I have spent many minutes, hours, months, and years trying to be perfect. I do not even know what perfect is, which makes it all the more difficult to attain that standard, but I have tried nonetheless. Somehow I got it in my head that the perfect, ideal eating disorder patient sees a therapist, nutritionist, and psychiatrist as part of his/her outpatient team in addition to attending regular groups like the aftercare group that my ED program offers. In the aftercare group, former patients get together and share what is and is not going well in recovery, which is moderated by one of the therapists at the ED program. When I am in town and do not have other time conflicts, I attend the aftercare group as part of my default therapy plan.
Every time I go to aftercare, I feel sad and helpless afterwards. The lives of people with eating disorders and/or in recovery from eating disorders are difficult and the other girls’ stories of their struggles make me sad and helpless. When someone is in the middle of a relapse, I want to help fix it by offering to do social meals together…but I do not have time for much more than what I am already juggling. When someone cannot afford to see a therapist or nutritionist, I want to help pay for that much-needed therapy, but I’m just a graduate student living on a small stipend.
On top of that, I rarely share my own struggles with the group. First, I am not relapsing right now so it is tough for me to prioritize my own need for feedback from the group as higher than/as high as someone who is relapsing. Also, I have a full treatment team, including seeing my therapist twice a week, so it is tough for me to prioritize myself over girls who do not have an outpatient team. For some girls, the support from aftercare is all they have, and I do not want to steal their time for receiving help. Finally, when other people are struggling, I tend to minimize my own distress to make it easier on everyone else, a default that I learned from growing up in a big family of six people who had a variety of needs.
At the same time, it is scary for me when people who were doing well in recovery for a year or so end up relapsing. I am far from making it to a year in recovery and I really, really do not want to relapse. Yes, I have heard/read that part of recovery often includes relapsing and that recovery is not a straight path up the mountain, and that I should expect to fall backwards at least a few times before I reach the summit. But, I do not want to go back to my disorder.
In any case, I had time to go to aftercare last night, but I specifically chose to not go. I am learning to choose the parts of therapy are actually most helpful for me and to accept that I do not have to be a “perfect” patient to maintain recovery.