It’s been roughly 5 years since I recovered from my eating disorder, and during this time I’ve completely changed the way I think about myself, the way I see my body and the actions that I take towards it. I’m in a very different place than I was 10 years ago when that journey began (and thank goodness I am, or I don’t think that I’d still be here today).
However, there’s a dark side to recovery of eating disorders (and of any sort of mental condition) that goes under the radar and is seldom discussed – regression.
There’s this perception that once you recover from the incredibly toxic thoughts that were plaguing you that you’ll be okay from that point on and are fully healed.
Unfortunately, it’s not always smooth sailing though. And although you might not experience a full-on, all encompassing regression, there may be days where old thoughts and behaviours return and you find yourself struggling to not slip back into the illness that harmed you so greatly.
So how do you cope when the negative thoughts return?
I wish I could give one definitive answer for what you need to do when you experience a regression of thought, but I can’t. The answer will be different for everyone and it will depend on what your regression looks like.
For me, regression occurs mainly when I’m feeling sad (for whatever reason) or vulnerable. We all have days when we don’t feel so great about our bodies and whilst I’m normally very well equipped to handle those moments, there are also moments where I can feel myself slipping back down the rabbit hole. It scares me, and sometimes I feel powerless. It starts innocently enough, usually with me weighing myself. I tell myself it’s just to check up on my overall weight, and nothing more sinister – but in the wrong frame of mind, the scales are something far more insidious for me. I start to feel myself becoming obsessed with the number. I start obsessively weighing myself many, many times a day to “keep myself in line”. I’ll weigh myself immediately after eating and if my weight has gone up too much, I’ll starve myself for however long it takes to lose that weight plus more. I might even make myself throw up. Even in the moment, I can feel myself losing the battle against my own thoughts – but it’s almost like I enjoy it. It’s like I enjoy the control of the disease and willingly stop myself from deploying the body positive tactics that I know work, because I use them every single other day of my life. In the moment, it’s very frightening.
Luckily, a very big part of me is always acutely aware of how hard I fought to get to the place of body positivity that I very happily reside in today – and I’m not willing to throw that away, not for anything. That part of me yells, screams and does whatever it has to do to make that inner voice known – it lets me know that if I continue, I will slip back down that harmful road. It fights for me, and reminds me to fight for myself. I will always fight for myself. Always.
Whatever regression or a return of negative thoughts looks & feels like for you, it’s important to remember your strength. Know that you’re stronger than it and that you’ve already conquered it.
You’re starting from a well-equipped position. You have the tools to kick those thoughts right where it hurts ’em and move past them. It may not always feel easy to do that, and sometimes you might doubt whether you can beat it, but you have to know that you can – in knowing your vulnerabilities, you have found your strength.You are stronger than the negativity that has held you back! Click To Tweet
If you’re experiencing a return of your old toxic and negative thoughts, here are 5 tips that have helped me, and I hope will help you too.
- Realise that the emotional and mental weight that those thoughts carry is directly tied to how much power you give them. It can be scary to have regressing thoughts, I know. But those thoughts can only control you if you let them – and the more you treat them like “Holy crap, I’m regressing. No no no no no no no I can’t handle this!”, the more you’ll feel yourself spinning out of control. But on the other hand, if you can recognise those thoughts and label them as “Wow, how’d that get in there? That’s not how I think anymore,” you’ll put yourself in a much more positive frame of mind to handle the thoughts.
Know that a slip of the thoughts doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It doesn’t undo all the hard work you’ve done to recover and it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re in worse shape than ever. You need to treat it for what it is – just a thought. It doesn’t control you and it doesn’t mean that you’ve screwed up. It’s not a mistake – it’s just a thought.
Focus on your strengths. Do you use affirmations? Are you really good at mediation? Focus on the tactics that you use every day to keep yourself mentally healthy, and ramp up your focus on those until you feel like those toxic thoughts have passed.
Avoid intentionally pushing your trigger buttons. A trigger will look like something different for everyone, and sometimes triggers are unavoidable. But if you know what your triggers are, it’s important not to intentionally inflict them upon yourself as a “test” to see whether you can handle it. For instance, if you struggle with compulsive weighing and you know that weighing yourself first thing in the morning has previously lead you down a harmful path – avoid doing this, even if it’s just to “check in” on yourself.
Be confident in the fact that you’re a strong person without continually having to test whether or not that strength is within you.
- Show yourself the self-care that you need. At these times, more than ever, you need to really hone in on your sense of self-love. What’s your self-care rhythm telling you that you need? Listen to it.
However far along you are in your journey, you will never be fully immune to the thoughts that were once so prevalent in your mind – and that’s okay.
It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It doesn’t mean that you will slip back. It’s wonderful to be able to be able to handle it, but it’s okay not to be okay sometimes, too. Be honest with those around you. Let them know that you need a little time, support and patience.
You are imperfect.
You are vulnerable.
You are human – and what a beautiful thing it is to be human.
Take care of yourself, first and foremost, and know that you are capable of amazing things.