This title is not a typo. I don’t mean bingeing during eating disorder recovery. I mean actually bingeing on the recovery process itself.
Fear and Hope
If you have an eating disorder you enter psychotherapy with fear and hope. You fear the loss of your eating disorder, and you fear that therapy won’t work to end your eating disorder.
You hope you will get rid of the burden of the eating disorder, and you hope you will keep your life as it is so you will have access to the eating disorder when you need it.
Binge Method of Sabotage
One way to combine your fear and hope is to binge on getting well so that you sabotage your recovery.
You do this by rushing into goal-oriented behaviors. You have a list of positive goals that you tell yourself you will work to achieve, but you don’t get very far. This is the life of a person with an eating disorder. You know what you would like to be able to do or not do, but you cannot make those activities real and steady in your every day life. Does this sound familiar?
Get adequate sleep. Eat three meals a day. Clean and organize home. Get back to the gym or walk every day. Get back to classes. Stop all bad habits (booze, drugs, negative or abusive relationships, shop lifting, lying, postponing etc.). Fix everything that is broken – clock, watch, car, windowpane, and chair leg. Organize money and papers. Pay bills. Clear out clutter. Write apology and thank you notes. Come out of isolation and be with people. Be responsible at work or go back to work in a responsible way. Start the project that is meaningful to you that you never really get into.
Bingeing on Recovery
On top of seeing your psychotherapist several times a week, which is appropriate you add these activities: Read a recovery book a day. Take a meditation class and a yoga class and a creativity class and a spirituality class. Go to a support group every day and a 12 step meeting every day. Journal ever day and exercise every day. See your nutritionist several times a week and call her every day. Watch documentaries and educational DVDs about therapy and relationships and healing.
Nothing is wrong with these goals. They are worthwhile and achieving them will improve your life.
Bingeing on recovery involves sailing into action on all these goals immediately. You clear the decks and begin to set your life straight before you are equipped to handle the emotions and consequences of making these changes. You will exhaust yourself and diffuse your energy so the gains that you do make are temporary and lost in the confusion of your charging off in many directions at once.
You may be in the early stages of psychotherapy where you haven't yet established a solid relationship with your therapist yet.
Before you can pursue many of these goals you need to heal some wounds and develop coping skills based on your newly acquired strength.
Part of your process is to clear your mind or your perceptions of the eating disorder distortions that affect your ability to think and make reasonable judgments.
You can be filled with hope and determination. That's wonderful. But you can binge on pursuing your goals too soon. If you do will will exhaust yourself with activity and frighten yourself by removing defenses before you are ready. This is what happens if you binge on your recovery.
When your binge momentum, fueled by hope and fear, hurls you into a situation where you are more exposed and available to the world with which you cannot cope, you crash. (You always crash after a binge.) Then you criticize yourself for failing.
At the same time, you are home in the familiar zone of binge aftermath with your eating disorder intact. You binged on your recovery. You feel miserable that you failed and relieved that you failed. That’s effective sabotage.
How to Understand
Your goal list is reasonable and worth pursuing. Your motivation is based on wanting health and a better life. You use the skills, knowledge and energy you possess to move forward with your life and cooperate with the aims of your recovery. All this is good.
The problem is that when you are still governed by the force and the limitations of your eating disorder you act out your symptoms with therapeutic goals as well as food. Your beginning eating disorder recovery work is about creating a sturdy healing environment with your psychotherapist. Once that is secure you can begin, gradually, at the pace that is right for you, to gently pursue your goals as you heal.
Relationship with Your Psychotherapist
Your therapist will encourage you to take it easy, slow down, go gently into your work by being present for the therapy itself. Early in therapy you’ll most likely think that she is being easy on you. You'll think that she doesn’t understand how competent you are and how you have the ability to do what you set your mind to do.
You may believe that she doesn’t appreciate how important your goals are to you or understanding your sense of urgency in getting them done. You may feel offended or angry or superior or all three, just as you do when anyone attempts to interrupt you in a binge.
Real Challenge in Beginning Recovery
Your challenge is to let yourself be present with this unknown person, this therapist and discover if he or she is trustworthy, is reliable, and is warm, caring and firm at the same time.
The first step in recovery is not to sail into all those goal tasks, but to develop an honest relationship with your therapist. Establishing that relationship will allow her to help you slow down your eating disorder momentum.
Focusing on showing up for your appointments and giving yourself a chance to have a relationship with your therapist will give your therapist a chance to help you. Then you can believe her when she says,
“You don’t have to do everything at once. In fact, you can’t. If you try you will only set yourself up to fail and then feel bad about yourself.”
If you can let her help you pace yourself in a reasonable way, something you can’t do if an eating disorder is running your life, you can drop the binge behavior and begin genuine recovery work.
A lot of learning happens when you discover you can binge on recovery. Even more learning happens when you discover you can stop that binge and open yourself to genuine recovery.