You may have heard the phrase: recovery is not linear. This is something that we repeatedly say to our clients because, well, it’s true! Everyone’s recovery process looks different and poses its own unique challenges or barriers. Sometimes we refer to recovery as an upward spiral: there may be times when you are on the downward slope but the spiral is still moving up. In other words: there is recovery in relapse.
The most important thing to remember is that there is no shame in a relapse in your recovery. This does not mean the eating disorder has “won”, it simply means that you may need more support at this time.
And there is definitely nothing wrong with needing support - we all need that. If you find yourself in the midst of a relapse, please do not stay silent in your struggle. Let’s review some strategies to help you navigate through.
navigating relapse in eating disorder recovery
reach out for support
If you're no longer in treatment, reach out to a trusted friend or family member who knows about your ED. Your supports are your biggest assets. Get yourself back into treatment. Even if you’ve been through the treatment gamut a handful of times, you are going to approach the process from a different place each and every time.
There, you can refresh yourself on the skills you learned to cope with difficult feelings, prevent/interrupt the use of further ED behaviors and regain the momentum and motivation you previously had.If you're receiving treatment in an outpatient setting, let your dietitian or other health care provider know ASAP. Be as open and honest as possible.
remember: relapse does not equal failure
You may feel like you've let yourself or others invested in your recovery down, but that is not so. Relapse is common in recovery and says nothing about your strength or abilities. It is an opportunity to learn and get stronger, not a sign of weakness.
Think of how far you've come from where you started, and what you've accomplished so far. Recovery is hardly ever a linear process. Avoid using harsh or judgmental language with yourself. If you catch yourself speaking to yourself this way, remember that thoughts aren't automatically true- they're just thoughts!
remind yourself of your recovery "why"
Take some time to reconsider and re-evaluate your motivators for change. The ED voice can be loud and pushy, try to drown it out by keeping your goals, motivators and values in mind. Practice self-care!
To prevent backsliding into negative, self-sabotaging habits, be sure to practice some intentional self-care, whatever that means for you. Maybe it's a phone call with a friend, a walk in nature, watercolor painting, journaling or reading a novel. Pick something that makes you feel good. Put one foot in front of the other. You've done this before, you can do it again.
If you're needing extra support with figuring out your recovery "why" - we talk about how to do this in our Eating Disorder PATH.
keep note of your triggers
Recognize what potentially led to your recovery relapse. Was it a certain time of year? External comment? Post on social media? Maybe take some time with yourself or your team to navigate these questions and keep either mental (or physical) log of what preceded the relapse. This can help you learn and strategize if you find yourself in a similar situation in the future.
Recovery IS possible, and you deserve it! The process might be messy, but no one said it would be easy. We're here for you. If you feel that you need more support or have questions about navigating your recovery - please reach out to us. We see you, we hear you, and we would love to support you in your journey through our 1:1 counseling or 24/7 in the Eating Disorder PATH.