The Power of Pause in ED Recovery

There are a lot of common phrases in recovery such as:

  • Recovery isn’t linear
  • Recovery is a process
  • Relapses happen
  • Relapses are a part of the process
  • Recovery is a journey

One part of the process that isn’t often described with a catchy phrase, but is felt frequently, is feeling stuck. There isn’t movement forward towards treatment goals and there isn’t movement backwards. It is just stagnant. This can be a very frustrating place to be in because of the drive to keep moving forward and achieve desired outcomes. It can also lead to hopelessness if it feels impossible to continue moving forward.

This might look like someone who has decreased bingeing behaviors from daily to 2x per week, but can’t seem to continue to decrease frequency further. It could also look like someone who has ceased purging behaviors although is still not quite able to comply with meal plan recommendations completely. There can be a struggle to completely let go of behaviors and the person may feel stuck between recovery and their eating disorder.

When this stagnation is described as being stuck, that can increase shame, disappointment, hopelessness, and frustration. The individual might get down on themselves and experience ruminating thoughts around not working hard enough, not making enough progress, feeling like a failure, and confusion around why there is a barrier. It might also be a time when it feels like recovery isn’t possible and that the best option is to return fully back to the eating disorder.

There is a negative connotation to the words stuck and stagnant. However, in order for someone to feel this way, it means they have already made significant progress. I think a more beneficial reframe of the word “stuck” is: pause.

Recovery doesn’t have to mean always moving forward. It actually needs to include rest and pauses. There are peaks and valleys. Movement and stillness. Pausing can look like maintaining the significant progress that has already been made and figuring out what it looks like to get more comfortable with this “new normal” or routine. Pausing can allow someone to catch up to the changes that have been made and also provide clarity for the next steps forward.

In this way, a pause could provide a chance to reflect on values and intentions. Maybe the changes have helped someone feel more aligned to some values and maybe there are other values that are still being missed or neglected in the recovery process. Maybe there are still needs that aren’t being met in recovery, which creates a longing for eating disorder behaviors. If there has been changes in behaviors yet still a lot of rumination on eating disorder thoughts that could create a stuck feeling too. This could be an important time to look towards thought defusion work to discover new perspectives and ways to let go of unhelpful thoughts.

Noticing the need for a pause may help with further discovery that is necessary towards movement forward rather than assuming what the next step has to be. Just because someone is working on decreasing bingeing behaviors, maybe a way to work on recovery moving forward is actually about setting goals to connect more to loved ones or spend more time engaging in fun activities. There are a lot of goals that can align with eating disorder recovery that don’t have to do with food or body image. A pause may allow more space to explore and be creative in recovery.

Let’s learn to embrace pauses in recovery.