Step one is sobriety. It doesn’t really matter what you’re recovering from. That’s the first step. Sober thoughts and sober acts.
Walk the sober walk.
Getting sober is hard. It doesn’t matter what your drug of choice is. Alcohol, pills, food, whatever. It’s hard to step away from the substance you abuse, even though, by the time you decide to do so, you’ve recognized that it’s harming you.
Even though by the time you’re ready to step away, you’ve already moved to hell and have taken up residence there.
The brain is a creature of habit, even when they’re harmful habits. It likes to follow well-worn paths.
Knowing you’re harming yourself with your behaviour isn’t enough to make you change. I knew my eating disorder was killing me and I still didn’t stop. You have to want to be different more than you want to stay the same; it can take a long time to get to that place. You have to want to live; it has to be your number one.
It wasn’t mine. I wanted – still want a lot of the time, if I’m being honest – to be thin. I wanted it more than anything. More than my work, more than my friends, more than my family, more than my life. It was everything. I didn’t care that my eating disorder was killing me. It was a price I was willing to pay. I used to dream about getting cancer. Not so I’d be free of the eating disorder. Because if I had cancer, then I’d get thin. Winning.
Getting sober is hard. Making changes so I no longer compulsively turn to my drug of choice repeatedly throughout the day is difficult. I thought at the time that learning to not starve myself, learning to not throw up, would be the hardest thing I ever did.
That was before I tried to live sober. Getting sober is a lot easier than staying that way. Changing how you think feels impossible.
We weld ourselves to our patterns and routines. They become part of our basic makeup. Letting go of the patterns that carry us through our days is akin to severing a limb. It is a wrench and a loss. We miss the thing that is destroying us.
I miss my eating disorder immensely, even though I still have the thought patterns a great deal of the time. I miss how it took up time. I miss how it filled my days. I miss how it suppressed my anxiety. It was a part of me for a very long time and its absence leaves a hole.
Abstinence is just the first step. Once you achieve sober behaviours, you have to go after the thoughts. Rewriting your thought processes is very difficult. You have to be on it all the time. Some thoughts and behaviours are harder than others.
For instance, I’m getting better at the “fat” talk. I don’t call myself fat and ugly all the time anymore. I call myself names a lot, but not as much as I used to. This is progress. I also argue with myself when I smack talk. I point out the logical fallacies. I replace the thoughts with more positive ones. I practice positive affirmations. It’s a tiring and an ongoing struggle and I have areas that challenge me more than others. But I’m making progress.
Then we have hunger. Hunger is a big one. I’ve always argued with my hunger. I try to logic it away. I still do, even though I eat my scheduled meals and snacks. Hunger, to me, feels like a win. If I’m hungry, I’m doing something right. Hunger means I’m not fat, not failing, not grotesque. Hunger means I’m winning. Winning what is never defined. But hunger is something I courted and I still embrace it when it shows up.
I tell myself that hunger isn’t a personal quality. Being hungry doesn’t mean I’m a good person. It doesn’t mean I’m strong. It’s simply a marker that shows my stomach is empty and my body needs fuel. The logical side of my brain agrees. The eating disorder side snorts in derision.
Step one is sober behaviour. It’s hard. Step two is rewriting the brain. It’s brutal. The brain does not want to change. It likes to travel the same road over and over; it’s easier and we’re programmed to take the easy path.
But I’ve heard that the road less travelled is the one that gets you where you need to go.