I never expected to relapse

*trigger warning*

When I finally started on my recovery journey, and left residential treatment I never really imagined I would relapse. In all my previous treatment stays, relapse was a given. I never had changed my mindset, I had simply been weight restored and gone along with the process so that I would eventually be free to go back to my old eating disorder habits. However, after 6 months of intensive treatment, and living away from home in a different country I finally had a recovery-focused mentality and I was determined to give my all in order to make sure my eating disorder didn’t control my life to such an extreme extent going forward.

I left residential treatment two days after my sixteenth birthday, and returned to my grade 12 year in high school. Originally on my return home I lost some weight but it wasn’t intentional and it’s generally expected to happen when you return to a more active lifestyle. I didn’t have any “treatment team” taking care of me at home, but I was able to manage my recovery anyways.

The two years after my discharge went really well. I still had eating disorder thoughts, I still had general thoughts of calories, but I was living my life and I was happy. My first year of University was a huge positive attribute in my recovery – I met new people, made new friends, had freedom and was able to enjoy life that wasn’t centered completely around food.

I had returned to cheerleading when I originally returned home from residential, but after high school I wasn’t really involved in sports or fitness of any kind. In treatment exercise had always had a negative connotation or been restricted and I didn’t see how it could fit into my life at that time. Since I didn’t need to workout in order to have a “good” body, it just wasn’t a part of my daily life.

Then, in my third year of University, I started to go to the gym and realized how much I actually enjoyed it. As a girl who used to say she “hated running” and was proud to say she “had been to the gym twice all year,” I was honestly shocked when I fell in love with the gym and weight lifting. But I’m SO happy it happened, because I’ve learned so much more about myself, my passion, and my recovery by adding this into my life.

As I began to gain muscle and go to the gym 5-6x/week, I started to realize I wasn’t eating enough to compensate for my activity. But I didn’t know how to increase my intake – I hit a mental block. And for those of you who have struggled with an eating disorder before, you may know that once you start to lose weight and aren’t fueling your body properly, it’s 110% easier to give in to the eating disorder thoughts that pop into your head. So this past year, my last year of University, I found myself in a place where I wanted to be sick again. I wanted to keep losing weight, I wanted to keep under eating, I wanted to let anorexia back into my life. Knowing I wasn’t eating enough made me happy, looking in the mirror and seeing my collar bone stick out made me smile. As much as I knew it was wrong, I didn’t care.

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(November 2017/March 2018)

The fact that I was eating a “decent” amount and my exercise wasn’t “excessive” allowed me to brush off my behaviours as no big deal. I wasn’t restricting too much and I wasn’t over-exercising overtly and I felt like this let me continue to engage in my eating disorder without anyone really thinking there was a problem. I was in denial, and happily so.

Once my eating started to effect my mood, my anxiety and my desire to do things, I knew I really had to reevaluate what I’d been doing. There was a moment when I remember thinking to myself, “if this had happened in closer proximity to my last treatment stay I would have been back in treatment for sure.”

Never in my mind did I ever expect to relapse, especially after three years of recovery going really well. It was hard to come to terms with, it was hard to admit, and the hardest part was finally making the decision to get back on track with recovery. A part of me wanted to get worse, a part of me wanted to have my body deteriorate as much as I could, but I knew that wasn’t what was best for me. Especially as someone who wants to help other people in recovery, who wants to show people how fitness can be a positive addition to life, I couldn’t let my eating disorder take over again.

So starting in April, I upped my nutrition intake to a point I hadn’t been comfortable at in years. While I still have improvements to make nutritionally and mentally, I am pretty proud of how I took initiative to stop my mental illness from derailing my life once again. The improvements I’ve made so far give me hope that things will continue to get better. Even on the days where my anxiety is all consuming and I feel like there’s no point to anything – it’s helpful to remember that things have been worse and things have gotten better. I’ve found a passion for living a healthy lifestyle and an active eating disorder cannot be a part of that, but active recovery can be!

Relapse doesn’t come with a warning. It doesn’t announce itself in a whirlwind of fireworks. This makes it ridiculously hard to acknowledge it in yourself, but I encourage you to stay in-tune with yourself, your mind and your anxieties. Because even if it takes a little bit, even if it scares you, being able to recognize your struggles and admit a relapse is an incredibly strong thing to do. Even if it feels like betrayal to your eating disorder, even if it feels easier to give in to your mental illness, I promise you addressing the issue within and even telling one other person – can make the world of difference. Relapse is not a weakness, it is just another step in your battle. You can do this, I believe in you.

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