One of my favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama (and there are many) is: “Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.”
This sentiment can apply to all sorts of things. You need to learn the basics of playing the piano before you can create an improvised melody. You need to understand the context of a situation and the other side of an argument before you can launch a good debate.
You need to learn the basics of health before you can recover.
This idea of “learning the rules” has helped me a lot during these early stages of recovery. This past year, I’ve had to do a lot of things that have felt somewhat juvenile. I had to eat what I was told to, when I was told to do it. I wasn’t allowed to run or do much physical activity at all. At times, I wasn’t even allowed to go to the bathroom by myself. It felt like I had gone from a fully independent 25-year-old right back to grade school.
But in reality, my illness had taken away my capacity to care for myself at the most basic level. What so-called “normal” people did intuitively—eat, exercise, get enough sleep—were things that I had subverted completely. Eventually, after spending years with this condition, I couldn’t even tell the healthy behaviors from the unhealthy ones. I had trained myself to live according to rules of an eating disorder.
As a result, I had to relearn the rules of health. I followed a meal plan, did my therapy “homework,” and listened to my counselors and doctors. Doing all of this was hard to tolerate in the beginning, but my clinical team assured me that it wouldn’t be this way forever. Eventually, my body would relearn the art of nourishment and I could stop being so rigid with eating certain amounts. And eventually, my spirit would relearn how to care for myself—and why I would want to do that.
One year later, many of the rules have indeed loosened up. I can exercise, as long as I don’t go overboard. I don’t have to attend as many therapy groups. And gradually, I’m easing off of my meal plan. This is proving to be the hardest thing to do, because sticking to a meal plan has actually come to feel very safe—I know that if I stay within its boundaries, my eating disorder can’t get to me. But the goal is to eventually break all of those rules and learn to eat intuitively—that is, to eat what my body needs and wants, when it needs and wants it. Not too long ago, such a thing would never have been possible. But now, after a year studying and learning the art of recovery, I’m nearly ready to start jazzing things up with a bit of improv.
About Joanna Kay
Joanna Kay is a writer in New York City and is recovering from an eating disorder. She is the author of The Middle Ground, a blog that deals with issues that impact people midway through the recovery process. You can follow Joanna on Facebook and Twitter, and additionally you can check out her blog The Middle Ground. Follow her HMC posts on Twitter with #AfterAnorexia