Stalled. Plateaued. Uninspired. Unmotivated. We rarely see depictions of the recovery journey like this in cheery Instagram posts and on pro-recovery websites. The reason being, why would we? Recovery is hard enough: a daily, uphill battle (especially at the beginning), and often it is messages of hope, inspiration and stories of victory that help push us through the more difficult days.
However, every day in recovery is not full of hope and inspiration. In reality, there are seasons in everyone’s recovery journey that bring day after day of struggle: where it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier and it feels like all of the hard work is not paying off. Facing the fear, the food, the emotional roller coaster and numerous appointments with therapists feels like drudgery, and not because there is a desire to return to the eating disorder or addiction, but just because you are “over it.” Done. You feel stalled and begin to question whether this “recovery” thing is really worth it. And that is when the cynicism sets in.
Cynicism is more than just feeling disappointed or the occasional questioning of the process. It is an all-consuming mindset that filters everything through gray-tinted lenses and distorts reality. It hears all messages of hope, of victory, of encouragement as false claims, and convinces you that you’re weak if you believe them. It stops believing anything good can happen to you, or through you, and forces you from a position of perseverance to capitulation and defeat. If cynicism has its final say, it can lead to relapse, or worse.
Of course, cynicism is a mask that the eating disorder, addiction, or other behavior wears to pull you back into its web of lies. It is far from the voice of truth.
So how do we deal with the days, or sometimes the seasons, of recovery that feel less like a journey to freedom, and more like the ancient Sisyphus’ punishment, pushing a boulder uphill for all eternity?
1. Realize You Are Not Alone
You are not the only one to fight this battle, or to feel this way. Exasperation and feelings of weakness are a part of recovery, and it doesn’t mean you are failing at it, or that freedom is not possible. Millions of people have struggled with eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction, and millions have found lasting recovery. You are part of an incredible, strong, fierce group of men and women who have fought, tooth and nail, the uphill battle and have come out the other side victorious – even after wading through the mud for days on end. You are not alone, on your best days, and on your worst.
2. Stop Comparing Your Recovery to Anyone Else’s
Feelings of worthlessness in recovery can often result from comparing our recovery to others’. But recovery is individual and every one has a different story, a different path. You can take joy in knowing that you are not alone, but also abandon the concept that in order to blast free from a dark season, you must do it the way that some celebrity, friend, or role model did it. Comparing our lives, our struggles, and our triumphs does nothing to serve us, it only feeds the monster of cynicism and hopelessness. You are a unique individual on your own road to recovery.
3. Focus on Small Victories
When the process is overwhelming, challenge yourself to celebrate the small victories. It can be easy to wallow or focus on ways we’ve missed the mark, failed to adhere to our plan or therapists’ guidelines, but what good can come of it? Instead, push yourself to recognize, identify and name the small steps of progress. In fact, write them down or tell someone, and ask them to remind you of them when you are going through a difficult time.
4. Be Patient with Yourself
Vent your frustration to a member of your treatment team or a trusted confidant. Do not suppress the anger, sadness, anxiousness or hopelessness that you may feel, lest it fester and rear its ugly head as cynicism later on. Honor your emotions – especially the negative ones. Be honest about where you are, and allow yourself the space to feel what you are feeling. Be patient with yourself, and know that it may be a season, but seasons pass. It may take time, but the effort does, indeed, pay off.
Some of the bravest, strongest people I have ever known are those who have fought long, hard roads to freedom and healing. No one I know who has made it through recovery has made it easily, and all had days where they felt defeated and stalled. Each one of their stories, however, and their timelines, was different. And so will be yours.
The sun is beautiful and brings light and life to all under its gaze, and yet sometimes, the sun hurts our eyes, can burn our skin and wilt our energy. Sometimes, we can’t look directly at the light of hope during the recovery journey because it is too painful, or we are simply weary of it. You have full permission to stand in the shade for a while. However, it is not a place to live. With intentionality, acceptance, and in your own time, you can step back out into the light and continue the journey.