eating disorder relapse: it’s not your fault

recovery is hard.

let me say that again: recovery is really, really hard.

you’re changing your lifestyle.

you’re changing your eating habits.

you’re changing the way you think about yourself.

you’re essentially changing your entire world.

b1b807a4d05013d57b52c954342d6c59it’s not like flipping a switch where one day you’re making certain choices and the next you can just change your thinking.

maybe that’s what you thought recovery was.

in the beginning, that’s what i thought recovery was.

i thought i would just decide to eat “real meals” three times a day and everything would go back to “normal” without a hitch.

spoiler alert: that’s not how recovery works.

at all.

the first day is hard.

the second day is hard.

but, the hardest day is when you notice your body changing.

the hardest day for me was when i noticed the effects of increasing my caloric intake.

when my ribs weren’t protruding like they used to.

when my stomach wasn’t as flat as before.

when i couldn’t fit into my 00 jeans.

i found myself looking for some tinge of “normal” as my world changed so drastically around me.

doctors and therapists were trying to change my daily routines.

my high school boyfriend of nearly three-years broke up with me out of the blue; for reasons i’ve still never figured out.

i decided to transfer from the university i worked so hard to get into basically on a whim.

i walked away from a career in acting and music theatre.

i had no idea where i was attending school that fall or what my major would be.

and to top it all off: i had relinquished control over the one thing that mattered most, at the time: my appearance.

i was falling fast and felt like my life was completely out of control.

i needed something to help me cope.

i needed to feel like the girl i “used to be” when people invited me places and wanted to be around.

in my helplessness, i decided to take ten steps backwards.

i didn’t care if what i was doing was wrong, i needed to forgot what was happening for a little bit.

i found myself clinging to what was familiar: my anorexia.

i found myself retreating back to the dark.

after only two months, i had my first relapse.

sound familiar?

relapse back to eating disorder or self-harm tendacies is most common within the first three months of beginning a recovery program.

while we’ve all been told “it takes 21 days to create a new habit,” it takes longer than three weeks to undo years of harmful thoughts and habits.

in fact, it takes longer than 90 days.

for me, it’s taken longer than three years.

i’ve relapsed four times in the past 42 months.

the first time was when everything was changing after beginning my personal recovery.

the second time was when i was living by myself in college and was alone with my thoughts.

the third time was when i didn’t think i had lost enough weight or done enough to prove to myself i could be successful in the field of journalism.

the fourth time was when i was in an abusive relationship and was trying to escape the pain.

db224d79dc6626b15ac83aaf67671b95each time was different than the last, but all began in times when i personally felt out of control.

and that’s exactly why a relapse happens: lack of control.

it’s like not knowing how to swim when you’re a little kid and someone give you a pool noodle.

that piece of foam is something tangible to hold onto.

that piece of foam is something you trust to help you survive in the water.

that piece of foam calms you when the waves come, as someone does a cannonball in the deep-end.

that piece of foam is literally, and figuratively, your savior.

that’s what an eating disorder feels like to someone in recovery.

when the going gets tough, it’s always there.

it’s predictable.

it’s familiar.

it’s your life.

when you relapsed, you got upset with yourself and felt like you let people down.

when i relapsed all four times, i got upset with myself and felt like i let people down.

but, you didn’t.

i didn’t either.

we clung to the familiarity of the pool noodle in the swimming pool.

we gravitated to what we knew and made one decision to not jump out on another limb.

and that’s ok.

you heard me, relapsing is ok.

relapsing is normal.

relapsing is expected.

relapsing doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

in order to “relapse,” you have to make enough progress away from a certain behavior to return to it again.

in an adverse way, it means you’ve made tremendous change.

that’s something to be celebrated.

however, it shouldn’t become a habit.

the most important thing is not getting discouraged and trying again; this time striving to be better than ever.

like holding onto a noodle in a pool when you’re learning to swim, it’s normal, but you need to let go.

you need to learn to swim without it.

you are beautiful.

you deserve to keep swimming.


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