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Relapse is a completely normal part of recovery. Everyone has bumps in the road and moments where they slip back into behaviors that they’re trying so hard to stop. Some relapses may seem harder or last longer than others but any relapse, no matter how small, can be detrimental to recovery if you can’t pull yourself out of it. It’s also extremely important that you begin correcting those behaviors as soon as you notice you’re engaging in them again, because the longer a relapse goes on, the harder it is to pull yourself out of it. Sadly, there’s no set list of things to do that are guaranteed to pull you out of a relapse but here are four things I’ve noticed helped me and can be tailored to fit how you personally need help restarting your recovery.
Relapse is tiring and stressful, so the very first step is to step back. You can take some deep breaths, relax any tense muscles, or take a nap or a bath. Whatever it is that helps you relax best, do it. Ignore whatever tries to tell you that you don’t deserve to rest, because it’s lying. Eating disorders feed off telling you that you aren’t good enough or that you failed. It can become almost impossible to ignore that thought when you’re in the middle of a relapse. It’s important to remind yourself that your body is sick and it needs to rest in order to get better.
2. Find Support
Eating disorders thrive when they are kept secret and when our eating disorder is thriving, we are not. Disordered behaviors, especially in relapse, are often surrounded with shameful thoughts and feelings that can, in turn, make the sufferer feel like they don’t deserve to reach out for help. But, again, they’re all lies. The best way to combat disordered thoughts is to tell someone about them. When you honestly share your struggles and thoughts with someone the disorder is no longer a secret and is then easier to deal with. It’s also important to include people who may not have dealt with an eating disorder in your support system because they can offer an outside perspective on your disordered thoughts. Your eating disorder wants to isolate you and tell you that you can’t talk to people who haven’t been through it because they won’t understand. However, throughout my own recovery, I’ve found that both those who are recovering and those who have never had an eating disorder are both extremely helpful in different ways as long as I'm willing to be honest about my feelings.
3. Take Time for Yourself
My biggest obstacle whenever I’ve found myself stuck in a relapse has been that my mind gets trapped in disordered thoughts and I can’t think of anything else. Its hard to pull yourself out of something when it’s the only thing on your mind: that’s why it’s important to take time for yourself and put your thoughts and energy into something you enjoy. When you’re focusing all of your energy on things that make you genuinely happy, you’re too busy to engage in disordered thoughts or behaviors. This step might take some time, but be patient. Disordered thoughts or the urge to participate in disordered behaviors may still try to creep up on you when you’re trying to focus on something else, but the longer you ignore it, the quieter it gets.
4. Forgive Yourself
This might just be the hardest step, but it’s also the most important. With relapse comes all the awful thoughts that make you feel like you’ve failed, but you haven’t. An eating disorder is an illness that you’re fighting; it’s not anything shameful. Therefore, relapse is also not shameful. It’s just a part of the recovery process. Nobody views you as a failure except yourself, because we are our own greatest critics. But you have chosen that you want to recover and that, in itself, is the greatest and hardest victory.