Bumps Along The Way
by Erin Honor
*small note before reading - I don't know if any of this post is coherent in any way, shape,or form... so I apologize in advanced. Well... Now that I've totally talked this thing up, let's get readin'!
A year ago today I did something that was, arguably, the more terrifying thing I have ever done.
A year ago I hit publish on my post Disappearing Act where I opened up about my eating disorder. The opening up wasn’t the scary part – I tend to have a bad habit of sharing way too much via the internet. No, the terrifying part was that, for the first time, I hit the “share” option that allowed the post to be seen by people that I knew in real life. Upon hitting the publish button, it felt like I was forever changing the way every person who has ever met me sees me. All of this being said, publishing that post is one of the best decisions I have made. The intention behind the post was to not go on and on about my insignificant self (which I have been doing for almost 150 words not…yikes), but to let those suffering know that they are not alone, and to educate those who don’t understand eating disorders in a way that would allow them to view these very real diseases in a more understanding and compassionate way.
So here we are a year later. What’s changed?
I can’t say that I remember what I covered in “Disappearing Act” (I kind of just typed it and hit publish without re-reading it, i.e. talking myself out of posting it), so I’m not sure where I left it or how much I shared about one of the most universal occurrences in recovery.
The road to recovery, regardless of what from, is not a straight path. You don’t just decide to recover and that’s that. No. Mental illness is mental illness, just as an addict is an addict – just because you are no longer practicing harmful behaviors does not mean that you are no longer sick. No.
Something that they don’t tell you about recovery is that it is an ongoing fight. You can be weight-restored (if being underweight was a symptom of your illness… remember, weight does not an eating disorder make, weight is merely one of the many symptoms of eating disorders) for years and still fighting at every single meal – every bite, every calorie.
I know it sounds overdramatic, and there are exceptions to this rule – but by going off of my own person experience and the experiences of others I know, but it’s true.
And relapse doesn’t always present in the same way. Just because I’m not eating X amount of calories every day like I used to does not negate slipping backwards. One may no longer restrict as low, yet their intake of food starts to slowly get smaller and smaller. “I’m fine,” they can say. “Remember how bad I used to be? This is nothing. Everything is fine.”
And sometimes we really and truly believe that.
Have you ever heard of the concept of the “transfer of addictions”? You stop restricting your calories as low, but begin to spend hours upon hours in the gym. “I want muscle now!” You’ll explain. “I’m healthy and fit. I’m lean not sick.” You’ll say as you weigh out every gram of food you eat as you need to track your macros.
That is not recovery. More often than not, a person will begin to recovery – really try – and then jump ship. They won’t know they jumped ship though, and most of the people in their life won’t either. There are so many cases of a person recovering anorectic developing a binge eating disorder – which is, by the way, a completely valid and dangerous eating disorder. It can take such a long time to notice these new unhealthy behaviors – you need to gain weight, you need to eat a ton of calories. This is fine.
This is just one of many examples of invisible relapses.
One of the scariest parts about relapsing (or never really fully committing to recovery – just convincing yourself that you are) is how much it feels like failure. Recovery is a very scary place to be – you are fighting so hard, but the fight is in your own head. The people around you say that you’re doing so well. You’re healthy now. You’re so much more fun than when you had your eating disorder.
All of this is being said while you scream in your head BUT I’M NOT OKAY! PLEASE HELP ME! – You never say this out loud of course. You smile. Everything is okay now. Pretend everything is okay. These people are counting on me. I can’t let them down.
I can’t be a failure. Not again.
I don’t know if there is ever a time that a person is more fragile than when they are in recovery. Being in recovery is like slowly thawing after being frozen for such a long time – it takes a long time to thaw, but it doesn’t take much to crack the ice and have it all fall apart far before you are ready.
Okay, that analogy sounded way better in my head… What I’m getting at is that a person in recovery is essentially made of very thin glass – the smallest touch, even an accidental one, can cause the whole thing to crash down.
Only this time you ‘don’t look sick anymore’ you’re ‘recovered.’ I find that the relapse, or even just the minor bumps in the road to recovery are far more difficult to handle than the full-blown anorexia was. As deadly as anorexia is – it actually develops as a way to keep yourself safe. You get to live in your own little bubble of self-destruction. You think about nothing outside of your disease, you feel nothing outside of your disease. It is a comfort of misery. Hey, I’m falling apart – but at least I’m too numb to really care.
Now I’m not numb anymore. I’m in sensory overload. My exoskeleton has been ripped off, exposing the rawness underneath. Every little touch hurts – you feel everything. The entire world becomes a trigger. It’s too much. I’m scared. I can’t handle this.
So you turn back to what you know – your safety. You romanticize being at your sickest in the most twisted way – you know it was horrible.. But you also miss it.
Now you are in limbo, not quite recovered, not quite relapsed. This is where I am right now, and to be perfectly frank, it sucks. It’s all too much and I hate myself and I’m scared of everything and I can’t look in mirrors and I don’t want to go outside – I also can’t return to the way that I used to be. I know better than that. I don’t want to die and I know that, with an eating disorder, you either recover or you die. Yes that sounds morbid and dramatic, but it is the complete truth. Always remember that when you feel yourself slipping – regardless of what it is that you are recovering from.
Wow.. I don’t even know what this post is really about. I wanted it to be about relapse in recovery and how falling backwards does not make you a failure.
Recovery is a lot like the myth of Sisyphus*. You have this impossibly large burden to carry with you (your illness), it doesn’t just go away, you keep it with you and fight every day to keep pushing forward – to fight the distorted thoughts from the sick mind – you push and push and push until you get to the pinnacle – recovery.
And then the boulder rolls right back down the hill.
But you try again. You let yourself fall with it a bit. You’re so tired and you have been fighting for so long. You tumble down. You relapse. You feel like a failure – too sick to exist but not sick enough to get help.
Well here’s the thing – if you’re reading this right now, it means that you’re still here. You have hoisted that burden back up onto your shoulder and have started up the mountain again.
This is recovery – this is strength.
*If you don’t know the story of Sisyphus, in a nutshell – basically he betrayed the god Zeus. Now, if you know anything about mythology, Zeus has a sick sense of humor. You don’t want to mess with him because he will destroy you. Sisyphus disclosed on of Zeus’ secrets, and for that he was condemned to push a massive boulder up a hill – once he reached the top, the boulder would roll back down the hill, hitting Sisyphus on the way down – over and over again for all of eternity.