So What's The Problem With The Recovery vs Relapse Mindset?
Kelly Boaz, CNP
Photo Credit: Florian Klauer
It's a lovely day. You're walking down the street, basking in the sunlight, admiring the trees, when WHAM! You find yourself face-to-face with the pavement. Tripping and falling may bruise your ego, but you're not otherwise hurt. You stand up, brush yourself off, and continue on down the street.
We've all done this, in so many ways. We fall, we get up, we keep going. But that's not always the case for those of us in eating disorder recovery. It's easy for us to believe that a single slip up means IT'S ALL OVER! WE'VE FAILED AT RECOVERY! WE'VE RELAPSED!!! When we fall, sometimes we stay down.
The Problem With Recovery vs Relapse
Relapse and Recovery. It often seems like those are our only two options. Engaging in eating disorder symptoms means we're not in recovery anymore. That kind of black-or-white thinking is a very slippery slope.
If we declare ourselves to be in a relapse every time we don't follow our meal plan exactly, it's easy for the eating disorder to get back in the driver's seat. One missed meal turns into a week of restriction, and it gets harder and harder to stand back up again.
Especially around the holidays, it's difficult to stick to your regular meal schedule. Things like travel, family dinners, and just plain sleeping in can throw things out of whack. The "Relapse or Recovery" mentality can make this even more challenging than it already is. So I would like to enter a third option: lapse.
A lapse is a momentary thing. Sometimes a lapse comes from circumstances outside our control - like not realizing there wouldn't be a meal served on a long flight. Sometimes a lapse comes after an incredibly stressful day, or in the middle of a depressive episode, or as a coping strategy for something we don't yet know how to deal with otherwise.
However it comes, a lapse is a learning opportunity. Lapses teach us how to better navigate the world in recovery. We learn to pack snacks in circumstances where we may not have access to meals. We learn what things are still triggering for us in recovery, and work with our team to build strategies to deal with them. This is why working with a team to help you transition out of a treatment setting is so important. You'll encounter "real-world" stressors you didn't have to deal with in a more structured environment and, as a result, won't have the skills to cope with them.
Now, I'm not saying you should plan to lapse in your recovery, just to be gentle with yourself when it happens. Pay attention to the circumstances that led to your lapse, talk about it with your team, plan strategies for future lapses, and DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING. Eat the next meal as planned, no matter what symptom affected the last one.
When you're making your way through recovery, chances are you'll trip. Maybe you'll trip a lot. But every time you fall, you build more strength in standing up again. Eventually, you'll know all the places where the sidewalk is uneven and can walk down the street without tripping at all. But that can only happen if you keep getting up when you fall.
Kelly Boaz, CNP is a Toronto-based Holistic Nutritionist (CNP), specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. After winning her 17-year battle with anorexia, Kelly Boaz turned her life’s focus to helping others do the same. She is also a writer and speaker (TEDx, TDSB), raising eating disorder awareness, and helping people heal their relationship with food and their bodies. You can find out more about Kelly, or get in touch via her website.