Topic Tuesday: Recovery

“Relapse” (By: Jessica Smith)


What does that word mean to you?  Defeat?  Despair?  Inevitability?

Recovery isn’t linear.  That’s what they tell us, and boy are they right.  For some of us, particularly those of us who have struggled with restrictive eating disorders, life exists in a very black and white manner.  There is no room for gray.  There is no room for anything less than our absolute best, or rather, the absolute best.  We carry on our backs the weight of world’s opinions and judgments the very moment we encounter anything less than perfection.  Immediate shame…immediate self-berating.  And like any human who is hurting or afraid, we run back into the arms of what feels safest.  Back to what feels most comfortable.  Unfortunately for me, that meant venturing back into the beckoning clutches of my eating disorder.

Several weeks ago, my husband and I were going through an incredibly difficult time.  I felt overwhelmed by the needs of those around me and of my inability to meet those needs.  I didn’t know how to cope with the tornado of emotion inside of my body.  So…I retreated.  I avoided.  I comforted myself the only way I had known for so many years.

I had made it one full year and a few weeks before I returned to one of the more detrimental behaviors of my eating disorder.  In hindsight, it is clear to me that I had been slowly moving backwards for some time.  I’d dip a toe in here, test the waters there, until before I knew it, I was again doing the very thing I’d managed to avoid for so very long.  I had had a really good run, and then I threw it all away.

Or did I?

You see, this is where we must challenge the thoughts that come to us.  Because the very nature of recovery is anything but linear, one could argue that relapses are inevitable.  This may not the case for everyone, but it most certainly is for me.  After that major relapse, I could have wallowed in my overwhelming sense of defeat and decided that recovery wasn’t possible.  I could’ve thrown away everything I’d learned in exchange for a coping mechanism that only offers mere moments of comfort and distraction.  Because truly, that’s all my disorder ever really offered me: mere moments of temporary satisfaction.  It’s almost like scratching a mosquito bite: it brings a great deal of relief in the moment, but all you’re left with is an even itchier spot on your leg.

The days that followed, I battled intense urges to return to my disordered ways.  It was surprising to me how intense the urges became.  Distancing myself from those behaviors for so long had made me somewhat forgetful of their power and influence.  I started to realize just how very far I had come.  I realized that the monster inside of me had been largely squashed, and though he is still there, I had shut him up.  I did that.  As it turns out, he is not all that powerful…I am.  And so are you.

There are many things one can do to avoid a relapse.  One technique my therapist suggested was to imagine my behaviors as a series of circles inside one another, smallest to largest.  The innermost circle holds behaviors that are a product of me at my worst, and the outermost circle holds behaviors of me at my personal best.  My outermost circle consists of me eating what I want, when I want it, and without regard to the nutritional information on the labels.  It’s a world where I honor my hunger instead of feckless rules and rituals.  It consists of me not skipping social events to exercise, and of not looking at my body with anything other than appreciation and gratefulness.  My innermost circle is the opposite of that, and the circles in between are somewhere in the middle.  No one’s circles will look the same, but it’s important to identify your own thoughts/behaviors and write them down.

The key to this technique is this: once you start recognizing that you’re creeping towards that inner circle, you must reach out for help.  No matter how inconsequential you feel the behavior may be, it leads you down the path to that inner demon who wants nothing but to destroy your life and rob you of its joy.

While I failed to utilize this technique effectively and ended up in a relapse, I am now empowered by the fact that I am on the other side of it.  I have empathy for myself and my mistakes, and I choose to keep going.  As the days passed and I was further and further away from the relapse, my resolve became strengthened and the urges began to diminish again.  There is hope for me, and there is hope for you.  No matter how far you think you may have fallen, there is always a way up and out.  Never give up.

About the Author

Jessica is a self-professed “hot mess mama” who resides in Old Hickory with a wily black cat, her easy-going husband, and their tiny dictator, Tucker (4 years old.) Having spent many years of her life battling serious eating disorders and a complicated relationship with exercise, she is now passionate about sharing the messages of hope, recovery, and freedom found in body positivity, intuitive eating, and in the Health at Every Size movement. Jessica is an alumnus of the Belmont University School of Nursing, and after graduating spent many joyful years working in pediatrics and intensive care. In 2014, she did what she deemed unimaginable and temporarily left her career to became a stay-at-home mom. She spends her days managing all the things while trying not to take life too seriously. Her hobbies include reading, photography, pretending to be a gardener, and avoiding writing in the third person.