The Truth About the Dark Tunnel of Recovery

dark dunnel of recovery
Photo by Anthony DeRosa on

Recovery from dieting, binging, disordered eating, and clinical eating disorders is a long and difficult process. I often explain it using a metaphor I call the tunnel of recovery. 

A bridge between two worlds

You can imagine the tunnel of recovery connecting two very different worlds. On one side is the world of food and body obsession. When we reside here, thoughts about food begin the moment our eyes open each morning. (Sometimes even before). And when our head hits the pillow at night, the thoughts still race through our minds. We obsess over every bite; counting, measuring, and weighing food. We attach our worth as humans to our pants size. And we believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with us when it comes to food, eating, and our bodies.

This miserable side of the recovery tunnel is filled with feelings of shame and disgust. Comparing ourselves with others, we never measure up. Uncomfortable in our own skin, the only solution seems to be changing the shape of our bodies. It’s miserable to live on this side of the recovery tunnel. Some of us spend years there though. Even decades.

On the other side of the recovery tunnel is the world of acceptance and healing. It’s where we relinquish control over our food and bodies. With that comes freedom, peace, and a ridiculous amount of head space. No longer obsessed with food and body, we’re free to live big full lives authentically

Entering the tunnel of recovery

Entering into recovery requires stepping into a cold, dark, scary tunnel. Initially it’s terrifying. Giving up dieting, restriction, compulsive exercise, and other behaviors aimed at controlling our body can feel paralyzing. 

Going in the tunnel means walking blindly into the unknown. Just like early recovery. You can’t see where you’re going because it’s something you’ve never experienced.

Most of us have lived our entire lives believing we’re supposed to control our bodies and food.

Letting go of counting calories, restricting forbidden foods, and allowing our bodies to lead can feel horrifying.  

Some people don’t even realize there’s a tunnel to a different world. But once you see it- it’s nearly impossible to forget about the possibilities it holds. I remember seeing the tunnel but thinking “that’s not for me. Perhaps others can cross through it, but I don’t have what it takes.” I enviously watched them go through the tunnel. But stood timidly outside.

Thankfully I had a tiny bit of hope. Buried deep below all of the fear, shame, and hopelessness. There was a tiny spark. Clinging to the idea that maybe I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life living in the food and body hell I was drowning in. 

I peered into the tunnel again and again. It was so dark. I couldn’t see a thing. Going in alone scared me even more. Sometimes I’d take a step or two forward, only to run right back out of the tunnel. Back to the hell of control and starving myself.

I finally realized the fear of the unknown was better than living on the side I’d been drowning in.

There comes a  point where you make the choice. Where it becomes obvious that entering into the tunnel and going through it is worth the fear. Because the other option is to spend the rest of your life in disordered eating hell. 

And so you take a step in.  

The middle of the tunnel of recovery

Perhaps one of the scariest parts of the tunnel is the middle. That’s where it’s darkest. Surrounded by pitch black, no light penetrates. Terrified, the instinct to turn around and run back out can feel overpowering. The thing is,

If you just keep going forward- eventually you WILL come out of the other side. 

Turning around means returning to the world where life is dictated by the food on your plate (or not on your plate). Everything on that side is subdued. The joy. The energy. Connections with others. Authenticity. It’s no way to live. 

In the depths of the tunnel, that’s where we have to dig deep. Summon up the strength that’s buried within us. To keep stepping forward. One tiny step at a time. It’s so important to keep moving towards the recovery side. Even when it’s really hard. Especially when it’s really hard. This is where the real work of recovery comes in. And this is where we can change our story and improve the rest of our lives. 

Getting out of the tunnel of recovery 

It takes strength, perseverance, and courage to keep going and reach the other side of the tunnel. To continue pushing forward. But here’s the thing. It takes just as much from us to turn around and run back. The journey is hard either way.

This is where you pick- which hard do you want to live with each day? The hard of beating yourself up, hating your body, and pouring your life energy into trying to control your food and body? Or the hard that gets you to freedom. Authenticity. And a full life

So wherever you are on this journey- keep stepping forward. Enter the tunnel. Keep moving in the tunnel. Stop and rest when you need to. If you stumble, it’s OK. If you get turned around, or even take some steps backwards.. that’s OK too. Take some deep breaths. Learn from what happened. Gather yourself. And then step forward again. I promise you it’s worth it.

Freedom is waiting for you on the other side.

If you’d like support on your journey through the tunnel, check out my work with me page here.

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