“You were doing so well….”

“You were doing so well. What the hell happened?” The question I’ve gotten numerous times since I told people about my relapse. I wish I had a better answer, but here’s what I’ll start with for now.

It’s been almost three years since I first went to treatment. I had a couple little slip ups here and there, but that’s normal. As I’ve said before recovery isn’t a straight line forward. It’s got lots of ups and downs. One step forward, two steps back sometimes. However, overall I was doing really well. I’ve talked about before how I just want to be normal. I know that’s dumb because what is normal?

To me, normal is not having a voice in your head telling you not to eat that apple because you’ll get fat. It’s not having extreme anxiety when I have to go shopping because you aren’t a size 2 like you used to be. It’s being able to eat what I want when I want without there being a little thought in the back of my mind that a relapse is possible. It’s being able to walk around the store/mall/campus without comparing my body to everyone else’s. I can deal with the anxiety and depression. What I’m tired of dealing with is the eating disorder.

Because I was doing so well, I got overconfident in my recovery and wanted too badly to be “normal.” I ate what I wanted when I wanted without a second thought and didn’t completely hate my body that I assumed a relapse wouldn’t happen. You know what they say about assuming? It makes an “ass out of you and me.” However, I stopped checking in with myself. I stopped talking about things as they came up that bothered me. I stopped doing the things that are stress relievers and make me feel good because I didn’t make time for it. I need to finally accept that I’m not “normal” and whether I want to or not, I need to know that a relapse is always going to be a possibility – especially if I’m off my game. That way, when and if it comes, I’m better prepared to handle it, so we don’t get to the point I am right now.

The first time I went into treatment I was in and out in a pretty short amount of time – especially for how long I’d been sick. One of the girls I was there with talked about how her first time in treatment she was so worried about being the perfect patient that she didn’t embrace the journey. At the time I didn’t get it, but now I do. Let me try to explain that some more. You want to get better and want to make everyone happy, so you eat everything they tell you to. You complete your meal plan 100% of the time and never have to Boost. You complete the food challenges. You learn what your values are and how to live them out in your everyday life. You go on pass to practice recovery in the real world. You open up in group and individual appointments and talk about what got you here. You more or less blindly accept everything they tell you and tell you to do. They’re professionals so obviously they know. I know this because it was me.

Don’t confuse this for bullshitting my way through treatment. I really did make leaps and bounds in recovery, and it absolutely saved my life. But I also didn’t challenge the process at all. I accepted it for what it was. When I was frustrated or angry or anxious I just pushed it aside and didn’t fully deal with it. I did what I had to do to get better, which to me was get rid of the eating disorder behaviors. However, there was more that went into getting better. It’s dealing with and processing your triggers. It’s learning to accept that perfection is impossible and to forgive your mistakes. It’s learning to appreciate and love your body regardless of the number on the scale or the size on the tag. Some of those things I improved on but never completely got there. I, to this day, refuse to talk about body image. None of my 5 therapists have gotten me to talk about it. They bring it up and I shut down. One of them tried to slowly ease into the conversation, but I started catching onto where it was going and would change the subject. There are a couple other things I haven’t talked about much or have come up recently that are hindering my recovery that I need to process. Until I do that, it’s not going to get better.

I thought my recovery was almost done, but as I sit and think about it more, I realize that that story is still being written. Obviously I can think of better ways I could have spent my summer than obsessively counting calories, running miles on miles and constantly trying to distract myself from my growling stomach. But it’s all part of my story – good or bad. According to NEDA, the average recovery takes 5-7 years, so I need to patient with myself and ask for patience from others in return. It’s going to take time. But I will be ok.

Earlier this week I was sitting watching TV, and it all just clicked. I had my “ah-ha,” “what are you doing moment.” Since then I’ve completed my meal plan 100%. That’s not to say I’m ok with it necessarily, but I’m making progress. I’m at least completing which is more than I can say about the last 3 months. Yes, it makes me anxious. No, I’m not sure I’m ready to gain some of the weight back, but I know in the end a few extra pounds won’t kill me. But, in the long run, the eating disorder will.

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