Whether you’re fighting an addiction, wrestling an eating disorder or trying to kick a bad habit, you’ve probably had the same question:
How long will this take?
Ten years ago I decided to beat my eating disorder. Cold bathroom floor against my knees, I realized my “quest for beauty” was destroying me, as I tried and tried to cleanse the guilt away by emptying my stomach. But I couldn’t do it. And I hated myself for that.
Starving myself, followed by ravaging binge eating, followed by guilt. So much guilt I could suffocate in it.
And that’s when I decided: I want out. I want to beat this. I don’t want to live like this anymore.
“Recovery.” That’s what they call it. I didn’t know if it was really possible, if I could really be free, but I had to try.
Just one question: How long would it take?
When I spent weeks and months getting a little bit better, then worse, then better, then worse, I started losing hope. When months turned into years, recovery felt impossible, and I felt like a failure. Why couldn’t I beat this thing?
I didn’t know about a little word called “relapse,” which is part of the recovery process. With the risk of oversimplifying this word, “relapse” basically means that making a mistake or falling back down is normal. You’re not going to recover on day one. Or even week one.
In fact, recovery is a lot like learning how to walk. When a baby takes its first wobbling steps, what does it do next? Fall. Every time. And no one says, “You stupid baby; I can’t believe you fell!” In fact, everyone who saw the baby’s first steps starts cheering: “You did it! Want to try again?”
Because falling and learning how to get back up is part of learning how to walk.
Can you imagine if that’s how we treated ourselves? What if, instead of beating myself up with guilt and frustration, I’d celebrated? “I took the first step! Yeah, I fell, but the important thing is, by God’s grace, I had the courage and strength to get up and take a step.”
One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 24:16: “For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again….” I’ve always thought the unrighteous would fall, but in Proverbs 24:16, it’s the righteous person who falls.
What does falling mean? For me, it was having a day when I particularly hated the girl in the mirror after several days of starting to like her. Or when I sunk back into old eating habits for a couple weeks. Or when I let frustration consume me.
In looking back, I’ve found that recovery is NOT about never making a mistake; it’s not about perfection. The key is that every time you fall, you get back up.
So here’s what I try to do now when I fall:
- Celebrate how many steps I took that time.
- Debrief myself by asking, “What did I learn that helped me walk so far that time?”
- Update my mentors and accountability partners.
- And then get back up to start walking again.
Recovery takes different amounts of time for different people, and for me, it took seven years. As I write this article, it is 10 years post-bathroom floor, and I finally like my body. I no longer drown in that starve-and-binge cycle, or the guilt that comes with it. There’s always room for improvement, but I’ll continue to grow stronger and healthier for the rest of my life.
All I have to do is keep getting back up.