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[Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders]
They say there is no recovery without relapse, and whilst this might be true, it never makes the process easier. When I was about six months into recovery from my eating disorder, I thought that it would never come back into my life because of how much effort and pain I went through to fight back against it. However, there is dispute as to whether eating disorders ever really go away, and whether life after an eating disorder is mainly about just not succumbing to those thoughts and engaging in behaviour according to those thoughts. It's hard because you think you're in the clear then all of a sudden you find yourself going back to the very things which nearly destroyed you, and which you tried to beat and did (at the time).
There can be a variety of factors which can lead to a relapse, and old behaviours can creep back into your life insidiously, so it's important to have a real check in and be honest with yourself. Because being honest with yourself is the first step to coming out of a relapse. So, here's my little how-to avoid a relapse from an eating disorder. I do hope that this can help those who are in this position, because we all deserve to live our lives confidently and to the fullest. Don't be ashamed, because relapsing back into an eating disorder still doesn't mean that it has won, or that you are weak, it's time to armour up and together we can beat this.
1. Pinpoint the major stresses or sources of emotional upset in your life.
When you're buried in work and have constant stress piled onto your plate, it can be easy to forgo making sure enough is on your actual meal plate. Things like work, family, or school can add huge amounts of stress onto us, and for those who have suffered from an eating disorder in the past, it can be easy to slip back into old habits. Stress can often reduce appetites and if you find yourself cutting back on your lunchtime snacks, or ignoring those hunger pains at 5 PM, it can take everything inside you to actually stop yourself from whatever it is you're doing to eat some food. But think about this: no matter what is happening, please don't punish yourself for the struggle and stress which you are going through in your life. Food is not your enemy. It will help you build up your strength physically and mentally. Ever notice how your mind fog can clear up after a good breakfast or mid-afternoon snack? There's a reason for that. Let food be your fuel to help you conquer whatever tasks lay ahead of you.
2. Contact your immediate support system.
This step is crucial, because eating disorders have a nasty habit of isolating you from those closest to you. They rob you of your time and energy and make you feel like you deserve to be alone. But you don't deserve to feel like this, nor do you have to go through this alone. Your support system is there for a reason, and although it's not an easy subject to broach, make it your goal to tell at least one person. If you have a professional team for support let them be your first port of call. But it helps to just have somebody to talk through your conflicting feelings with, and if anything, your support system will be proud of you for confiding in them and actively taking steps to ensure that your eating disorder doesn't swallow you up again. After all, they say that a problem shared is a problem halved.
3. Don't glamourise the past.
It's easy to look back on the past with rose-tinted spectacles, eating disorders included. It's often that those who are thinking of relapse have thoughts in their minds such as, "I had so much control over myself back then," or "I miss being skinny because _____," and "having my eating disorder made me feel like I had a sense of purpose." But this isn't an accurate representation of the past. If you look closer, you'll remember the number of hours lost with friends and family because your eating disorder made you so anxious to even see them, or how weak you felt at every moment in the day, and the amount of emotional turmoil you went through to satisfy your eating disorder. It can be painful to look back at all of these memories combined, but try to align your best memories from recovery alongside them. Everybody's experience is different, but so much of my happiness in recovery actually came from saying "no" to my eating disorder, no matter how anxious I felt. It felt good to know that the choices I were making were mine and only mine, not my eating disorder's.
4. Remember why you recovered, and why you want to recover again.
Maybe you made a mental list you kept going back to in order to push you through the harsh tides of recovery, or maybe you bullet journaled why you wanted to recover. Again, these reasons will depend on you and your circumstances, but there's no reason that you can't find your reasons to recover again. Some couples like to renew their vows every few years as a reaffirmation of their love and faith in one another, and the same could apply here! Consider this a chance to renew your personal vows to yourself and realise that there are infinite good things in life to recover for. As you grow older, your priorities and life goals will change. Recognise this and realise that not relapsing into your eating disorder will only help you further in achieving what you want in life. I'll tell you that my biggest dream is to be a good mom. I want to have enough energy to play with my children, and be a pillar of support to them as mothers should be to their children. Although I'm far away from having kids, this is something I believe so firmly in, already the idea of my future children helps me to put my health first now, so that I can put myself in the best position to achieve this personal goal of mine. Your goals can be large or small, short term or long term, but make sure you have them. You deserve to feel accomplishment and be able to see just how much you can achieve in your life.
5. Don't be too hard on yourself.
This is a hugely important point. Eating disorders belittle us and make us think that we are not worthy of living life. Beating yourself up when you're in a vulnerable place can be the very thing that pushes you over the edge. You are incredibly strong to have recovered from an eating disorder. I say this because I have some experience in the internal battle which exists when you're recovering. It is a choice that you have to make day in, day out, and sometimes it can feel like it's not worth it, but having pushed through those doubts and ended up in a happier place, you know for a fact that it's worth it. It's natural for life to test us, but you know deep inside that you can choose life over relapse, even if you feel badly about yourself for having to be at these crossroads again. This isn't your fault and it never was. Eating disorders can happen at any time and to anyone. But you took it as your responsibility to try and live your life to the fullest, despite the eating disorder trying to take that away from you. It's a battle which exists within yourself, and we really can be our own worst enemies, but you beat it once before, don't forget. You are strong and powerful enough to stand your ground and continue forging your path in life, without your eating disorder.
Hang in there. I am proud of you.