Learning the difference between can’t and won’t

I had a really challenging session with my counsellor a couple of weeks ago. She asked me how my motivation levels are, which she always starts with I guess to gauge where I’m at. I’d had a rough couple of weeks and there had been some discussion of discharge to give me a break as I was struggling mood-wise. At this session though I was ready to keep fighting and told her that I was committed, that I trusted her and I would do what was necessary to make the most of this opportunity with her.

She asked me how often I had been weighing myself. I said, sheepishly, a few times a day. She said that I needed to get rid of the scales or limit that to once a week. I moaned but I can’t” and started to launch into all the reasons why. She stopped me though and said you can it will just be hard so you won’t”. Harsh, but true. There is no real reason why I can’t do that except that it will make me feel anxious and terrified, and the fact is that I can’t recover without going through a period of feeling anxious and terrified.

We then moved onto meal planning and that I need to be following the meal snack meal snack meal structure with no excuses and need to be planning it the night before. Again, I said “I can’t” and gave my reasons why. She interrupted me though, as she has heard all these excuses before and told me “you can, and this is the only way you will recover, so if you’re deciding you won’t then you need to think about the choice you are making”. Again, harsh but true. I’ll say at this point that my counsellor knows her sh*t and she has been very tolerant and understanding, and will offer whatever support I need for recovery, but she is very clear that she won’t collude with my eating disorder as her job is to help me recover. This is exactly the type of person you need by your side in recovery.

She was was right of course, I can meal plan. I can take 30 mins of everyday to sit down and write out my meals for the next day. I can choose going to the supermarket over watching netflix. I can run less so I’m not too exhausted to cook. I can add carbohydrates to each meal. All of this is within my control, but it involves acknowledging that sometimes I just won’t. 

Eating disorders are a b**ch of an illness. It is not fair that I have one and it is not fair that I have to fight through the terror to get better. But it is a fact that I have to go through that terror if I want to come out the other side, and I do want that. I want a life free from ED. So I am learning the difference between can’t and won’t, and being firm but gentle with myself as I do that.


5 thoughts on “Learning the difference between can’t and won’t

  1. This is a very important distinction to make. Having been in that place, everything is a “can’t”, driven by fear, but when you are able to see that the can’t are actually won’ts in disguise, it becomes increasingly easier to fight, knowing there is actually a choice to make.
    Fighting my won’ts was by no means easy, but as new, healthier habits and neural pathways are forged, it will give you more strength to make your choices from will instead of won’t.

    This is a great post and your therapist sounds like exactly the right voice to listen to right now. Just keep swimming, little steps forward are still steps away from the shitty illness and at some point, you will realise, you are a bit further away from it than you were when you began.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “…the fact is that I can’t recover without going through a period of feeling anxious and terrified.” MQR you are so courageous to even be able to admit that and put it into words. Thanks for sharing that truth, it’s something I need to think about too because it IS terrifying…and it is exhausting to constantly face that terror, and sometimes I also get depleted and ‘just won’t’ do the right thing either – acknowledging that sometimes there will be moments of ‘won’t’ seems like a realistic and compassionate strategy. I’m so glad that you also talk about being gentle with yourself as a key part of the recovery plan. Ultimately I want to be free from this too x I’m so grateful for your blog and the spirit you have of sharing the ways you’re finding to get through this wild experience xx sending hugs xx Em


    1. Thanks Em, it’s a hard one because the ‘won’ts’ really feel like ‘can’ts’, and I don’t mean to diminish the power and terror of the ED voice, but everyone that has recovered has shown that they ‘can’ despite this, I have a friend that swore she couldn’t do it, and now she’s on her way to happiness and health, and another friend who insists she can’t, and isn’t willing to challenge that at all, and she’s stuck in a miserable place. I know which path I’m happier being on. It’s not easy, but is is possible, and it is worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yup I hear you and it is a relief to be even having this conversation to be honest. I think another problem I encounter in this area is when experiencing a “can’t or won’t” moment turns into a giving up or a beating up… at least if you take the gentle approach or forgive yourself there is a way to find the energy to keep going…even though it is so frustrating at times. At least with mindfulness I have the benefit or having a definite stimulus to make myself listen to a forgiveness meditation podcast occasionally (I really need to do that more) I also find that just living with an eating disorder, knowing how i’ve lied to myself in the past or been too scared to try to do ‘the right thing’ is in itself very demoralising… so it helps to know that other people are going through that too. And lastly, I think the worst thing we could do is to give up. x yes it is possible, it is definitely worth it and we are learning as we go, xx Em


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