Dealing with uncertainty in recovery
Author: Katrina Wilson M.A. RPC
One of the major roadblocks that clients face when approaching recovery is the uncertainty of what life will look like without the eating disorder. It can be hard to imagine a recovered life – what would you think about, how your relationships might change, how you will feel in your body. The one thing that is guaranteed in life is that there will be uncertainty – here’s some helpful ways to approach uncertainty as you move through recovery.
Facing an unknown situation can be very challenging, especially since the idea of uncertainty has a lot of connotations, mostly negative. When we don’t know something, our minds try to fill in the blank with what it thinks will happen. These theories tend to be steeped in all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, and overgeneralization (all distortions that the eating disorder loves!). Uncertainty can evoke anxiety, fear, restlessness, even guilt and shame.
We know the eating disorder has its own ideas about what recovery will lead to, and these are usually very self-serving for the ED. It creates theories that are meant to scare you back to the familiarity of the eating disorder. It wants you to know right now what will happen. But since you don’t have a crystal ball to look into, how can you sit with the discomfort of uncertainty?
One strategy is to start with accepting that uncertainty exists, and that it is challenging. Allowing yourself to acknowledge that not knowing is hard can help to soften the pressure of being in the unknown. Recognize that you are not supposed to know everything, and that eventually you will find out, just not yet. Changing your relationship with uncertainty involves approaching the unknown with curiosity, patience, and trust that things are unfolding as they are meant to.
Another way to help with uncertainty is to focus on what you do know. Consider the context of the situation and think about your values and how you are choosing to approach it. What is your role in this situation, and what do you have control of?
You can also focus on becoming more comfortable with uncertainty itself. We live in an age of instant gratification, which means we often don’t have to wait or not know – just whip out your phone and ask Google! Sitting in uncertainty even with little things can help strengthen your resilience when it comes to not knowing about the bigger things. You can actively work on being ok with not knowing by choosing to say “I don’t know” when asked what the population of Michigan is rather than look up the answer online. You can give yourself permission to not have all the answers and write a permission slip stating this that you can look at to remind yourself.
Uncertainty isn’t going away, and it certainly isn’t going to disappear in your recovery. But there are ways to become more comfortable with uncertainty so that it doesn’t become a barrier to pursuing life without the eating disorder.