Relapse Prevention: Creating a fulfilling life

I know, it's cheesy, but I've found the best form of relapse prevention is simply living a fulfilling life outside my eating disorder. This doesn't mean that relapse is impossible, or that slips won't ever happen, because that's not quite true, but what it does mean is this: I have something to lose by giving in to the anorexia. Even last spring when I was relapsing hard-core and was finally aware of it, I didn't care enough to stop. Not eating was the only thing that mattered. If I screwed myself over professionally, so what. I had no real motivation to fight the anorexic thoughts and so I found it so much simpler just to give in.

Part of the reason I was able to hold onto recovery during my year in grad school in Baltimore was that I found my program so remarkably fulfilling. I had found what I wanted to do with my life. I felt reassured that after so much floundering and searching, I had found the perfect profession for me. Not that my time in grad school was ED-free, not by a long shot. I struggled immensely to stay on track, often barely clinging to recovery and the bottom end of my minimum healthy weight. Yet my numerous and rather regular lapses and returns to ED behavior didn't turn into a full-blown relapse, either. I kept my demons in check. I had a fighting chance.

However, as I became disillusioned with my first job out of grad school, the eating disorder crept back in even more. The life I thought I was going to be living turned out to be quite a bit different than I thought it would be, and I began to lose my motivation to fight. Giving into the ED behaviors became the rule rather than the exception, and I slid into utter despair. My life was both still dominated by the eating disorder and anything but fulfilling.

Part of what this last relapse did for me, by being so spectacularly dramatic, awful, and life-shattering, was that it gave me the freedom to start over. I truly had nothing left to lose. My career had already flopped several times--what was one more? I was unable to hold down a regular full-time job (I was living in Michigan and so I knew I wasn't going to find a job, either), I didn't need to pay rent, and I had already screwed up my life so horribly that one more screw up would hardly be the straw that broke the camel's back. With nothing left to lose, I took a chance: I decided to pursue freelance science writing as my full-time career.

What ultimately saved me during my past relapse was my cat. I promised her I would never go away and leave her again, and I was determined to keep that promise. It didn't stop my relapse, but it did keep me alive. Now, when I have ED thoughts or feel tempted to engage in ED behaviors, I know that a relapse would be incompatible with the life I want to live as a writer. I do slip and inadvertently or deliberately restrict or indulge my exercise compulsion or debate about buying laxatives to have on hand "just in case." When I step on the scale at TNT's office, I still hope I have magically lost weight. I body check in the mirror frequently. Writing hasn't made me recovered, but it has helped me keep my eating disorder tightly confined. I want to be a science writer more than I want the comfort of anorexia, of skin and bones, of starvation and compulsion and, ultimately, death.

Recovery and relapse prevention are, as Emily Troscianko writes, not only about stopping starving but also about starting living. It's both the goal and the route to that goal.

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Katie Green said...

Thanks for sharing this Carrie. This story reminded me so much of my own. It was only when I'd fallen backwards so far and felt as though I really had nothing left to lose that I felt able to have a go at the one thing I really did want to do with my life but had never tried for fear of failing at it. I stopped trying to succeed at something I felt others would approve of (which, for me, was science) and went back to college to study art. It was the best decision I ever made - it gave me something to live for and as such it saved my life.

But I do wonder if its necessary in recovery to hit rock bottom to reach that turning point, or can it be prevented/circumnavigated? I'm not so sure...

Unknown said...

i believe that holding onto the future while working towards recovery is crucial. we all need to feel good about something, to feel like we are headed somewhere and to feel like we have goals to achieve.

this post really resonates with nme, i thank you for sharing

Sarah at Journeying With Him said...

BRILLIANT. In this post you not only articulated truth, but also fulfilled your goal of writing about your own life and not just science. Well done! I totally agree with everything you wrote here.

As a PS, pets are amazing, aren't they?!

Anonymous said...

This post is wonderful and so true. A fulfilling life is the GREATEST relapse prevention we can ever do for ourselves. The more we are happpy and content with ourselves and our lives the farther away we move from our ED's. Thanks for this reminder!

Dana xo

Emily said...

It's just scary how much your story resembles mine. I too was feeling competent in grad school, which made me feel strong against ED. But, once I was on my own in my first job out of grad school, my anxiety made me weak and ED took over. I was unable to hold a job because ED wanted me all to himself. Like you said, I had already screwed up so much that I didn't think floundering in my ED would make any difference.

Recently, I decided that I want to dance again because it makes me smile. However, I knew that dancers have strong bodies and that, as long as I had ED, I could not dance. My motivation to recover was stronger than ever, and I've made great strides. Of course, I still have a long way to go to rebuild my endurance and energy level.

The funny thing is that I too use my cat as motivation to be strong against ED. I am my cat's momma, and I need to hold a job so that I can provide food, shelter, and love to my cat.

Thank you for telling your story!


Angela Elain Gambrel said...

I believe it's finding a reason to live. For me, that is writing (particularly creative non-fiction.) Studying writing and literature in grad school keeps me going. I still want to learn and grow, and most importantly write. It's just breaking the hold, the spell anorexia has on me. But each day I get out of bed, each class I go to, each piece of writing I turn in - all of these are a victory.

Having my husband, David and his support helps - I promised him I would keep trying and not quit no matter what.

And of course there is my cat, Aliena, She needs me, I think.

Good job, Carrie and I hope you will continue to build the fulfilling life you deserve!!!

Rose said...

I think this post is brilliant.
It concisely puts an answer to that question: why recover?
And having an answer to that question, having a passion, having a reason that i WANT to live, is really, the ultimate reason that i am ever able to do this, day in and day out.

Thanks for this.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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