By: Vanna Winters
How do you merge the selfishness that recovery requires with the selflessness that motherhood demands? I wish I had a clear, concise list to present to you, but the truth is, I'm forging my way through this path on my own for the first time. It isn't easy but I’m learning as I go. Trying to rediscover who you are while raising children can feel overwhelming on your easiest day. You can't predict how long this journey will take or what you'll stumble across along the way, but it will be worth all the painstaking effort.
Throughout it all, your children are watching you. They’re watching you grow. They’re watching you challenge yourself. They’re watching you struggle. But most of all, they're watching you overcome and never give up. Recovery is thought of as so many things, but how often do you think of it as an opportunity to teach your children that it’s okay to struggle deeply in life? How frequently do you stop to realize your effort will be their guidepost to picking themselves back up in life whenever they may stumble and that shame doesn’t have to be part of it?
Even when it may feel as though you're being selfish for spending so much time on your own recovery, the actuality is that you haven't stopped being a parent. You're giving them an amazing glimpse into what it's like to hunt down your own authenticity and to own it with everything you have. Some of these life lessons will stick with them forever and resurface in their minds when they're in some of their darkest times as an adult. Those memories will arise and they will think of you. They will think of your work. They will think of your effort. They will think of your pain. They will remember you never gave up, that you fought with everything you had for as long as it took.
We try to separate recovery from motherhood in our minds because these are two incongruent things, as we cannot be selfish and selfless at the same time. But in reality, recovery from an eating disorder is one of the most selfless things you can do for your children. Staying in the sheltering canopies of the eating disorder and living a life half-present is nothing short of selfish. This is merely a romanticized dystopia that your eating disorder uses, holding onto you tightly with guilt. It thrives by making you believe that forsaking your own needs is the only way we can truly care for other people. The message that recovery is something you are not worthy of because you're not deserving of your own focus gets perpetuated in the mind. The con that focusing on yourself to recover takes away from your children is just that: a lie.
Your healing is their healing. On the days you feel you do not deserve to recover: remember that you’re recovering for them. When you feel like you are not strong enough to fight for yourself: remember you’re fighting for them. You are all connected in this battle, there is no way to separate out who is affected and who is not. Win or lose, illness or recovery, your choice is reaching beyond just your own life. The ripple of each wave is felt by everything in the ocean. So when you hear the words encircling your mind that you cannot recover because you're a mom, pause. Your new mantra; your new battle cry from here on out, is that you must recover because you are a mom.
Vanna Winters: Writer. Advocate. Survivor. My profound desire to bring awareness to the public and a sense of unwavering support to those forging their way through recovery from mental illness continues to push me through recovery. I've spent twenty years living both in the dark corners of mental illness and in recovery, as a child and as an adult and mother. These experiences have cultivated a strong insight into eating disorders and their manifestation that propels me forward to be a voice in the mental health community.