When You Relapse Three Years Into Recovery

After almost three years in recovery from my eating disorder, I have learned a lot about myself and my illness. I know what tends to trigger relapses, how to keep myself from falling into one, what feelings push me too far and what comments make me overthink. After three years, I’ve relapsed more times than I can count, but as time goes on, the length of time between those setbacks has increased and my desire to go back to my eating disorder has decreased. I have truly gotten stronger with time, something I never thought I’d be able to say.

However, no amount of time in recovery will ever make me immune to a relapse. I thought I had forever stuck a big middle finger over my eating disorder and that I would never go down that path again, no matter what. I knew I would still struggle, since I’m still not completely over it, but I think I subconsciously thought I was bulletproof. I forgot I was a weak human being, in need of God’s strength and grace.

A couple weeks ago, I started to spiral. This was different than the past relapses I’ve encountered. There I was, living in Orlando, Florida, working at Disney World, which has been a dream of mine for so long, but I still felt empty. My depression had been trying to come back up for a while, and some nights it did. What I now recognize as a lack of attention to God led my depression and anxiety to spiral, which, like dominoes, pushed my eating disorder to do the same.

Every day, the idea of restricting grew bigger and louder in my head. Every meal, I thought, “What if I just… didn’t eat?” I forced myself to pack meals for lunch, and struggled to pour myself a bowl of cereal in the morning. Everything was getting too loud and overwhelming in my mind. I cried a couple times driving home from work hearing songs on the radio about God overcoming struggles, because I was so deep in mine but wouldn’t admit it. I wasn’t honest with myself about what was going on. I was fine.

The strength it takes me to eat every single day was diminishing, and I was spiraling. I was asking for prayers but not diving deep enough into my own. I was trying to eat with shaky hands without going to the One who brings peace. Before I knew it, I was no longer forcing myself to eat until I was full. I started counting calories again and measuring out everything I ate. I skipped meals and hated myself for eating something I didn’t “need”.

My whole program leading up to this, every time I was tempted to restrict, I would remind myself of how much of my life my eating disorder has already taken from me. I didn’t want it to ruin my college program. I didn’t want it ruining this time in my life, the things I had worked for and fought for.

But this time, when the thoughts and temptations came, I couldn’t fight it anymore.

I felt like I went into autopilot. The part of my brain I had been trying to ignore for three years suddenly took over, and I was back to being sixteen-years-old. It felt so different from my past relapses. It truly felt like I wasn’t going to be able to dig myself out of this one. I felt trapped, lost, and the worst part was, I didn’t care anymore.

The actual restricting part of this relapse didn’t last too terribly long, only about a week. But the weeks leading up to it were agonizing and hard. I fell apart and wasn’t strong enough to pick myself back up again. My eating disorder swept in when I couldn’t defend myself, and I was unable to fight. I just gave in. I let the hunger drive me, and eventually, it passed and I was just running on fumes with no physical pain other than the thoughts in my brain.

I’m not sure what happened, but eventually, something clicked. I was at work with an hour of my shift left to go when I started getting lightheaded. I felt woozy and my stomach felt empty. I felt sick. That’s when I woke up. “Why would you do this to yourself??” I asked myself. I realized that I didn’t want this. Even though I felt ridiculously weak in the midst of this relapse, I realized that I have grown to care too much about myself to continue this torture.

The days following that were hard. I still don’t want to eat, but the knowledge that I need to eat is once again bigger than my desire not to. I finally realized that my strength was not enough. I was right when I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get myself out of that one. I couldn’t, and I didn’t. God’s strength is bigger than mine and it’s bigger than my eating disorder and it’s bigger than the enemy’s temptations. I was only able to get out of the hole I had jumped into when I stopped trying to tie my own rope and just climbed out using God’s ladder instead.

The emptiness I had been feeling the month leading up to my relapse was not a lack of control, or my addiction, or anything else. It was a lack of time spent in God’s presence. With work and everything going on with my college program, I had let business distract me from my Lord and Father. I stopped reading my Bible and praying. I would go a whole day before realizing that I hadn’t spent any time with God, the very One who gifted me with that day. I had lost myself because I had lost my joy and peace in God.

After almost three years in recovery, I now realize that I am not immune to weakness or temptation. I am not bulletproof, but I do have a bulletproof shield. The joy and peace that God supplies is greater than any painkiller I could ever think of, and He is greater than any emotion or feeling or desire. I am merely human, and a weak human at that. However, I have a great God. My eating disorder is still very present in my life, and I haven’t passed that relapse far enough for it to be out of my mind. I still have to fight, I just have to remember that I can’t fight alone. Fighting this alone would be a losing battle.

But fighting with God? The battle is already won.

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