Sometimes as a therapist I think I can get ahead of myself. Having been privileged enough to witness many people’s journey to recovery, it can be easy for me to see the path to wellness easier then my clients can and sometimes I point out the steps they will take along the way thinking this will make them feel more safe. While I do my best to regulate anxiety, and to go slow so my client can stay grounded, it can be easy at times to forget that often the biggest part of the journey is just coming in and wanting to get help.
We often want to gallop to the end of the journey – the place where things don’t hurt as much, where we don’t cope in such destructive ways, and our relationship with self and food is healthy and supportive. When we are focusing on recovery the end goal is what we set our sights on. This is normal and healthy because it gives us direction and an outcome to work towards. What can happen, however, is that we can end up focusing on the forest – not the trees – as we are trying to find our way to wellness and doing so can leave us overwhelmed and afraid of taking our next step.
Eating disorders act like nasty dictators that live inside our heads. They tell us what we are allowed to do and what we aren’t, and they constantly change the rules so we never know who to trust and what decisions are safe. In recovery you have to learn how to do things that appear simple on the outside (like eating regular meals, being kind to yourself, practicing self care), but feel impossible on the inside. What makes recovery more manageable is learning to focus on the next small step, the smaller the better, and practicing it consistently and patiently. We reach our desired outcome by taking small, consistent steps.
I often paint the picture of recovery being like climbing mount Everest in my practice. IF you have ever watched a documentary on individuals who climb Everest, you’ll see they take one very small step at a time, ensuring their crampons are properly gripped into the ice before taking the next. There are 5 different places where you set up camp before continuing on to the next journey, just as there are different parts of the climb that are easier and more challenging than others.
I believe recovery is most successful when we approach it in a similar way. Focusing on the next step ahead instead of the whole mountain in front of us. As with Everest, there will be parts that feel easier and parts that will feel extremely difficult but when we reach those difficult times we can always set up camp for awhile to prepare for the climb ahead and to recover from the climb now behind us.
Wherever you are in your recovery, I would encourage you to give yourself permission to focus on your next step, instead of the mountain ahead. Progress is more important than perfection and maintaining that focus will take you considerably further in your recovery.In the end it can be giving ourselves permission to go slow that will allow us to go fast.