On “Recovery” Posts and Other Content
So, it’s not uncommon for critiques — particularly unsolicited blog-style critiques — to read purely as criticism. Most of the things I critique in this blog are extremely important to me, and so I specifically want to clarify that my point here is not — simply stated — to be a hater.
In all honesty, when I want to rant about something or someone, I call a friend and do so. Or I go for a walk. I don’t blog. When I do blog, my goal is never to talk smack about a specific thing or person; it’s really to critique the larger culture, which I believe that thing or person is supporting in this instance. Likewise, when I praise someone (or something), I’m not doing so because I like those people better or because that thing is more to my personal taste, (although my personal bias is always, admittedly, at work in this blog). I’m praising that Whatever-it-Is because it challenges ideologies that I take issue with, or it contributes to an alternative way of thinking, which I personally prefer. When I pick on a person, product, or anything else, I’m identifying it as an example of a larger issue. It helps provide context and makes it easier to break down the issues I have with the ever-huge, ever-intangible “Society.”
It’s probably most crucial to me that people understand this about my posts on recovery. They, in particular, are easy to take as, “Damnit, people! You’re doing it wrong!” …which is not at all what I mean.
I honestly don’t believe in a “right” approach to recovery, and I don’t believe that the way I think about eating disorders is the only way to think about them. Nor is it a universal “best” way. But it is the way that is currently working for me. I’m not attempting to make my approach to recovery the new “dominant narrative” of eating disorder recovery, (i.e. the “right” way to think about recovery, the most popular way, or the only way that’s readily available.) But I do hope to challenge aspects of the current dominant narrative, by calling into question the pieces of it that I find problematic or painful. I want to contribute to an ongoing dialogue that reforms and reframes the way we talk about our experiences of sickness and of health.
For me, that’s very much linked to social justice — to fat acceptance, feminism, disability justice, and so forth. Now, obviously, you don’t have to align with any of these movements to eat well, to develop a “healthy” relationship with exercise, to stop purging, or to sort out and move past hating yourself. And generally speaking, when we look at recovery, we think of things like this. We think of how to stop engaging in the symptoms that are threatening our very existence, and it’s easy to argue that — unless we manage that — little else matters.
But here’s my question: After we manage that, after we manage to start nourishing ourselves, after we unpack the self-destructive habits… are we finished with recovery? Is the goal of recovery entirely physical — or even (entirely) physical and psychological? I know multiple people who have managed to take back their physical and psychological health, without ever questioning the health of their society. I know individuals, who identify as recovered, who work in fields like liposuction. I know women and men who continually try to be grateful enough, or positive enough, to make their way past an eating disorder — and feel like failures when they can’t manage to do so. Despite my abiding belief that everyone has a right to live, identify, and recover in the way that makes sense to them, personally, these stories devastate me. It’s because of my response to these stories that I believe in critiquing culture at-large — and (at times) the recovery subculture, specifically.
Because I believe that the work I’ve done — and continue to do — to care for myself physically and psychologically, is incomplete in a society that supports this disease.
I question the narrative that frames eating disorders as the outcome of fashion magazines — (after all, I never read the things, and developed one anyway), but I also question the fashion magazines — and every other element of culture that does not actively work to eradicate this kind of pain. I don’t critique to criticize. I critique because I’m trying to envision a more complete approach to life with — (or without, or after) — an eating disorder.
In my own life, social justice activism and media literacy have been key tools toward that end. (Or — more accurately — “that practice.”) When I suggest them to others, I don’t intend that suggestion as a mandate. I just want to offer the set of tools that have helped me to do what positive thinking, gratitude exercises, and other recovery standbys could not: to externalize my anger and find my way into life.
There’s a really great James Baldwin quote that gets tossed around in American Studies a lot, to help explain that AS scholars aren’t automatically unpatriotic. Baldwin wrote, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” If you were so inclined, you could probably compare my relationship to recovery to Baldwin’s relationship with the US. I love the recovery process. It saved my life, and continues to improve it. I have quite a bit invested in recovery, and many of the people I hold dear have invested similarly. For that reason, above all, I watch recovery culture like a hawk. I insist that it be better than it is, because I think we all deserve better. And better, and better, and better — times infinity.
Still confused (about this or anything else)? — Feel free to comment or to e-mail me: marybrave1[at]gmail[dot]com
And thanks for reading.