Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

what is a relapse?


my favorite park. again.

So between here, Facebook, and Formspring, I’ve gotten a lot of people questioning the fact that I am still claiming to be recovered.  I’m “rushing things,” or I’m “in denial,” or I’m a hypocrite (yes that was the actual word used) because I “went back to ED.”  On this last one, I will never go back to “ED” because “ED” is not a person.  I don’t personify my cardiac condition, why would I personify this illness, when both are likely to kill me?

Here’s the big headline of the day:   I don’t believe I relapsed.  (And if you’re going to comment on this post without having read the posts since I came back from treatment, do yourself a favor and catch up first.)

According to Merriam-Webster Online, relapse, in the medical sense of the word, means “a recurrence of symptoms of disease after a period of improvement.”

Hold your horses!  According to this definition, I did relapse.  There was a recurrence of symptoms.  Oh no, I’m screwed now.

Except I still maintain I didn’t relapse.  I’m not in denial.  There were symptoms of an eating disorder present and I’m not being so idiotic as to come home from treatment and say goodbye to my outpatient treatment team because “I’m all better now.”  I realize the potential for slipping, and I have frequent appointments with people who have an objective viewpoint and who will be honest with me if they see me having problems.

The eating disorder, in my case, was always a way to cope with emotional stress and a way to deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  For a very long time I feared change.  For a very long time I had no skills to cope with these things any other way, and then it took time to learn to trust that the new set of skills I was learning would work just as good, if not better, than the eating disorder ever could.  But then I learned I could cope and be healthy.  (Please keep in mind there is a lot more to the eating disorder, as to how it developed and why it persisted and why it was difficult to let go of.  This paragraph is a very shortened history lesson of my eating disorder.)

I have experienced relapses.  It was always during a time of acute stress and change and I would fall back into my “safe” ways of coping without realizing it, often until I was rather well into the relapse.  Sometimes it was gradual, and sometimes the relapse happened very quickly.  But the eating disorder always remained a coping mechanism.

This time around, the return to behaviors was not a way to cope with anything.  I was using all my healthy coping skills to deal with emotional and mental stress.  The return to behaviors happened after I, in a healthy manner, supported by my treatment team, attempted to lose weight.  I returned to the behaviors because losing weight=restricting is the formula that is almost instinct in me now.

I realized what was happening.  I told my treatment team.  I tried changing things on my own.  I saw the potential for a relapse.  Why do I say I hadn’t relapsed yet?  Because I was getting anything emotionally from the behaviors. Other than fear that they were there at all.  I was afraid that I would start numbing out from the restricting and that I would start liking the feeling of being empty again.  I was afraid because of the mental and emotional hell that involves, but I was also afraid for my physical body.

So if I didn’t relapse, what exactly happened?  I am saying I slipped.  I think there is a difference between the two.  And I think sometimes we throw the word “relapse” at someone way too soon, after he or she has only struggled again for a week or two.  We don’t learn to walk without falling a few times.  And yes, I’m further along in my recovery journey that you may think I should be stumbling anymore.  But I believe I’ve seen enough adults trip and fall on the sidewalk to know we all make mistakes.  And if someone is saying “relapse relapse relapse” then it’s easy to just say, “Fuck it all, I’ll show them what a relapse is.”  And as I’ve said, I’ve been through relapses.  This was not one of them.

I think people who are in recovery or who are recovered can slip and then regain their recovery almost immediately if that recovery was well-established to begin with. I think sometimes life throws a lot of shit at someone all at once, as happened to me these past few months, and maybe even I was naive in thinking I was going to get through it unscathed.

But no.  I’m not a hypocrite.  I’m honest.  I’m a real person who reacted to real life and told the truth.

And I can’t help but wonder why so many people have issues with me saying I’m recovered.  Do these people question everyone who claims to be recovered?  Do these people not believe in full recovery?  Do these people not believe that real, imperfect human being can make mistakes?  Do these people not see the beauty in acknowledging your mistakes and learning from them and then being able to grow as a person because of that?

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March 10, 2010 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20 Comments »

  1. I had an excellent therapist at Renfrew who explained the process of relapse. She said there is a full blown relapse, but their is also what she called a ‘lapse’ which is like a slip up. A lapse can turn into a relapse but you can also catch it before it gets out of control and becomes a full blown relapse. A lapse is when some of the symptoms come back but aren’t as powerful. Ignoring a lapse can easily lead to a relapse but when you are honest with yourself and your treatment team you can take steps to prevent a full relapse where the symptoms take control of everything. It sounds to me like you had a lapse, not a relapse. I don’t know if you would define it that way but I found it helpful for me. I think it is really important to distinguish between the two because relapse is sometimes associated with failure, a lapse is a slip up- that you recognized and took steps to fix. Anyway, I thought the distinction between the two was interesting and helpful for me so I figured I’d share it with you.

    Comment by Anne | March 10, 2010 | Reply

  2. well said

    Comment by slzu | March 10, 2010 | Reply

  3. hey lex,
    u dont owe anyone an explanation.
    and anyway, everyone’s recovery or relapses or slips, etc etc etc look diff.

    Comment by shira | March 10, 2010 | Reply

  4. I’m sorry, but I still think you are in denial. And am pretty frustrated with this blog. I certainly agree with you though that people can be very rude in the way they voice their opinions- it is inappropriate to bash someone the way some people were doing to you. Instead, they should keep their mouths shut, and just check this blog less often, the way I do, because my opinion of eating disorder recovery and issues relating to it is too vastly different from yours to get much out of this blog anymore.

    Comment by J C | March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • I am so glad that you can judge where I’m at without ever having met me. That takes a lot of talent and skill. I’d love for you to meet all four members of my treatment team to tell them they are wrong as well, because you must be a professional to determine whether or not someone is in denial just by reading a blog.

      What I’m really thankful for is that I know where I’m at, my team is in agreement, and my body is healthy and strong.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | March 10, 2010 | Reply

      • well said Lexi. I don’t even feel that I have a right to jude how you’re doing and I HAVE met you multiple times. 🙂

        Comment by Nikita | March 11, 2010

  5. J C- I agree and need to take your advice into consideration as well. I agree with the other commentators on the lapse versus relapse idea as well as Kate’s response to your FB. However, she too ended saying “recovery” not recovered and I believe the first commentator was referring to terms therapists use for those of us in recovery also not yet recovered. I also learned that terminology but also found the term relapse and collapse helpful- I don’t think that refers to your situation at all- if anything I agree that lapse vs relapse is a better fit, though as I know and as you have reiterated to tons of people who are we to judge or tell you where you are. But to me- a lapse still means in recovery not recovered- I think once you are recovered there are no lapses of such significance.

    Comment by Jessica | March 10, 2010 | Reply

  6. First, thank you – this was an amazing post from an amazing person, and it really helped me put my slips into perspective. I always beat myself up when I stumble, and when that happens my parents scream RELAPSE, so thank you for reminding me that I’m human, I make mistakes, and I grow from them.

    Second, you seem to focus a lot on labelling where you are at – recovered v. recovering; slipping v. relapsing. Maybe your place right now doesn’t have the perfect label. Maybe you’re just being you and appreciating life. Maybe you’re simply Alexis – your label is YOU, because you have reclaimed yourself.

    I totally agree with you about not personifying the eating disorder, b/c I think that makes us at risk for giving “it” too much power over us.

    p.s. I hope I’m making sense – my seroquel is starting to kick in 😉

    Comment by anon | March 10, 2010 | Reply

  7. Yes, I definitely agree with Jessica (above) regarding labeling. I am very much interested in subjective notions of recovery–and clearly, these conceptions are in fact multiple, temporal, political and indeed subjective. Labeling, labeling theory etc etc seem to play such a prominent role for so many people–whether we are defining our illness, our recovery, place in recovery, etc. Perhaps we are afraid of (or conversely covet) the self-fulfilling prophecies of labeling (and thus we pull out our warrior gear and go to battle).

    I have stopped feeling as though I have anything to PROVE to anyone in terms of my ED and recovery for many years now, as I know this is a fruitless pursuit, and that I am the only one who really, honestly and fully knows where I am. In the end, this more than suffices for me.

    Notwithstanding, it’s interesting to note how defensive we all can be regardless of where we stand within our ED/recovery/process of recovering….etc…..

    Comment by Emily | March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Wow – that was a very interesting response. Out of curiosity, do you study psychology?

      Comment by anon | March 11, 2010 | Reply

  8. ^oops I meant “anon” not Jessica in my reference above.

    Comment by Emily | March 10, 2010 | Reply

  9. Hey-
    I’ve been mulling over this since you started posting when you returned. And I still haven’t really come to a conclusion. But I also can say it’s not my place TO come to a conclusion–its not my recovery.
    Im attempting to say the following with grace and respectfulness, as a preface 🙂
    It seems that people’s responses to your that question your recovery upset you. if thats the case…maybe consider stop trying to prove it to them. im not saying to silence your voice. Im saying that if writing these posts end up being detrimental to you, why subject yourself to that?
    And I guess ultimately, I just want you to be healthy and happy. And I don’t entirely understand how you went have just gotten out of treatment and “recovered”, even though you’ve tried to explain it. But I also just really have to get it–because it’s NOT my recovery.
    My only question I suppose would be that you say this round of treatment was strictly for refeeding and to make sure it was done in a safe environment and properly, which I think was a wise decision. It seems odd to me that a behavior can be strictly behavioral without an emotional trigger behind it. So I think it’s important to simply be aware of and investigate HOW you feel about your body, was there a reason you felt compelled to lose weight in the first place besides medical reasons? And I feel that restricting, besides the fact that it is habitual for you, would have an emotional connection.

    I hope that made sense. More than anything, I just want you to be truly living, feeling alive, and embracing who you are. Regardless of where you fall on the recovery spectrum.

    Comment by Mindy | March 11, 2010 | Reply

    • The reason I felt compelled to lose weight was for medical reasons. The only emotional connection restricting had for me this time was fear–fear that I would start getting that emotional high from it.

      how do I feel about my body? The same way I did before.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | March 11, 2010 | Reply

    • I thought some more about the idea of behaviors without emotion. And that’s pretty much the definition of an addiction. Which is, I think, what happened. You put one glass of alcohol in some recovered alcoholics’ hands and it will be all downhill from there, good intentions be damned and having been through treatment to “deal with the issues, etc.” In my case, I “put something in my hand”–cutting out one thing a day in a healthy, medically supervised way of losing needed weight–and it was like putting full blown restriction in front of me. For so many years, that was my drug of choice. Now I know I can’t ever put it in front of me for any reason, health issues or not. I will live as healthfully as possible, regardless of where my weight it, and if my weight falls back it’s “ideal,” then it happens. If not, it stays here. But I’m not going to try to change it for fear of what could happen.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | March 12, 2010 | Reply

  10. when I said “I really have to get it” it was meant to say “i DONT have to get it”.

    Comment by Mindy | March 11, 2010 | Reply

  11. Alexis,
    You’re strength continues to amaze me. You are sharing incredibly intimate thoughts with us and allowing complete strangers to judge you. I know I wouldn’t be able to be that honest with anyone except myself. I’d like to see your “judges” be as honest as you are.

    Comment by Diana | March 11, 2010 | Reply

  12. As someone with a history of disordered eating, who cannot exercise strenuously, and who has been told by my current doctor to lose weight for medical reasons, I totally understand what you are saying. I, too, feel I have recovered from my eating disorder, but struggle every day that I am working to lose weight healthily with the fear that I will fall back into those patterns. Not because of emotion, but because of physical response. I have not had a lapse, or relapse, or slip-up even. But those thoughts of “what if” are still there. What if I begin to like how hunger feels again? What if I get too hungry on this healthy eating program and binge? Will I be compelled to purge because I feel so physically ill? I don’t want to or plan to go back. But it’s there, and something to be aware of.

    I also know that the second I did fall into any of those patterns, I would seek help. And to me, that action is what makes me recovered. It’s something I would not have done immediately when I was engaged in the eating disorder. It is something I would have struggled with. Not any more. The fact that you did the same is something to be proud of.

    Maybe some people feel you are in denial because they have not felt that same solid confidence in their own recovery that you have. Either way, it is yours to feel, to live, and to label.

    Comment by R.K.G. | March 11, 2010 | Reply

    • thank you so much for this. I want to raise my arms and shout, “hallelujah, someone GETS it!”

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | March 11, 2010 | Reply

  13. I think one thing that you barely mentioned in this blog but that really does in my mind hit the nail on the head as to why so many people may be attacking you for still claiming to be recovered is that one little question you posted at the end ” Do they not believe in full recovery?”. My answer to that: No. I think the people who tend to question me the most on my recovery are those that cannot find it in themselves to recover for one reason or another. I will admit, before reading this blog specifically, I wasn’t positive, but I thought you may be in a bit of denial about being in a relapse. I think what i’ve come to understand from this blog (and thus what has led me to change my opinion and believe you whole-heartedly) is the fact that I now realize what your mindest and reasoning was for going into treatment again this time. I had automatically assumed that you were going to treatment because you relapsed, however, I no see that you went because you had fears that you could relapse. There is a HUGE difference, and I look up to you even more becasue of being able to make that choice. I think fear of your eating disorder’s return is one of the strongest indicators of if you truely are in recovery or recovered, and you seem to hold very strongly to that fear. You should ignore all the stinking people who keep giving you shit for saying you’re not recovered and instead give yourself a pat on the back for how you really are doing. 🙂

    Comment by Nikita | March 11, 2010 | Reply

    • “I think fear of your eating disorder’s return is one of the strongest indicators of if you truely are in recovery or recovered”

      I really agree with that. Many people (and I hate to admit that I’m still in that place) fear complete RECOVERY, but a fear of RELAPSE is at a completely different level, and I really admire you for that, Alexis.

      Comment by anon | March 11, 2010 | Reply


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