Over the last couple of weeks I have recieved several mails from people who fear they’re about to relapse. First of all, thank you so much for reaching out. That takes a lot of courage and it shows there is a self within you who is open to change, recovery and freedom. Find hope in this.
I wrote a post about relapse last year and thought I could share it again. Hopefully it can help those who struggle. You are not alone. You are not weak. You are a Warrior and you can recover.
The first mail I recieved requested a post on something I view as inevitable in recovery - relapse. The times we drift away from the path that leads to life. Finding ourselves scared or insecure and turning to ED to ask for help. That is one among many important aspects of any ED – it is there to provide us with numbness and a shelter from human life. We can kick it in the ass by confronting fear foods and gain strength, without it deciding to ditch us.
Portraying it as almost expected is not an attempt to neglect the seriousness of relapses, but to remind you that it is normal. It does not mean you’re weak or hopeless. That darkness once again makes itself present within you does not mean you’ll never experience light again. I am the living proof of that. So far my recovery process has involved three relapses, two of them major.
What is crucial to be aware of is the subtleness of relapse. It doesn’t hit you like a lightning, but evolves through a gradual process often difficult for us to detect. One rarely goes from following a meal plan 100 % to severe restricion in one day. Relapse is about slices of bread slowly decreasing in thickness. Walks increasing in length and intensity. Day by day ED come to dominate our thoughts and habits. Perhaps we do notice, but try to close our eyes to what is going on. Opening them up and facing the truth can often seem like too much of a challenge.
What happens when closing our eyes is no longer an option? The shame kicks in. The guilt , confusion and fright. The perfectionist so many of us carry within starts screaming. Was the health and hope we felt a month ago just an illusion? Just a trick from ED? We can drown in these negative thoughts, becoming more and more convinced that we’re doomed to be a slave of ED for the rest of our life. I did that during the first two relapses, and it demanded external intervention ( read : my beloved mum ) to pull me out of the shit and force me to continue forward. Despite the tiredness and fright, she knew that deep down it was not about me wanting for ED to be a part of my life, it was about a profound insecurity towards life itself. She knew that if we worked together we could establish a more solid sense of security and peace within me. For that I am forever grateful, because what matters when relapse occurs is that we don’t give up on ourselves and that other people don’t give up on us either. Change is possible. That is the fundamental truth and premise of recovery.
The third time anorexia knocked on my door and offered it services my mind were very much alert and worried about the changes in my behaviour and thoughts. We all know them don’t we? Increased anxiety. Depression. Irritation. Always in an internal rush. However, this did not lead me to stop the restriction immediately. It is not as easy as switch from death to life. Once again I thought that this was it, no use in even trying to combat ED. It was to be my abusive companion untill it had starved me to death. Then I remember a line I had once said to someone else who was going through a hard time : Every moment is a moment to start recovery. We don’t have to wait for tomorrow, because we all know that the “perfect tomorrow “ is likely to never come. Total and immediate compliance and motivation does not happen. Fighting fear happens in small, but significant steps. Confronting challenges you’ve been through before. Gradually moving closer to the road to life again. If you’re reading this and have that nagging sense within that your recovery is not going in the direction you know is right, try to think of things you can do today to start recovery again. Change can be to pick up the bar you decided to skip for snack and eat it, despite the guilt and feeling of being wrong. Or to cut down the walk with 15 minutes. Take a moment and make contact with yourself. I believe we all have an idea of things we could change today – this moment – if we only dare to face our fear.
My number one advice when relapse occurs is to reach out and know what my mum knew – it is not about desiring ED, it is about feeling insecure about life, your surroundings and the one you are. Not knowing how to position yourself in this crazy and huge world. Even though I knew my body was once again the target of anorexia the third time, I also knew that I could not face the demons alone. It takes courage to admit we need help, regardless of where we are in terms of recovery. It’s not just that we’re afraid of the battles we must go through in order to heal, it is also a sense of pride most human have. The desire to be independent. Make it on our own. Even though the truth is that neither healthy nor ill can survive on their own, we’re brought up in a society with an individualistic mentality. Asking for support or feeling small when faced with the challenges of life is not associated with any positive values – not managing to live according to ” the standard ” is portrayed as a sign of weakness and defect. If you ask me it is a dangerous and sad portrayal of human existence.
Being ill is nothing to be ashamed of. Needing help is not a sign of weakness.
To cut it short: There is nothing wrong with you. The list of what is wrong with an ED is endless, but you are not ED. You are a person trying to find your way, and daring to be honest with yourself and other is an act of beautiful courage. If you feel that something is not quite right, trust your own strength and talk with someone. A therapist, a friend or your parents. Let them know and allow for them to hold your hand while you get back up on your feet.
One of the challenges of recovery is that taking a step forward require mental fight, while one in the opposite direction can happen without us lifting an finger. It is not easy to keep a strong motivation over a longer period of time. One thing I’ve found very useful to help me maintain an awareness of how bad a life with ED actually is, is having a journal. You don’t have to write long essays. Make small notes of how the days when you restrict or engage in other forms of disorded behaviour are, as well as how you feel when you nourish yourself well. At least that helps me truly realize what a difference enough food makes – it is what helps me be me. When I eat well I am energetic, happier and much more interested in the world around me. Would you honestly trade that for the illusion of security ED gives you? From a healthy perspective that security is hell. Running around. Suppressing your own needs and desires. Trust me, I know that life is not easy. Making healthy decisions doesn’t turn life into heaven. Far from it. And I know that you are scared, we all are from time to time. That is okay. Give yourself space to cry and fear the future. Allow yourself to feel that contrary to what people ( me included! ) tell you, recovery often seem like more of a hell than staying under the wings of ED. It is not easy to be alive. To have all these emotions and deal with experiences you’ve been through. No one is judging you for being tempted by the numbness one gets from restricting or bingeing. We all want peace within. Even if it is just for a second, before ED hits back and laughs at you for obeying its orders. But – and this is quite an important but – you deserve to build a life where you can handle being in your own skin in this world in ways that does not damage you. You are a beautiful human being. And you have the power to change. Through honesty and support. Stay in close touch with your support team. Tell them that you are not sure you can actually do this. Dare to let their belief in you help you forward untill you start believing in yourself. And never forget two beautiful truths ; Every moment is a moment to recover. Beneath the fear lies an incredible strength capable of defeating the monster within.
Short summary ( for those who tired of my rambling ) ; free yourself from the shame, take pride in daring to be open about your struggles. That in itself is a step away from ED. Reach out and allow people to help you. Write down feelings and thoughts, as well as share them with someone you trust and know is there to support you. And never, never, never give up.
Q : How do you deal with relapses? Personal advices to share?