Heavy-hearted, I write today.
Truth is, this headline is declarative. I have no idea why you relapse.
As I sit here in a coffee shop – mulling through this post – I got a call from a close friend.
“Have you talked to X lately?”
“No… He dropped off a couple months ago and stopped answering me, so I assume he’s relapsed.”
“Linds, it’s bad. Just feel you should know before you hear from anyone else. His liver and kidneys are failing. Was in ICU for 13 days. Respiratory failure. Got out and got back on the painkillers. Sister found him slumped over a coffee table. He’s going to die if he doesn’t get help… and I don’t know if you want to reach back out – but we’re trying anything.”
I stared at my phone.
Stomach sinks. Not because it’s unexpected – but because it’s so expected and yet, no matter how much you can prepare for anything – you never know when the day will just come.
My ex might very likely die, which is two of my exes that I am waiting for that call.
I received it once already – when my best friend fell out of a tree.
And I know it’s only a matter of time these days, before I get it again.
Being a messy person creates a messy life. And I have always held a love for messy people.
Perhaps, it’s the “fixer” in me. Maybe it’s the need to feel wanted.
So, with that said – who am I to state something so powerful about “why you relapse.” As though I’m some Gandhi recovery guru – “Yes, my child. This is why you stick your fingers back down your throat.”
Don’t trust anyone who ever makes these kind of statements. They’re full of shit, and looking for your attention (or click).
So, maybe don’t trust me either? Who knows. There’s a lot of paths I could take with that logic, so I’ll end it there and keep on.
Every couple months, WordPress sends me an “FYI” emails showing how people find my blog on a search engine.
Outside of the astronomical amount of people who google “hairy chick” or “6-week unshaven vagina” porn (typically spelled wrong in their hungry anticipation – also, what a shock it must be to their horny fingers when they stumble onto my page), a lot of the searches center around relapse.
“eating disorder relapse after years”
“am I relapsing eating disorder?”
“bulimia throwing up after years”
“flu eating disorder relapse”
The list goes on.
People google weird shit. If I’ve learned anything in blogging, it’s that.
AND PEOPLE GOOGLE EVERYTHING ABOUT EATING DISORDERS.
Down to how much they (or their kid) weighs, how tall they are, and whether that’s an eating disorder – or my personal fave “can you have an eating disorder if you drink wine?”
(Yes. Yes you can. If you’re replacing meals with wine – it’s drunkorexia. Or alcoholism. Or like… something. If you’re googling that, you already subconsciously know, so I’ll stop preaching.)
Anyway, the point is that relapse comes up a lot in these searches.
We are a black and white society.
We’re a digital one too, which means we have “answers” to everything at our fingertips in the form of a search or a Siri-question.
GIVE US ANSWERS NOW, we plead. Oh internet, give us the way to feel!
Lemme cut it straight: eating disorders don’t have a whole lot of defined, black and white answers.
Neither does relapse.
We relapse for 1,000 different reasons – and all those reasons look different to any one person.
A lot of the time: it’s boredom.
That’s what this post really centers around.
Idle hands are the devils workshop, or whatever that metaphor is.
But, it’s true.
We relapse because of grief, trauma, culture, trigger, etc.
But we also relapse out of boredom – and the resulting feeling that if we’re not doing something – or ‘enough’ – we’re not as “active” as that fitness chick we see on Instagram:
Or we’re not partying in Vegas with Chance the Rapper. (Is he still cool? I was between him and Ja Rule or like, Macklemore.)
Or we’re not coming up with the most clever frat party hashtag, or 3 girls posed with hands on their hips – giggling to each other – looking like they’re having THE. BEST. TIME.
Or, we’re not taking 100 bloody baby pics of our kid rolling around in a play-pin (admittedly, I totally want a kid one day so that kills me.)
Or we’re not the most influential #recovery person out there on the web, inspiring millions:
We feel our life is boring. We are missing out.
It’s the nature of social media.
We see these people living ‘big filtered lives’ – see them on yachts and beaches and hikes – for me, it’s climbers and travelers. Vanlife people. Mommys.
I want what they have, and feel perplexed that I don’t have it yet.
WHY DON’T I HAVE A VAN WITH SOME CUTE CURLY-HAIRED LITTLE BOY.
It’s this feeling of being ‘behind’ – or not being meaningful enough in the world.
We feel boring.
In turn, we feel bored.
When I discharged from inpatient in Florida in February 2014, I remember having the first taste of this.
Sitting around my parents house – going to outpatient in Dallas, wondering “what the hell do I do now that I don’t (actively) have this eating disorder?”
But, the reality is that I obviously did still have an eating disorder – I just wasn’t actively partaking in its behaviors every second. But, you don’t rewire your brain in a couple months. It’s a daily choice that takes many moons.
So, in turn, I felt left with this tense unease of counting calories (because by then, it was still like clockwork) yet also not doing anything about it (like run or purge or simply just hate myself all afternoon).
I was restless. And often uncomfortable –
It was still ingrained to disdain being full. It was still so ‘norm’ to base my schedule around what I would or wouldn’t eat in a day that I just simply did not know what to do with all this bloody time.
I wasn’t free from the mentality. I was only (barely) free of the behaviors.
And I felt caught between this blissful notion of ‘recovery’ life and the reality… which was that my life felt inherently meaningless of purpose at the time.
I had great friends. Loving parents. And enough former lovers to fill a novel – but I didn’t know what my actual purpose was.
What the hell was I doing on this earth if not to be thin, desirable, alluring and pretty (or, as pretty as I could be).
What was the point? And could I do it if I figured it out?
I was 24 at the time, single, and on the verge of starting a Public Relations career in New York. (Side note: I had interviewed the ENTIRE time I was in rehab – got the job, and never even had to tell them I was in treatment. It was golden… I also felt like a fraud.)
Admittedly, I didn’t have a clue what public relations entailed. All I’d ever accomplished in college was a few Grade A papers on literature – and a slew of short stories to obtain my creative lit degree.
I got out of rehab and two days later, I went on a final run before moving back to New York.
I ran 6 miles after not running for months and strained a muscle.
I hobbled into work that first day grimacing as we did the tour of the building.
When you don’t have the skills – or haven’t developed them into your life – it’s easy to feel stressed and go back to what you know.
Was my eating disorder fun? fulfilling? No and no.
But bloody hell – I knew how to do it.
A safety net in an uncertain world.
A “proven” belief set. People do find me more appealing as long as I’m thin, I convince myself when someone flirts with me during a relapse.
Boredom has the same effect of discomfort and uncertainty.
When we sit in what we know – at least it’s what we know, despite how depressing or cruel or secretive it is.
At least we know what to expect – or we think we do.
Relapse is a self-fulfilling prophecy – reminding us not to truly reach for the unknown because the unknown can knock you flat on your ass without any control.
I mean hell, it’s true. The unknown knocks you flat on your ass again and again. The nature of life.
But, life is not about avoiding suffering.
I truly believe, however idealistic this is, that a fulfilling life is about suffering, and constant awareness of the immediateness of the time we have.
Someone I’m dating once said to me “I’ve noticed you appreciate me most when I allow you to feel safe.”
We were in the car, and he was driving 5 hours in a snowy night because I’d admitted I was f-ing terrified.
I laughed. “I think I allow myself to feel discomfort so often in my life that it’s an appreciated reprieve when someone creates an atmosphere for me to just be and breathe out.”
Don’t take that the wrong way. I love discomfort. I find that discomfort is the sole reason I’ve ever accomplished anything in my short life.
I allow it to fill up space so I can move past it and get to whatever the other side is – whether it be speaking to students or writing articles or interviewing or meeting new clients – traveling alone – allowing treatment to run its course in spite of the belief it would make me “blow up like a whale.”
Discomfort has given me a life.
It’s getting to that place of positive acknowledgement of discomfort that takes a long bloody time. And sometime, I feel too much discomfort and I relapse for the ‘norm’ of it all.
Sometimes I think I relapse for the reminder of it. To know that I always have it – tucked away in a pocket.
We relapse for so many reasons – but the belief I continue to live by is that relapse comes in the moments we simply cannot handle the discomfort that comes with boredom or lack of “defined” purpose… or trauma. But trauma is not the point of today’s post.
If there’s anything I could say to my ex today, it’s that.
“Try sobriety,” I’d say. “Try being so uncomfortable you don’t know how you’ll even breathe in again.”
Put yourself out there.
Allow rejection to fill your life.
Go to a dance class and have the instructor tell you you’re not doing the moves ‘right’ – what is right anyway, you can say. Who defines ‘right’?
Allow all the pain you simply can’t believe you could ever feel again – to fill you up in your bed at midnight one night, alone and shivering under your covers – My GOD, I can’t feel this way, you’ll scream.
But, you will. You’ll feel it.
And how bloody human you’ll be when you get through it.
Or hey, how bloody human you’ll be when you don’t.
And have to try again.
No one should grudge themselves the form of escapism that they choose. In some ways, they are wise. Self-preservation can be wise.
But, while it may be wise to try to escape from the world as it is at the moment, it isn’t exactly brave – and it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for anything else to happen.
Nobody knows how the story ends –
So, God, just live your life – do the best you can.
Forgive yourself when you don’t.
And allow the boredom – and the discomfort of boredom – to take you to places you never thought you’d be.
That’s my 2-cent philosophy, anyway – as I agree to speak to my former treatment center and also, middle school, next month in Fort Worth, TX.
I’ll sit in front of those girls – nervous as hell – uncomfortable – and I’ll tell them the same bloody thing.
Life is meant to be uncomfortable – so you can appreciate what makes it comfortable.