Why the Word “Recovery” is All Wrong

May 17, 2021

About ten years ago, I was taking part in an evening of live music and meditation as a part of an event to raise awareness for eating disorders, when the musician leading us in reflection and song said something that blew my mind. As he was challenging us to think about “recovery” in a different way, he pointed out that the journey to healing is not so much “recovery” as it is “discovery.” When any of us sets out to conquer and find freedom from an eating disorder, trauma, anxiety, or depression, we aren’t recovering to who we were before. We are setting out to discover something and someone new, boldly creating a new life with a new mindset and a new vision.

This clarification transformed the way I viewed the healing process, and as I reflected on my own “recovery,” I realized it was exactly that: discovery of entirely new way of being. We can still use the word recovery, but instill within it a different and more accurate intention. With each step down the path of healing, we’re boldly stepping out in faith that the new life we are creating with our commitment, perseverance, and determination will be better, more full of life and love, and more deeply resonant with our true values than any life we lead before.

Here are three discoveries to get excited about on the healing journey.

Discovering New Values:

The eating disorder creates a false and destructive value system. What makes it even more insidious, is that it often convinces us that its values are actually OUR values, and also, that they are GOOD values. The opposite is in fact true, and one of the most challenging parts of the early stages of recovery is the realization that what we thought we valued, we really do not, and that we must do deep and important work, listening to our hearts, to discover what our true values actually are. Sometimes too, the eating disorder has taken a value, for example, serving others, and distorted it in such a way that it becomes harmful people-pleasing or perfectionism. Or it distorts a value of holistic health and well-being, and turns it into an obsession with calories, food, and body shape and size. Each person is different. But the start of the journey to healing begins with identifying where the eating disorder has created or distorted your true values, and with the help of a treatment team, discovering what your true, healthy self’s values really are.

Discovering New Skills:

This was one of the biggest blessings of my discovery journey. When I was sick, my whole world revolved around ballet and becoming a professional ballet dancer. I thought that my only skills were dance and performing. As I slowly started to let go of that career path, realizing I could not stay in the field and be healthy, I was terrified that I would find there was nothing else that I was good at; however, that was NOT the case! That fear was a lie that the eating disorder was speaking to me in its death throes. It turns out, as I stepped out and tried new things – singing, writing, speaking, joining the speech and debate team, volunteering with non-profit organizations – I realized I could do other things well, accomplish things I was proud of, and build a career based on skills other than ballet. Not only was this an incredibly confidence-boosting discovery, it also was a lot of fun!

Discovering New Dreams:

In order to fuel the discovery process, I had to dream bigger than just eliminating ED behaviors or thinking. I had to be inspired by something bigger – and so do you. As do we all! As I began to weight restore, re-nourish my body, and work in a truly open-minded way with my treatment team, it was as if the flood gates opened, and this torrent of dreams that had been dammed up for years came bursting forth! In this way, I was blessed, because as soon as I decided to LET myself dream again, the visions for what I wanted my life to be, and who I wanted to become were vividly clear in my mind. What was also very clear was that I would not have the physical or emotional energy to pursue these dreams, that I fiercely, deeply wanted, if I stayed in a relationship with my eating disorder. The two selves could not co-exist. I could not retain a “little bit” of the ED mindset and at the same time, pursue with vigor these deep desires to learn, to travel, to have authentic loving relationships, to create experiences and things of beauty, to help others. Recovery for me meant discovering new dreams, and their power motivated me to persevere on the darkest, longest, hardest days.

Discovering a new self, your true self, isn’t easy. It also does not happen overnight, but over a lifetime. It takes bravery and courage, and if you are on that road right now, you are to be commended and should be so proud of each step you take, no matter how small.

You won’t recover to who you were before, and that is a very good thing. The path to healing is a constant process of discovery, creation and rebirth, and that is an enduring source of hope.

Kirsten Haglund Müller-Daubermann is an international speaker, mental health advocate and digital media strategist. She serves as the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls and as Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation. She served as Miss America 2008. Kirsten is also the host of “Honest Talk,” Timberline Knolls’ Instagram LIVE interview series @timberlinetoday. Kirsten studied musical theatre performance at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), and graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Political Science. She is currently based in Zürich, Switzerland.