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“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” – Abraham Maslow
Emerging from an eating disorder can feel similar to waking up from a nightmare. The initial shock subsides as you find your way into the motions of normal life. Although you know that the worst has passed, there remains a constant and unmistakable lingering at the back of your mind of that very real dark night of the soul.
With creativity, determination and strength you have made it through to the other side, and in the process, have had to learn to get very comfortable with being uncomfortable.
As your healing journey develops you catch yourself in moments of awe at the things you are doing, at the beauty of the world around you, and of how much you’ve been missing out on. Although recovery felt foreign for a time, you begin to get used to your new body, people’s positive feedback, and the color that has returned to your cheeks.
You become more present in each moment of your new life, thinking less often about food, your body and exercise.
You are so happy to have closed that chapter and understandably would rather look forward rather than back.
Until one day you feel a familiar pounding in your chest while grocery shopping or looking over a menu — you shrug it off and continue on. You’ve become so enthralled in your new life, consequently your determination and focus on recovery begin to wane.
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Perhaps it began with jumping into more than you are ready for. The world without and within is exploding with opportunities and you eagerly accept. Self-care takes a backseat, therapy and support groups begin to feel unnecessary as you explore your new found freedom.
You become so externally focused that you barely notice that you’ve eliminated a food group, have started weighing yourself again, and comparing your body to others. Then seemingly out of nowhere, you have a major slip. An urge to binge, purge or starve comes over you at a weak moment, and you cave.
Dumbstruck and frustrated, you vow to start the next day over and pretend like it never happened. “It was just a fluke,” you tell yourself.
For those of us in recovery, this is a far too familiar scenario. There is a moment after that first lapse where we have the opportunity to reach out for help before we begin the spiral backwards. Unfortunately, there is a false belief that our struggle is a burden on others, which causes us to put on the everything’s-ok face. Even though it may feel like we don’t have a choice when it comes to riding the waves of recovery from mental illness and addiction, we always have the choice to ask for help.
Being honest with ourselves is the first and most crucial step to prevent relapsing.
Through recovery, you begin to see through the veil of illusion that your eating disorder created, and recognize the cracks in its lies. As a recovery warrior, you now know how predictable ED’s games are and can sense when things aren’t right.
The moment that you notice yourself considering engaging in those old behaviors, thinking those old thoughts, or anything along the lines of “not a big deal” and “just this one time,” your internal alarm system should be going off.
The second component to protecting yourself from relapsing is practicing honesty with others.
We can’t do everything on our own, we weren’t designed that way and the recovery process is no exception. Overcoming an eating disorder takes a team. You aren’t weak for asking for support, vulnerability takes far more courage than slipping back into old patterns.
It is never too soon to let someone know that you are struggling, and contrary to what ED may tell you, it does not make you a burden.
Recovery is for you. I have noticed that those of us with a history of disordered eating are constantly focused on the external world. We want our recovery to be wrapped up in a pretty bow so that our families and friends don’t have to worry, but that just isn’t reality.
The sooner that we can take committed actions that align with our true values, the less time we stay trapped within our own nightmare. When I find myself taking steps backwards, there is this moment where I can choose to pay attention and ask for help or I can negotiate with ED, settle for a manageable eating disorder and merely get by.
But I don’t want to spend my life only getting by, and I hope you don’t want that either.
Rather than hovering in a half-recovery space, between the nightmare in your mind and the beautiful possibilities without, reach for your highest recovery potential and don’t settle for compromise. Backsliding is a natural part of the recovery process, but it’s up to you to decide whether to allow yourself to slip further or to reach out for a hand from above.
Practice living honestly through relapse and recovery so that you can continue finding your way to the full life that you so deserve.
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