It’s been about six months since I’ve been in regular therapy and treatment. I never really thought it was possible to live my life outside of therapy and treatment and my mental illnesses. I was convinced I would always be consumed by my eating disorder, depression, and anxiety.
When I first returned to college this past fall after taking time off for treatment, I lived a life of hesitancy and caution. I was wary of taking on too much because what if I relapsed? What if my depression took away my power to function? What if I became crippled by my anxiety? What if my eating disorder took over my life?
I spent so much time trying to live within the confines of someone who was just barely in recovery.
I wasn’t walking in freedom because I was making room for relapse to occur in my life. By allowing that “just in case” space, I wasn’t able to fully live because I was still focused on my illnesses and how they factored into my life instead of focusing on life itself.
I’m not saying those of us in recovery should throw out our relapse prevention plans or live without mindfulness of our recovery. Recovery is fragile, and living like it isn’t is reckless and dangerous. But it’s impossible to live a full life when we are plagued by a fear of relapse and when we let that fear drive our choices and our lives.
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Last semester, I lived in fear of doing too much, of being too involved, of having too much stress, and I missed out on moments and experiences I’ll never have again. I spent most of the semester lying in my bed and watching Netflix because the relapse risk was minimal.
Moving forward in life and in recovery involves taking risks.
As my therapist once said to me, “It’s like jumping off a cliff and trusting you will land safely at the bottom.” It can be terrifying to move into the unknown, knowing relapse is a possibility, but is settling for a life driven by fear really better?
Part of being able to move forward comes from confidence in yourself and your ability to cope with any obstacles and triggers that may come up as you step back into a life that’s not defined by your struggles. It involves recognizing the thought “I can’t handle it” is a cognitive distortion, and the reality is you can handle it.
You can handle a life that is not trigger or risk-free.
I’ve found as I’ve moved forward with my life these past few months that I’ve had to remain mindful of how I am feeling, especially if I’m in a situation that has triggered me in the past. By remaining mindful of how I’m feeling, I can make small adjustments in my day-to-day life which allow me to keep living the way I want and keep me moving forward.
Just because I am moving into a phase of my life that is not defined by my illnesses or by my fear of relapse does not mean I am leaving behind my focus on recovery.
What has changed is my recovery mindset: instead of focusing on preventing relapse, I am focusing on living life.
Amazing things have happened with just that tiny shift in perspective. I am able to more fully connect with my friends. I am able to invest my time and energy in what I am passionate about. I am able to engage my mind in learning.
I am no longer chained to an ever-present fear of relapse because my focus is on living a recovered life. I no longer have to balance on the line between a life in recovery and a life of illness because my focus on life draws me deeper into a recovered life.
It’s like my dad told me when I was learning to drive: focus your eyes on the road ahead and your car will take you there. It’s the same with recovery. If we focus our eyes on life, we will end up living. In letting go of our illnesses and the fear of relapse and focusing on living our lives, we are able to move forward into life.
And from what I’ve experienced so far, it’s pretty amazing.
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