery may not be simple, but it is possible and there is always hope. It is when the outside community, the supporters, can understand this about recovery that those struggling can feel increasingly understood and therefore willing and able to ask for/accept support.
By Temimah Zucker, LMSW
Temimah Zucker, LMSW is a primary therapist at Monte Nido Manhattan as well as a public speaker and writer, and also works with clients privately on issues related to mental health, eating disorders and body image. Temimah uses her training in the field as well as her experience in recovery to connect with clients and supporters. Temimah will soon be co-facilitating a group for Jewish women in recovery from eating disorders. For inquiries or information, you can reach her at [email protected]