How Reading Fiction Helped me with Recovery

Reading Fiction and Eating Disorder Recovery

A big part of recovery for me was finding activities that I enjoyed doing simply for pleasure on my free time. Hobbies that had nothing to do with weight loss, food, dieting or appearance. It was difficult at first – because I had been so focused on productivity, improvement and perfection – but with time I was able to find a few things that I did purely for joy and relaxation.

An important hobby that helped me with recovery and my overall happiness was: reading fiction novels. Reading simply to get lost in a good story. Prior to this, I was reading non-fiction, self-help or diet books, constantly trying to learn or find some sort of hack to make my life better.  

Fiction helped me escape and take a break.

There was also a very healthy element to reading stories where I couldn’t see what the people looked like. I wasn’t constantly being bombarded by unhealthy body image standards but instead being able to imagine and create my own make believe world. It’s an unfortunate truth that we don’t have inclusive messaging within the media, so reading helped me get away from all of that. It was a gift that helped me tremendously during recovery.

Here are some of my favorite fiction books that I read during this time. Some of these books are light-hearted women focused novels, some are more dramatic and serious, some are fantasy sci-fi novels, but they were all chosen from a place of wanting to read a fun, pleasurable story that completely transported me. If you’re looking for a great read, I am sure you will find something good in this list! Here they are:

Dune by Frank Herbert

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

The Power by Naomi Alderman

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Recovery Diaries: No One Can Give You the Answers

No One Can Give You the Answers

For so much of my life I just wanted to be told the answer or what to do. In recovery I wanted an expert to tell me this is the optimal way you should live to heal and thrive, so then I could do that and go on my merry way.  

When I realized my eating disorder wasn’t going away without the help of a mental health team, I thought – “Ok I’ll go into therapy, they will tell me exactly what I need to do to recover, I will do the work, and then be done with this.”

I am not joking – I went in to my first appointment with a notebook and my questions for the therapist, which were along the lines of – What are the steps to recover? What do I need to do to recover as quickly as possible? Exactly how do I do it? How long is this going to take? And what is my homework?

I thought I simply needed to focus, do my assignments, and then I could kick this thing.

I was SO wrong.

The therapists I have seen over the years have avoided giving me any sort of regimen, or clear answers on how I should live my life. They are always helpful but they never tell me what to do. When I got frustrated with the process a few months ago, I asked my therapist what else I needed to do to recover and what recovery would look like when I was there. I wanted to know where I stood in the process because I was so tired of dealing with this. And then I finally got my answer – she told me that recovery looks different for everyone.

My version of recovery is going to be different than the recovery of someone else who is suffering from a similar eating disorder. It’s not a clear cut one size fits all method. So, she couldn’t tell me what it would look like for me, it was something I was going to have to develop by continuing to do the work.

Although this is an annoying pill to swallow (wouldn’t it be SO MUCH EASIER if they could just give us the answers??!) it did ring very true to me.

In my experience, whenever I have followed some sort of plan or read about how some incredible person lives their life and tried to apply it to my life, it never really works. I always find myself doing those things for a little while but then slowly falling off the wagon and finding myself back to doing things how I feel comfortable doing them. Maybe I will learn some things that I enjoy, but I will incorporate them into my way of doing things.

I can never stick to some written out guideline that someone else created of how things should be done because they aren’t my way of doing things.

When we are so frustrated and tired of not knowing what to do, we wish someone could tell us the answer, or look at how someone you admire is doing something and do it the same way, but life doesn’t work that way and you will only be hurting yourself if you do that. That’s because you need to find your own answers, you need to figure out how you like to live your life, and you need to develop what works for you.

We are all so unique and individual. Our lives and preferences are different, what works for me is not going to work for you, and that is wonderful. Why would we want to be like someone else? Being able to go on a journey of discovering ourselves is a great gift of life. Why do we want to deprive ourselves of that?

The path to healing is learning about yourself and how to take care of yourself, through all the good and the bad. You can’t rely on other people to tell you what to do or to solve your problems, because they aren’t you. You need to tune in and find your answers inside of you.

Powerful Recovery Books

Powerful Recovery Books

The holidays can be stressful and triggering for some of us who have struggled with eating disorders or mental health issues. We might be around people who have caused us pain in the past, be in an environment where we have suffered, or have a lack of control that is difficult to cope with.

That is why it’s imperative to show ourselves patience and love during this time. Be prepared with some self-care practices you can easily turn to when things get hard.

Some practices that help me are: walking outside, having my healthy feel good foods readily available, sticking to a schedule, drinking herbal tea, journaling, supportive podcasts, meditation, yoga and BOOKS.

Books have been an important part of my recovery. They provide support when I am going through a rough time, challenge my disordered thinking, and help me see things in a different light. They never fail to bring me peace, perspective and freedom.

I am always reading a great fiction book as well as an insightful nonfiction book that reminds me of the power of mindfulness, meditation and love.

Right now, I am reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle with my childhood best friend. It’s special to be reading along with a friend, and it’s a great way to keep in touch with her even though we live in different parts of the country.

Whether you are traveling, have some time off from work, or you’ll be relaxing at home, this is a wonderful time to pick up a great book. 

Here are a few powerful books that have helped me find solace and support through my recovery journey:

Women Food and God — Geneen Roth

Spirit Junkie — Gabrielle Bernstein

A Return to Love – Marianna Williamson

What I Know For Sure – Oprah

Healing Your Hungry Heart — Joanna Poppink

Intuitive Eating — Evelyn Tribole & Elise Resch

The Recovery Diaries: Dealing with the Unknown

I am the kind of person who always likes to have things figured out. I like to know exactly where I am going, have a step by step breakdown of how to get there, and then make a detailed game plan to follow to ensure that I get there exactly when I want to get there. Ambiguity? Playing things by ear? Figuring it out as you go along? Yeah, not my thing.

This discipline (or let’s be honest: crazy OCD) served me well in certain areas of my life but sadly it’s not an approach you can apply to everything. I desperately wish I could but I have realized that life just doesn’t work that way. It was great for my middle school, high school, college years but it has sucked for life after that. Post college life isn’t measured and predictable. It’s a hot mess and the more you try to shove it into a box the more it explodes out on you. Like a demented jack in the box.

I have no idea what I am doing right now. Nothing resembles any sort of plan. I can’t look beyond one year of my life, which drives me absolutely crazy.

It makes my skin crawl with anxiety and I hate it. But I also know that fighting this isn’t helping me at all. The more I try to wrangle my life into some sort of step by step plan the more it hurts me because it does not fit that format. It keeps not working and I am left feeling completely defeated and frustrated.

I have realized that I have to take a different approach. I can’t keep banging my head against the wall for answers that I simply don’t have right now.

I have to embrace this messiness and the fact that life does not make any sense to me right now.

I have to be ok with not knowing where a decision or job will lead me but just taking it because for right now it’s the thing that works best. I can’t look down the road and see how it will serve me because unfortunately I don’t know the future and I have no way of knowing. As hard as it is for me, I have to proceed forward blindly with the faith that things will work out in the end.

Something that helps me stay the course is reminding myself that even when I did things in my insanely controlled way, it didn’t work because I didn’t know myself well enough. That’s why I am in this situation now! I was making decisions for a future Lili that I didn’t know. I was so controlled in the way that I did things that I didn’t give myself any space to experiment or explore different things. If you would have told me five years ago I would be pursuing writing I would have laughed in your face. So what good did that life plan do for me?

As much as you try to make things predictable and set, life can change in an instant and all of those plans are thrown to the wayside.

So that’s where I am at now: No longer looking for the path but instead embracing this huge field of grass in front of me that seems to be in the middle of nowhere and deciding to just roll around in it and believing that eventually I will find my way.

Have you ever felt lost in life? How did you deal with it? I'd love to hear in the comments below.