To Treat, To Heal, To Recover From An Eating Disorder
*Healing is defined as the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again.
*To treat and treatment mean to care for or deal with medically or surgically and the management and care of a patient.
In my recovery from an eating disorder, healing has always been "my word." Healing feels like permission to mend, revive, restore. I visualize healing as en energy running through me like a thread gently renewing the connection between my mind, body, and spirit. I imagine physical and mental pain being enveloped by this nurturing energy that allows me boundless time and space to feel, process, and practice new patterns and perspectives until the place of pain is soothed---healed.
I often refer to recovery as a healing path. Healing path allows me to feel more “in process” and keep an open mind to that process, whereas "recovered" and "recovery" elicit ideas of landing, arriving, or conquering a destination. I believe that no matter how long we are "recovered," "in recovery," or "recovering," if we are truly engaged in our lives we are always healing in some capacity as we attend to life's twists and turns.
Recent conversations with my Yoga Therapy clients have highlighted the significance of the word healing in their lives as well. One client in particular shared her profound realization of the difference between treating and healing her eating disorder. She shared that, to her, "healing" means (1) connecting to her "real" self and (2) accepting where she is with the intention to change. She told me healing feels empowering, like she is actively and purposefully choosing her actions, words, thoughts, and behaviors; that she is the energy that drives the course of her recovery journey.
My client shared that to treat the eating disorder, on the other hand, feels like the day in and day out "recovery activities" she has to do to stay out of treatment or maintain a baseline of wellness. These moments feel more rote, mandatory (but optional), and are perceived to be associated with less personal agency or power.
Essentially, for this client, healing is personal and treating is medical or prescribed.
I've been exploring treating and healing with other clients too, as I am fascinated by the nuances of these words and how they apply to recovery. These conversations and my own reflection on the topic have illuminated how both treating and healing are essential to recovery. It can't be one just one or the other.
Especially in early recovery, most of us need medical care and prescribed physical and mental care. We need to establish a foundation of wellness that only treatment (inpatient, outpatient, etc) can provide. From that stability, we can begin the work of healing. Without the daily "treating" activities (like following a meal plan, going to appointments, or not buying laxatives, for example), we aren't ready to receive healing. And surely, it takes time before doing those treating things feels OK or becomes the new normal.
As I see it then, healing comes in the working through the feelings around our daily treatment steps. It comes from practicing perseverance, trust, surrender, courage, strength, and all the virtues--the "weapons of the warrior" in Yoga speak--we possess.
Here's what I mean:
Treat = not weighing yourself obsessively
Heal = the perseverance to work through the anxiety of not knowing your weight
Treat = following a meal plan
Heal = taking the hard steps to choose trust in your dietitian and talk out the fear about doing so
Treat = limiting time body checking
Heal = asserting courage to let go of depending on the mirror and processing angst around making this change
Treat = calling a friend when you want to restrict or binge
Heal = connecting with your strength to make the call in the first place and giving yourself credit for doing so
I could go on and on here, calling out how equally essential these two parts are to our recovery journeys. Both treating and healing can be tedious and take commitment, patience, repetition, and a whole lot of up and down. But we can handle that, we can ride that wave. We can treat the symptoms and heal the pain.
When we are in the depths of fearful, painful, and insecure moments, we can become ensnared in eating disorder thoughts and behaviors or begrudgingly stay on the "treat" side by believing "this is as good as it gets" (I remember saying those exact words to my therapist many times in years past). That attitude blocks our healing capacity; it disconnects us from our truest sources of power, our "weapons of the warrior." Opening ourselves to healing as my client defined it (accepting where one is with the intention to change) lightens the "weight" of recovering from an eating disorder. It gives us permission to mend, revive, restore.
As you continue you on your healing path, I invite you to notice the interplay of treating and healing in your life. Give yourself the credit due for how far you have come. Acknowledge that you dig deep everyday. Honoring your grit and persistence is the very first step in healing. Honor it each day, make healing a daily practice.