Setting realistic expectations during the recovery process—and accepting what that reality means for recovery—particularly early recovery—can be a challenging and humbling experience. Many of us in recovery/recovered (interchangeable for me) were very used to setting or having set high expectations in our lives prior to recovery—and they were realistic in the sense that it was normal to expect to be above the crowd who thought that being average or just doing your best was acceptable.
Doing your best for us meant being the best. Due to many variables—perhaps a combo of temperament, talent, motivation, and perseverance—being the best student, athlete, dancer… and later… anorexic, bulimic, etc., was a realistic expectation because that is just what we did and who we were. Enter recovery. I thought I was going to attack recovery like I did any other challenging task. I knew what I needed to do and I was just going to do it. Right. My black-and-white thinking negated the function of the eating disorder and all of the insidious layers that maintained the ED.
I had been purging 10-30 times a day for the greater part of 14 years—even after the many months of treatment and being symptom free, it wasn’t realistic (for me) that I was going to do recovery perfectly in early recovery. I had slips, many of them. Setting realistic and attainable goals is what helped me the most in the recovery process. Every time I told myself I was going to follow my meal plan perfectly and didn’t it gave my ED an excuse to say, “Hello, remember me? Come back to me.”
It wasn’t reasonable for me to think that just because I followed my meal plan and was symptom free that I should’ve also been rid of body image issues. Similarly, I couldn’t love or even like myself unless I started talking compassionately to myself. As I set reasonable expectations and attainable goals, my confidence and self-esteem grew and I got better one baby step at a time.