I’ve decided to start writing down recovery tips to remind myself what I know.
I’ve learned so much over the years of treatment and personal experience, but they’re easy to forget in the moment!
So, for the first tip, here’s a visualization exercise.
It’s immensely helpful to bring up these images when I’m about to do a maladaptive behavior I’m trying to stop, or engage in a new healthy behavior I don’t necessarily feel like doing:
Answer the following questions:
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
- In 10 years?
- In 20 years?
- What do you need to do to get there?
- Where will you be instead in 5 years if nothing changes?
- In 10 years?
- In 20 years?
When answering these questions, try to use all 5 senses and be specific as possible:
- How you feel in your body?
- What your relationships are like?
- What you do for a living?
- What you do for fun or personal growth?
- What are your emotions?
- Where do you live?
- What do you look like?
- How do you dress?
- What sort of example do you set for people you care about?
For me, the most impactful images from this exercise are 20 years out.
What will happen if I keep doing what I’m doing:
If I keep bingeing, hiding inside, avoiding people, giving up on my dreams, stewing over the past, and wearing baggy clothes to hide my size – I don’t like what I see.
- I picture myself in a ratty old nightdress that I wear over and over again because nothing else fits and I don’t want to do laundry.
- My body is always sore and bloated and uncomfortable.
- I don’t have any close friends, my parents are now deceased, my brother has long since stopped talking to me, and I don’t have a family of my own.
- I have some sort of job that I hate but pays the bills (barely).
- I don’t do anything for fun or personal growth besides binge and watch videos online to pass the time.
- I feel numb from the food. When I do feel, I am depressed about my life, angry that things turned out this way, and resentful of everyone whose life is better than mine. I hate myself and am disgusted with how I live my life.
- My unhealthy lifestyle has exacerbated my bipolar disorder, and I’ve been in and out of the hospital a few more times. Each time I get worse because I have no support system to help me get back on my feet.
- I’m in some dingy little apartment, maybe just renting a room because I can’t afford anything more.
- My hair is straggly and unkept, my skin is blotchy from all the food, I wear clothes that are loose and baggy.
- I set an example of what not to be like.
What will happen if I change:
If I eat normally, go outside and meet people, pursue my dreams, and dress for the body I have – I have a shot at a great life.
- I feel alive in my body with lots of energy. I sleep well and wake up well-rested. I can run, move, climb, hike.
- I have close friends that I see regularly, coworkers, and I have a family of my own – a husband with kids and his extended family. Even if my parents are deceased and my brother doesn’t want to know me, I still have people in my life I can call family.
- I’ve pursued my dreams and they pay the bills, or I’ve found a fulfilling job that does while I pursue those dreams on the side. I’ve maybe gone back to school for that advanced degree that lets me work the job I’ve always wanted.
- For fun and personal growth, I go hiking, I rock climb, I read books, I write, I play with my kids and kiss my husband.
- I have a deep sense of contentment beneath whatever surface emotions come and go. I’ve learned how to live with bipolar disorder and can manage the small fluctuations like a pro. My family all know this and love and support me just the way I am.
- I live with my family in a nice flat in the city we can afford because we are responsible adults when it comes to our finances.
- I look healthy because I am healthy and I take care of my body. I wear clothes that I like rather than because they hide my body. They have colors and the fabric is nice.
- I set a great example for my kids, for my coworkers, for other people in recovery, and for people in general trying to live a fulfilling life.
I know these two examples are extreme, and maybe neither would ever be a reality, but they have been two shining beacons guiding my choices.
If I want to binge, I think of myself standing in front of a mirror in that ratty nightdress with blotchy skin and straggly hair.
I’ll then see myself having a picnic instead with my future family in a nice big park with green grass. The stark contrast makes the choice easy.
I also hammer it home that the choice begins today.
That’s why doing the visualization in increments (5 years, 10 years, 20 years) is so helpful. I can see how that change would progress over time. Those come in handy when I say “that’s so far in the future, one more time wouldn’t hurt.”
It would. Because choosing that life over and over again will make it a reality.
Bringing back this visualization is what helped me to quit bingeing cold turkey over a week ago. After bingeing for over 5 months, this is the longest I’ve gone since I started. And it hasn’t felt like work. The choice is so easy and obvious when I make it this black and white.
It’s even worked the few instances when I’ve overeaten, felt out of control, and just wanted to go binge until I couldn’t breathe. This NEVER happens. If I overeat, a binge is basically guaranteed.
Anyway, this has been a good reminder for me. I hope anyone who reads will also find it useful!
Ana (age 25)
Maybe we should each give a tip from our respective ages? I (Ana, age 25) have definitely forgotten tips that Twenty-Three (age 23) or Fifteen (age 15) used. Cookie Monster (age 11) surely has ways to cope with stress that we’ve all long forgotten.