Learning from relapse

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
The idea isn't to just let relapse happen. If it does, however, you can use the experience to build up your recovery, rather than using it as an excuse to let everything decay.

What are some of the things you have learned from relapse? Share in the comments!

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Simone Elise said...

I learnt lots of things from my most recent relapse... :)
- My weight needs to be higher than the absolute minimum.
- I was doing the wrong uni course (and now I'm doing the right one).
- I need lots of ongoing support.
- I need to be nicer to myself.
- I have very supportive friends and family!

Katie said...

I think many of Simone's lessons are ones which most people in recovery are forced to learn at some point! I distinguish between a lapse and a relapse, partly to protect my self esteem :P and although I've had a few lapses (very few/minor overt behaviours lasting a week or two, as opposed to backsliding on a large scale), I've not relapsed this time in recovery. However, I've been trying to recover since I was 15, and it took me until two years ago when I was 24...

Minor lapses - into depressive or anxious thinking/behaviours as much as the ED/SI version - generally show me that I'm doing too much and need to be more patient with myself. Like an early warning system. It's very useful as long as I catch myself before it turns into a full on relapse!

Kylie-Rose said...

Thank-you so much for sharing this. It is so helpful xo

Anonymous said...

learning from our mistakes like this is SO important. You point out some very very great lessons :)

Hope you're having a great weekend!


Anonymous said...

I definatley can relate to all those points. Having relapsed various times I have learnt that no hospital/doctor/ or treatment team can heal me(while they certainly can help), only I have that power to do so.

Sara Grambusch said...

This is a great topic. Everything you said is so true. Progress not perfection and as long as we learn from every action we are fighting the disease.

Bev Mattocks Osborne said...

Absolutely brilliant post, ED Bites. Really great.

Fancy Free said...

Awesome awesome post. The points you made have taken me years to learn and have been essential to experiencing any real relief from my eating disorder. I wish everyone starting out in recovery could get these messages. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I found myself googling “eating disorders” and clicking on the links that popped up. Link after link, article after article, they all described me. Anorexia nervosa? So that’s what this has been all along? How had I not seen it? Why hadn’t I known? Why hadn’t anyone said anything?
So many questions circled in my brain that afternoon as I spent hours researching and learning online. At last my eyes were opened and I realized that what I had been dealing with, what I had thought was normal, was indeed a sickness, a disease. I knew that things needed to change in my life immediately or I was going to continue down a very dangerous path.
This day marked the beginning of my journey out of anorexia. I saw counselors, I met with dieticians, I told my friends and family, I quit the basketball team – this is just a small taste of the rigorous program I started myself on in a desperate attempt to change my path. This was the Fall of 2010.
I am writing this in Spring of 2012 and I am happy to report that my life is, in fact, headed in a much different direction. Why is my life different? Well, although I am sure it helped, it wasn’t from the intense program that I made myself go through. Counselors, dieticians, and friends can only do so much. The healing of my body and mind didn’t really start until Fall 2011 when I experienced God’s healing power. Through what I believe to be a divinely inspired meeting I found myself in the office on a Christian acupuncturist. After over an hour of intense prayer and intercession I walked out of her office a new person. I left behind my addiction to my appearance and body image. I once and for all decided that I would not let Satan rule my life in that way.
I am happy to report that today I am at a healthy weight living a healthy lifestyle. Do I still sometimes feel temptations to deprive my body of what it needs? Occasionally. But I will never go back to where I was and I am thankful to God everyday for intervening in my life and saving me out of the pit. An eating disorder is a dark place to be and one that I refuse to live in anymore.
I would love to share with, pray for, and listen to anyone who can relate or has questions. There is hope, God is good and powerful and He will answer your prayers. You don’t have to live the rest of your life this way – that’s a lie from Satan. I invite you to step into the life that God has for you and so desperately wants you to experience. You are a beloved daughter of the Most High, don’t ever forget that!

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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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Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at carrie@edbites.com

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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