Today, I'd like to talk about a subject about as sticky as toffee pudding: relapse in eating disorder recovery.
If all you know of eating disorders is learned from after-school specials or chipper self-help books, you probably think it goes something like this:
A. Develop eating disorder. Oh noes!
B. Have a cataclysmic moment of discovery ("rock bottom")
C. Surrounded by love and probably a cute love interest with soulful blue eyes, you get better. Voila! Happily ever after.
Well, as much as I would love to believe, I need to tell you that all too often, this is not the case. Recovery might be that clean for some, but for most, it's an extremely messy thing. I myself have lived through this messiness.
When I started CakeSpy.com, I began to be able to let cake into my life again. I began to slowly find a place for it--and, at the same time, was delighted to find professional success with my venture into the cake blogging world, too. I thought I reached a point of recovered, but I hadn't. I had reached the point where I was functioning and pretty normal, but my hold on recovery was tenuous: any stressor could bring back the disordered thoughts. Mostly, this was fine: I was recovered enough, I supposed.
And then something happened that changed everything.
I got divorced.
Divorce is hardly abnormal these days. I read statistics all the time about how half of all marriages end in divorce. Well. People die every day, too. But it doesn't make it any less traumatic when it hits close to home.
Divorce was extremely traumatic to me: it made me question everything in my life. Everything. Who I was, where I lived, how I did my hair, if the people I considered friends had ever really liked me. Even what I did professionally. It made me doubt myself and all that I did: obviously, if I were doing things right, I wouldn't be getting a divorce, right? It was like every yes turned into a no in my life.
I dealt with this personal blow the only way I knew how: by retreating into myself. I didn't necessarily keep it a secret that I had gotten divorced, but I certainly didn't advertise it. (as an aside: these days, I'm in a committed relationship where we wear rings and have a commitment but aren't technically married. To avoid confusion, sometimes we just use the husband-and-wife terms; in some instances, it's just easier than navigating an explanation.)
This is where "recovered enough" didn't quite do it. Dealing privately with my divorce was like a one-way road to relapse city. Within a few months, my days began to be organized around what I ate. I "saved" calories for things I loved, like Bassetts ice cream, but would restrict everywhere else (you know, by not eating lunch and only eating a salmon patty no bun, and an apple for dinner). I began to fear eating my own baked goods again. Try recipe testing for a book when you're scared to eat: it's probably a level of hell.
Because I didn't trust myself eating around other people at this time, it seemed easiest to avoid other people entirely. I may not have ventured quite into anorexic or bulimic territory, but I was isolating myself and losing myself to disordered thoughts.
Then, things got worse.
I suffered another personal tragedy, and in short order decided to close the store I'd owned in Seattle, which involved going back to the "scene of the crime", divorce-wise, since I owned the store with my ex and he was still involved.
While part of me had a "whyyyyy me?" sort of stance on all this, oddly enough, there was a silver lining to the additional setbacks: they kicked me out of my eating disordered reverie and forced me back into the real world. It's like I was finally able to shake my head, let the dust clear, and say "where the eff am I?"
The biggest realization was that while I had made some really amazing strides in my recovery before all of these personal setbacks, "recovered enough" was no longer good enough, if it meant I was susceptible to relapse.
I realized this: I wanted to live, not just exist with a latent eating disorder lurking on the sidelines, just waiting for its chance to get back in the game.
Getting back "on the wagon" this time wasn't easy, even with a desire to get better. But this time, I was smart enough to admit that I couldn't do it alone. I talked to people. I reached out. I accepted help. I went to therapy. I joined a support group. I even joined a divorce support group online, where we'd cry on each other's virtual shoulders. Cheesy, maybe. But it helped.
Through letting myself be vulnerable and going through what was, for me, a difficult step of admitting I needed help, I came to realize something deep and powerful: I was not alone. Maybe not everyone was suffering an identity crisis following their divorce followed by an eating disorder relapse, but everyone experiences pain. By making these human connections, our collective burden lessens. A lot.
Relapse was able to teach me a lot about my recovery, and propel me from a high functioning level of "almost recovered" back to a path that was sometimes very difficult, uphill, not even paved at points, but it was the road to true recovery.