I remember eagerly, yet timidly, beginning eating disorder recovery. Notebook in hand, I was terrified, ashamed, and I was oh-so-tired. I was ready to be done, or so I thought. I didn’t realize on day 1 that recovery would be a process and I wouldn’t get better with that one notebook. It turns out that I scribbled through dozens and dozens of journals before finding freedom. And throughout all of these journals, I would often write, “I am hopeless. I can’t do this anymore.”
Here are seven keys that kept me going and that might help you, too:
- Get some hope holders. No, you can’t pick these up at your local grocery store. But these are actually pretty easy to find. Although, many of us—like me—will often use the excuse, “But I don’t have any of these.” Hope holders are people in our lives who hold onto our faith when we lose it. These are family members or friends. If you are isolated—as addictions and eating disorders like to keep us—the good news is twelve-step meetings exist that welcome everyone. In fact, these days there are twelve-step meetings on a wide array of topics, and at open meetings, anyone can attend. And, if you live in a small town without many meeting options, no worries. If you have access to the Internet or a phone you can find a lot of free meeting options online. Like I said, hope holders are easy to find.
- Find a spiritual protector. While you are joining a twelve-step meeting you are bound to hear something about a higher power, about something greater than yourself. What does spirituality mean to you? In my recovery from an eating disorder as well as PTSD, I ultimately realized that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed not only those hope holders as well as professional help but I also needed my higher power, which I personally choose to call God. I prayed. Each day, I tried to remind myself that I was in the arms of a loving God. My therapist even encouraged me to get a symbolic piece of clothing in order to remind myself of being in a protective presence. Today, I still wear my pink hoodie if I’m having a hard day.
- Get out in nature. For many like me, nature is spiritual. My eating disorder recovery uncovered this part of myself that I never knew: I love nature. Being outside helps me to stay grounded. Being grounded helps me to hold onto my own hope. When I was in treatment for PTSD over a decade after my eating disorder recovery, I spent many hours walking in nature, often barefoot. Feeling my toes against the sand and grass felt so good. When I had to wear shoes, as was often the case, I still desired skin-to-skin-nature, so I found a solution through rocks in my pockets—or seashells. Acorns worked, too. Let’s just say that you never know what you might find in my washing machine these days.
- Think about what you are recovering to. As I said above, my eating disorder recovery brought me to nature. What will your recovery bring you? Are you moving toward your family, friends, a career, a home, your passion, a pet, a new car, a garden, a cooking class? Many of us (again, like me) can get so lost in our struggle to get better that we forget why we are doing all of the hard work in the first place. We are recovering from our illness in order to recover our lives. I was able to maintain hope in some of my darkest times by strumming my guitar, brainstorming about my next book, and playing with my nephews and nieces.
- Recover for someone else. Often, especially in my PTSD recovery, I honestly found hope to keep fighting by imagining the faces of my little nieces and nephews. I thought about them getting older, and I wanted to be there to see it happen. I know this is kind of taboo to say, especially in a blog that mentions twelve-step meetings. But, here’s the thing: thinking of my nieces and nephews was just a start for me. I gained motivation to stay in the recovery process by thinking of Andrew, Aiden, Alex, Addison and Noah. After that, it was up to me to figure out a way to make my recovery about me. What I mean is: to maintain recovery gains, I needed to get better for myself. And, ultimately, I did.
- Remember a moment of freedom. When I was hopeless, I would re-read parts of my journal that talked about moments of freedom—like a day with my family. I will never forget the afternoon when I got the call that my first nephew, Andrew, was born. I was driving to Kentucky from Nashville, where I lived at the time. I was still deep in my eating disorder, but nothing, absolutely nothing, was wrong in that moment. Consider keeping a journal that notes the good moments. It might just be a sentence or two about a few moments of laughter with a friend. These moments can eventually string together to be your life.
- Take care of you. Of course, hope is impossible to maintain if you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Listen in those twelve-step meetings when you hear the acronym HALT. Never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. For me, once I let myself go in either of those directions too far, my hope meter would also drop too low. We must nurture ourselves as best we can. Of course, I know this is hard, especially when many of our illnesses fight this very thing. We do the best we can.
Yes, this is a lot. Recovery is a lot. And, I know you have heard this a lot. But all of it is worth it. Truly, it is. Maybe you are hopeless right now. Maybe, like me, you are thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.” But, that’s just your addiction or eating disorder talking. What would your hope holders say? Stick a rock in your pocket, put on your pink hoodie and get to a meeting. Now, go on. You got this.