The Mantra I Used to Conquer a Relapse in Anorexia Recovery

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

I quickly peeled off my Honest Tea wrapper to read the inside quote. It was the little things getting me through dinners in the eating disorder intensive evening program.

“Fall down seven times, stand up eight. A Japanese proverb,” I announced to my table of fellow eating disorder patients.

“I don’t like that quote; it doesn’t make sense,” one girl declared. She was my age. And as a graduate student studying primatology — she was one of the smartest people I’d known.

“Think about it,” she continued, “If you fall down once. You only need to stand up once. It should say, ‘Fall down seven times, stand up seven times.’”

After a thorough google search that evening, I’d agreed with her opinion; but clearly it was the minority. So what was the point of the proverb? Go the extra mile? Keep pushing forward? The whole encounter left my mind until a year later, when that same girl died.

Fast forward four months and things have been far from perfect in my eating disorder recovery. My therapist left my treatment center. I stopped taking medication. I started training for a half marathon and began cutting back on “unhealthy” foods.

Relapse doesn’t happen over night.

It’s little decisions, each day, that individually don’t seem too bad. Taking the stairs. Working through lunch. Having that extra cup of coffee. But there comes a day when you examine how you’ve been living and it seems oddly familiar, even enjoyable. That’s when I realized, I wasn’t making the decisions anymore. My eating disorder was.

“I know what I need to do,” I confidently told my treatment team, who was recommending I go back into the hospital. “I just need to do it. I promise will.”

So I did what most overachievers do. I made a plan to do recovery perfectly. I would follow my meal plan, cut back on runs and do the next right thing, at each moment of each day. This was all so silly. I could get back on track with no problem. I didn’t need to follow my team’s recommendation or listen to anyone else. I knew what I needed to do and I could do it, no problem.

Yet as the days went by, it seemed facetious, how something as simple as eating a bowl of oatmeal could be so challenging. “You need to eat,” my friend snapped, annoyed. We were having the same conversation, yet again. “It’s really not that hard.”

“I know, I know. I will.” I replied, coolly. Only, in that moment I realized, it wasn’t funny at all. Because in that moment I could not, for the life of me, eat.

A week later, I drove to a path I used to run daily. As I approached the depths of the trail, snow and ice covered the wooded track. I sighed in disappointment; this was the only day I had planned to run for the week and my run needed to be seamless. Just as I was about to turn around, I saw a man coming toward me from the distance. He assured me that further into the trail was clear, I just needed to carefully move forward. Just as he had said, the first part of the path was icy and my only choice was to walk. As I went deeper into the woods, I finally was able to run. Though my run was far from perfect, I realized, I did everything I had set out to do. It didn’t matter that I had to go slow or walk through the icy patches; I still finished the run.

 Driving home that evening, I thought of the man. Then I thought of the girl and the quote and suddenly everything clicked. Fall down seven times, stand up seven times, too.

In an attempt to prove that I was not drowning in a relapse, I had jumped into an unrealistic recovery plan. As a result, I was completely overwhelmed and failing miserably.

The reality was, I did not have to stand up “eight times.” I just needed to stand up. One time. On my own two feet. It didn’t matter how quickly or seamlessly, just that I did. That’s what that girl was saying. And that’s what the proverb missed.

So today I’m taking a note from that girl’s book. I’m standing up one foot at a time, with help from my treatment team, family and friends. Because my recovery doesn’t need to be perfect or grand. I just need to get there.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Unsplash image via Ben White

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