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How to Measure Progress in Recovery

Denial is one of the biggest challenges to overcome in early recovery. But once the decision is made to face, head on, the enemy that is the eating disorder or addiction, the path forward becomes clearer, though not always easier. Once there is admission that we no longer want to struggle with the illness and truly desire to be well, whole and healed, then we can truly begin to make steps forward on the path to recovery.

When denial takes a back seat and the motivation to fully recover sets in, it can feel like a tremendous victory – and it is! We feel freer, like a literal weight is lifted off of the shoulders, and the desire to get quickly to the finish line of “recovered” is amplified. However, the journey to healing is a marathon, not a sprint, full of twists and turns that one can hardly predict. Recovery is not linear, and a desire to recover must be accompanied by persistence, especially through times when recovery no longer feels like a thrilling mission, but a daily slog with no end in sight.

At times like these, it helps to talk about progress. How can we measure it? What does it look like? How do we know if we are still taking steps forward? How can we regain that same sense of motivation during the middle and late stages of recovery, when we feel disillusioned or the voice of the eating disorder or addiction returns again to whisper lies?

Many who struggle with behavioral health issues are highly motivated, goal-seeking individuals, some with extremely perfectionistic tendencies, and when the recovery process doesn’t feel like it is moving at the pace they want, or they find themselves stuck in a rut, working through a particular emotional issue, it can feel as though this whole “recovery” thing is no longer worth it. But it is. We just need to develop skills to be able to truly recognize and see progress through the thick fog of the current moment, and celebrate it. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. First, Magnify

Take time to laser-focus on the small victories. Take time daily to meditate on, record and reflect on the little things you did today to confront the lies of the illness.  Do self-care, or practice acceptance. Celebrate eating the piece of cake, the moment taken to breathe instead of react, the deep, good conversation with a therapist or good friend, or whatever other action, however small, that is taken on the path to healing. It can help immensely too, to write these small victories down in a journal, or tell them to a friend, mentor or counselor. That way, we can look back at many days, weeks and months of small victories during difficult moments, and have an objective record that states, “Yes, I am indeed making progress, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

  1. Then, Take the 30,000 Foot View

It never helps to compare where we are in the recovery process to where others may be. Compare, and despair. Every person’s journey is different, because we are all unique. Instead, we should compare ourselves to where we were five days ago, five years ago, or longer and take a look at how far we have come! Sometimes the details of the emotional work of recovery can bog us down, but when we come up for air and take stock of how well we are handling challenging moments compared to when we were stuck in the illness, it can be a euphoric moment. When we pause to really remember the darkest moments of the eating disorder and addiction, and contrast that with a recognition of how radically different the mind is already changing through therapy, we can truly celebrate.

  1. Finally, Practice Acceptance

It is not a failure if every day in recovery does not move at the same pace. We are where we are, in this moment. We must adjust our attention to take care of just the next ten minutes, if the road ahead to healing seems too overwhelming. Practice affirming all the good work you have already accomplished and trust the process. Recovery is possible and there are many people living lives of freedom and wholeness – not perfection – and you will get there, too. But it is not a race, and so long as you are medically stable, there is no rush. Take your time. Breathe. Accept where you are in the process and recognize that progress looks different during different seasons of the recovery journey, and of life.

About Kirsten Haglund

“Since my own recovery, I am passionate about educating and empowering women to get the care they need to live amazing, productive and healthy lives,” said Haglund. “I see the same compassion and desire in the Timberline Knolls team and look forward to being a part of this work of restoring women to health.”

Haglund will continue to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on more than 20 college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders.

View all posts by Kirsten Haglund