Scared You're About to Relapse? READ THIS!

I’m writing this post with a specific someone in mind who really needs to read it.

Recovery is a lot of things, but it is not easy. It’s scary, it’s confusing, it’s hard at times, and it can very often feel like it’s not even worth it.

If you’re scared you’re slipping back into old habits or just that your recovery is not going well, I implore you to read this. There are a few questions I’ll be asking you to answer that should help you find your footing a bit and regain some hope.

Stage 1. Purpose

Who would want to finish a book about a character with no superpowers or other-worldly features who pays his bills, goes to work, and sleeps? What would be the impetus to pick up this book about someone with no pressing goals or greater life purpose? It wouldn’t sell, you wouldn’t read it, and there’d be no point in even writing it.

And yet, so many of us go through life with no other purpose but to not die too soon. This isn’t to say we all need some valiant life mission, like ending world hunger or fighting for human rights in an impoverished region of the world. But it is to say that an eating disorder is a vicious thing that threatens to take complete control of your life. And if you have no other purpose for being alive, you have effectively manifested the perfect breeding grounds for such a compelling Ed voice.

When I look back at points in time where my depression was really bad (and there were some times it was awful - to the point I was scared to be alone), there is a clear correlation with lack of purpose. When I drop the things I love and the reasons that motivate me to wake up and get to work, my depression takes over and incites that vicious cycle you probably know all too well.

On the flip side, when you do have a greater life purpose (whether that be finding the cure to cancer or improving organizational systems within your work environment), everything else becomes a resource toward that end goal. In other words, when you have no purpose in life, waking up is just something you do so you don’t sleep all day; eating is something you do just because you “have to”; and friends are just people you spend time with so you don’t feel like a total hermit.

When you do have this greater purpose in mind, the way you see everything changes. Waking up is not just something you have to do; it’s an exciting opportunity to start the day and take steps to move closer to your goal. Eating is something you do not only to maintain energy and nourish your body so that it can work well and not fail on you; it’s also just because you like to eat and you care enough about yourself that you don’t deny yourself food when you’re hungry. Friends are not just random people you get drinks with to fill your “social quota”; they are [usually like-minded] people who add to your quality of life and motivate you to be your best self.

As such, here are two important questions for you to answer:

1. If you could get paid to do whatever you want, what would you do?

Try to think of up to three different things. And avoid answers like “sleep all day” or “never leave my house.” I don’t think you’re lying that those are things you want to do right now, but they are not activities grounded in genuine enjoyment as much as they are grounded in avoidance and fear. What we are trying to do is push past that and see what intrinsically enjoyable activities are there.

Maybe you would work on a collection hobby you have. Maybe you would travel the world. Maybe you would do stand-up comedy. Maybe you would review exotic cars. Maybe you would write a blog! Whatever it is, write it down somewhere and keep it in mind.

2. When was the last time you felt genuinely happy or proud?

Think back to the last time you felt genuine, unadulterated happiness or pride. Maybe it was pride in a project you finished or a feat you accomplished. Or maybe it was happiness you felt as you walked through nature or got to take care of your baby niece. Whatever you think of, really think deeply about why that thing made you feel happy or proud. What was it about it that you took so much from?

Stage 2. A paradigm shift

You’ve heard the age-old adage that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Few expressions hold as much meaning when it comes to something like recovery from your eating disorder. And this is not to put you down for not doing the “perfect things” in your recovery. However, it is important to undergo these fundamental paradigm shifts and grow mentally and emotionally in your recovery process.

Think about what you’ve been doing in your recovery recently that has and has not been working. Better yet, answer these questions so you can organize these thoughts more efficiently.

1. What’s one thing you’ve been doing recently that has been helpful for your recovery?

You can think of more than one thing, of course. But what’s important is that you bring this to mind and then consider the consequences: Why has this thing (or have these things) been so helpful? Moreover, what is it that has helped you stick with this thing?

Let’s take a social life as our example. Maybe you thought “Well, I’ve been doing an especially good job of making time for friends and allowing myself to enjoy a balanced social life.” If so, ask yourself why this has been so helpful. Well, maybe taking a break to spend time with those close to you has allowed you to not be so rigid in your expectations of yourself. Maybe these friends are positive influences that allow you to unashamedly express yourself and be free.

Then, ask what it is that has helped you stick with this. In this example, maybe it’s that you just genuinely enjoy their company. You chose good friends to spend time with. Or maybe it’s that you have more realistic expectations of your schedule now and don’t expect yourself to be working 12 hours a day, which is letting you justify to yourself spending time with friends.

2. What’s one thing you’ve been doing recently (or haven’t been doing) that has been harmful to your recovery?

On the flip side of that last question, let’s move on to thinking of some possibly harmful behaviors, thoughts, or actions you’ve recently been engaging in. The point of this is not to beat yourself up over them but to take objective inventory of them and see how you can move forward. Remember: you don’t need to be everything to everyone right now. We are just calmly looking inwards and being honest with ourselves.

Maybe the thing you’re thinking of is skipping a certain meal. If you’ve been routinely allowing yourself to skip, say, breakfast, this could definitely be chipping away at otherwise productive recovery efforts. Now, let’s ask those same two questions from the last question. Why has this thing (or have these things) been so harmful? Moreover, what is it that has prompted you to keep doing (or not doing) this thing?

With skipping breakfast, there are quite a few reasons this is harmful to your recovery. For starters, it’s the first meal of the day, and starting your day off on a disordered note like this is definitely going to make the rest of your day an uphill battle. As well, skipping breakfast will mean less energy throughout the day and an effectively harder time regulating emotions and staying calm.

Now let’s ask ourselves what has prompted more of this behavior. Maybe in this example, it’s the feeling of “doing well” when you don’t eat. I know for myself and many others, the intermittent fasting trap worked this way: it makes you feel like you’re being productive and “good” when you’re fasting, and then - on the flip side - undisciplined and “bad” when you’re feasting. Or maybe it’s the habit-forming nature of skipping the first meal of the day. In other words, you’ve been conditioning yourself to not be hungry for breakfast.

Whatever it is, make sure you’re writing these answers down somewhere and really reflecting on the implications here.

Stage 3. Breathing

To wrap this up, let’s take some deep breaths together. Seriously. Before moving on to the next paragraph: look at three things in your immediate environment. Name the first thing (without judgment) and then take three deep breaths. Now do the same with the second and third thing. If you’re wondering where this comes from, check out the TED Talk I’ve included here from ADHD and couples counseling specialist Phil Boissiere. It’s a really powerful and simple technique to bring yourself back to the present moment. And often in our respective recovery journeys, that’s exactly what we need.

I hope this has been helpful and that you have a great rest of your day.

Remember: Your life is your story, so make it amazing.

Ari Snaevarsson