This is actually a post I've been meaning to write for a while: the curious upside to relapse.
Before I go any further, let me say that I don't advocate relapse, I'm not saying you should try to relapse just to "see what it's like" or to stare the demon in the face and see who blinks first. I'm also not saying relapse is inevitable.
It is, however, exceedingly common. So common that I don't know anyone who has recovered without at least a minor relapse.
But here's the thing: although a relapse isn't good, it's also not 100% bad, either. Your first task when you find yourself slipping is to pull yourself out of the hole. Then, I've found it helpful to identify triggers and potential turning points where I could have done something differently. From a number of these dissections, I've learned some things that have ultimately helped my recovery.
- Relapse can show you where your recovery is weak. For some people, it's PMS. For others, it's work stress. Or kids. Or breakfast. Or whatever. These things can be easy to overlook or shrug off. But a relapse can give you a chance to address these, head-on.
- Relapse can force you to re-evaluate your goals. Maybe you love your job but it's stressful as hell, and a relapse is showing you that all that stress isn't healthy. Or that your college major isn't what it's cracked up to be. Relapse can be an opportunity to rethink things with a fresh set of eyes. If high stress and low sleep are demanded by your job or major, it might be time to rethink just how much you want to be on that path.
- Relapse can remind you just how bad the illness is. We forget, sometimes, just how crappy we feel when entrenched in the eating disorder. But a period of wellness followed by a return of symptoms helps drive home the difference that recovery can make.
- Relapse can be humbling. Humbling in a good sense. It's easy to think that we'll be fine, that there won't be any problems, that we don't need extra help. And then comes a little friendly reminder that we do, in fact, need support and lots of it.
- Relapse can let you refine your treatment. It's easy to coast through and think that everything is fine. And it's hard to see the need for change when things are going well. Obviously--if things are going well, you don't want to change that. But a relapse can be the extra nudge you need to switch medications or therapists, try a new treatment approach, or otherwise shake things up.
What are some of the things you have learned from relapse? Share in the comments!