Mitigating Setbacks in ED Recovery

This ‘slip’ could have led to a complete relapse, had I not been mentally prepared. – Jessica

Yes, I experienced a minor lapse in my recovery recently. I do this thing now, with my ED specifically, where I try to reframe the negativity. Groundbreaking, I know. Mind you, this instance wasn’t something I’m looking to repeat anytime soon, so here’s hoping this lesson has well and truly sunk in.

Without going into too much detail, lets just say there was roughly a month of intermittent laxative abuse. I was having some digestive issues and stupidly turned to a familiar remedy, which I then repeated several times. What followed was the hangover from said compensatory behaviour, recurrent mood swings, an awful fight with my bf, some kind of mental breakdown and an unsuccessful visit to the Emergency Room. I was pretty much ignored, largely due to an uncharacteristic inability to advocate for myself. I was there for several hours and the window within which I would remain agreeable was closing. Needless to say, my saint of a bf was frustrated when I ended up pitching a fit, which resulted in us leaving. Thankfully, I was back on planet earth the following day.

Having been at the mercy of the public hospital system several times, I was aware of how ill-equipped they were for an individual who presented with a non-violent mental health concern.There’s a lengthy diatribe I’ll save for another post. We’re going to focus on the messy side of my behaviours. I ‘enjoyed’ a pretty dependant relationship with laxatives when I first became ill, despite the process being laborious, painful and inconvenient. I believe that this is why I was able to stop using them. I didn’t want to spend my life chained to a box of pills, organising my time around forced bodily functions. When I did turn to this form of purging, there were times where I’d be lying on the ground, dripping in sweat, amid heart palpitations and horrendous stomach craps. I dreaded that part of the process and lived for the feeling afterwards. That feeling of being empty and something else I couldn’t quite articulate, until now.

While conducting research for another blog post, The Control Fallacy, a relevant insight came up in several research papers. I’m somewhat of a layman as it pertains to neuroscience, but my understanding of it is certainly improving. As I understand it, when an ED sufferer engages in stressful behaviours, their brain rewards them. I had read that self-induced vomiting could illicit a pleasurable sensation, but had never made that connection to my laxative abuse. This could partially explain why so many of us form the particular habits we do while we’re sick, despite how debilitating some of them are. As explained in The Control Fallacy, I strongly believe that this sensation is mistakenly attributed to existing as the ‘control’ that sufferers frequently describe.

Now, this saga ends on a more positive note. I forfeited my laxative collection to my bf the day after my meltdown and later spoke to my psychiatrist about it. He confirmed my revelation about the laxatives and the feeling I was experiencing. I already knew that I couldn’t willingly engage in any of my disordered behaviours if I wanted to achieve full recovery and clearly I just needed a really scary reminder of how damaging this could be. My advice for anyone else who may relate to this, is this: research the neurological underpinnings of this illness. This ‘slip’ could have led to a complete relapse, had I not been mentally prepared. This is what I credit my unprecedented recovery progress with and it is viable empowerment. In addition to any kind of therapy you may already be receiving, of course. Knowledge and learning are powerful adversaries in your battle with this illness and are often only a Google search away.

Further reading:

Altered Brain Reward Circuits in Eating Disorders: Chicken or Egg?

Dysregulation of Brain Reward Systems in Eating Disorders: Neurochemical Information from Animal Models of Binge Eating, Bulimia Nervosa, and Anorexia Nervosa