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Eating Disorder Relapse




There are always a couple of questions I get asked by nearly everyone in relation to recovery from an eating disorder

Is recovery possible?

Is relapse possible?

The answer to both questions is yes (although I personally hate the term relapse, I think of it as a realisation that something more is needed.)

Most people I have talked to seem to think that what I am saying is a contradiction. Is it? We live in a world were absolutely anything is a possibility so why would this be any different? Both scenarios are possible and one does not cancel out the other. There are lots of people who recover and the eating disorder behaviours never come into play again. There are also plenty of people who recover during a particular time in life when the external things are going really well and the environment supports recovery but what happens when the proverbial hits the fan? Maybe the world they were solidly prepared for is no longer the world that they are in and the skills they had for one world are just not enough for the situation they are at right now and that's OK. You can always learn the skills you need to match the situation you are in right now.

However, it is extremely important to stress the point that relapse is not a definite but of course it could potentially happen. Thinking a relapse can absolutely never happen is just a shame inducing stick to beat yourself with.


I sometimes think of it like building a bridge. You can build a very sturdy beautiful bridge that can withstand a lot and that may have even be tested a few times. Let's say a huge unexpected tornado were to suddenly come along, the bridge may struggle and break a little (lapse) you can address this and bring the bridge back to it's former glory or ignore it. If you ignore it and another tornado were to come along you may have part of the bridge fall down (relapse) again you can acknowledge it and do something about it or hope that nobody notices and ignore it. Yet another tornado comes along and the bridge that is already struggling to stay standing may crumble this time (collapse).


I like to be as open minded as possible and on this topic and not fall into black and white thinking, we are human after all and we don't tend to sit nicely into little boxes. If there is a solid belief that relapse cannot exist then can you imagine the shame somebody might feel if it were to happen. Can you imagine how one lapse could be ignored, because there is no way this could be happening. Then a lapse eventually becomes a series of lapses, a relapse and a massive collapse because you won't acknowledge what is happening. Maybe you can't admit it to yourself or you carry so much shame you try to carry it all on your own.


I am not saying that you need to be walking around in your life always looking for the possibility that you are relapsing. You don't always walk over a bridge looking for evidence that is collapsing (well you might, but that's a different blog!) but it could be good to be mindful of taking care of it and knowing what you need to do if you notice a couple of cracks appearing.


There are so many layers to recovery that it is extremely difficult to put it into one blog.

The more work you have done on yourself, it's fair to say the more robust you will be but none of us are superhuman and the belief that you have no permission to be anything but OK is actually incredibly shame inducing and can keep a lot of people very stuck.

Work towards recovery, recover and maintain your recovery but listen and respect that YOU will know when something doesn't feel right. That is part of the recovery process, listening to yourself and trusting yourself.


There are plenty of people who will will never ever engage in a self-destructive behaviour again, the same way as there are bridges still standing after years of being battered by storms.

There are also people who will maybe want a little help to make their own bridge a little more sturdy because they realise it's not as robust as they thought and like everything, it is absolutely possible.



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