I am in recovery from an eating disorder, and things have been really great for the past five months. I have maintained a steady weight and have not engaged in any bulimic behaviors — I consider this a great victory, despite the constant mental battles that play out in my head every day. However, when I recently went on a two week vacation and my eating and activity habits changed, I headed toward relapse.
My weight began to slip. Not a significant amount — perhaps three to five pounds — but for my small physique and for my delicate situation that was noticeable and crucial to my recovery. My boyfriend grew very worried and began to comment and ask if I was doing okay. “I’m fine! My weight hasn’t changed a bit!” I kept assuring him.
But I knew differently. Every morning when I woke up at our hotel in Beijing, I would engage in the same routine immediately after getting out of bed. I would head into the elevator to the basement floor directly to the gym and step on the high-tech scale which measured every ounce of my body weight. And every morning on our vacation my weight began to dip lower and lower, gradually but surely. Even though I have been strong in my recovery for awhile, I let ED (the eating disorder) taste victory on the trip. Every ounce lost was a kilo of power that ED consumed with such incredible thirst.
So how does a girl who is seemingly steadfast in her recovery so quickly turn down the wrong path? Simple. Anorexia is an ADDICTION like any other, and it had over the ten years of my struggle created a “reward pathway”. Number on scale down = mood elevated, number on scale up = mood lowers. It is the same neurobiologic process that occurs in individuals struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse. And during the vacation, I was using.
I was in a state of excitement and constant mental and active stimulation, visiting ancient palaces, galloping on horses in the grasslands, climbing the Great Wall with my amazing tour guide. But as the trip neared the end, I could feel my body wearing down. By the end of the trip I was toast. I completely passed out on the entire plane ride back with a massive headache, and in the week after just up until now, I could feel the damage from this small slip. For most people, a bit of weight fluctuation here and there is not a big deal, but for someone who has toyed around with her health for years, damaging organs and bones, this small slip was actually a serious problem.
How am I doing now you might wonder? Much better. It took a few days after the trip to come to terms with the fact that I was “using” again, but I did, and I acted ASAP. Immediately after I noticed, I told my support system, pulled out my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy workbooks, and became hypersensitive of every thought that entered my head. If I felt a thought was driven by ED, I dissected the thought and challenged it. I did not beat myself up, but instead gave myself love and nourishment.
Although recovery might not always be a perfect process, (it almost assuredly will not be) it can become easier and easier. Each time I have a slip, I am more resilient and can reverse my thoughts and behaviors quicker. I also begin to notice more and more the triggers that present themselves in my life, and can take notes to prevent them in the future. Recovery is not a perfect road, but if you are constant improving, then you are on the right track.
I think that life is the same way…
I hope that this piece becomes a wakeup call to someone who knows he or she is relapsing but is a bit scared to admit it. If this is you, pick up the phone, call up a friend, or reach out to someone and let them know NOW. If you wait a few more minutes, your addiction may begin to play tricks with you again.