Taking Ownership of ED Recovery: Why it is my fault if I relapse and no excuses! 4


Taking what I call “extreme ownership” of my eating disorder recovery was an important step for me. As an adult with Anorexia, it was crucial for me to understand that the only person at fault if I relapse is ME. And to be crystal clear from the start, taking ownership and admitting fault is not the same as berating oneself. Not the same at all. You are not to beat yourself up about any of this as doing so is a colossal waste of energy. 

It isn’t my fault that I have Anorexia, but it is my fault if I allow it to control me.

 

Any relapse — no matter how small — must be identified and stopped.

 

To be clear. I define relapse as anything that is on my anti-ED behavior list. So while relapse for me has never been as full-blown as losing weight, I have had many micro-relapses.  A micro-relapse could be any of the following sorts of examples:

  • skipping a meal
  • eating a low-fat food
  • making a lower-calorie choice then I know I should
  • not eating a snack when I should have
  • doing 20 minutes cardio in the gym when I am only supposed to do 15.
  • taking the stairs rather than the elevator

etc … you get the picture.

What is almost as important as recognizing these micro-relapses, is taking ownership of them. Extreme ownership. It is oh, so tempting to blame other people, but it is not productive. Because, when we blame something or someone other than ourselves, we are rendering ourselves powerless.

 

“I didn’t eat lunch because my boss dumped a report on my lap at 11am and I needed to get it done.”

“I lost a bit of weight this week, but it is my boyfriend’s fault for breaking up with me.”

“I super stressed at work so I’ll let myself run an extra 20 minutes because it makes me feel better.”

 

 

Sound familiar?

Stop blaming circumstances and people for micro-relapses such as skipping meals and doing too much exercise and start taking ownership. Every mistake that you make in recovery — and there will be plenty — is your fault and only your fault. The good news, is that if something is your fault, you have the power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

Taking Ownership

 

I’m actually pretty good at this. I think a lot of it comes down to my pony club training as a child. If my horse bucks me off because a car backfired, guess whose fault it is? Mine.

Not the horses fault. Not the cars fault. My fault for not training the horse not to be scared of loud noises. Taking ownership is important if you work with horses, as it is the only way to keep yourself from getting seriously hurt. Cars will always backfire, and horses will always spook, the only way to manage it is to take responsibility and train your horse not to spook.

Shit happens. Shit is always going to happen. If you let that inevitable shit cause you to relapse you are not going to stay recovered for long. Stress is the biggest one. You will not and cannot expect to have a life without stress in it. Therefore you cannot allow stress to be something that puts you in relapse. Stress is part of life, and it is your job to work out how to live through stress without allowing your ED back in.

 

When you take ownership of your mistakes, you give yourself the power to not make them.

 

For example if I were to miss a meal, that would be my fault regardless of the circumstances. Even if I was abducted by aliens and that was why I wasn’t home in time for dinner, it was my fault that I didn’t have a snack with me. No ifs, no buts. My fault.

If you blame other people for your relapses you are saying “I was powerless,” and that is not true. That’s a lie that your ED wants you to believe so that it gains control over you. You and only you have the power to control your recovery.

 

And move on …

 

Taking ownership of your recovery doesn’t mean that you dwell on any blips that you have. It means you treat them as leaning opportunities. You makes notes on what went wrong so that if presented with the situation again you will know what you need to do in order to stay on track.

Beating oneself up and dwelling on mistakes is not effective. It wastes your time, your energy, and gives more power to your ED. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, congratulate yourself for identifying a fault and taking the necessary action in order to nip it in the bud. Doing that is far more effective than wallowing in self loathing. Remember, your Ed wants you to feel powerless, so don’t let it make you feel like that. Identifying a relapse pattern is the most powerful move you can make against your ED. Be proud of yourself for doing it!

While having an ED Check Person is vital for recovery, this person can’t recover for you. Only you can do that. 

You’re the only person who can really control your ED recovery. The buck stops with you. Take ownership of your mistakes, learn from them and move on. 

You got this!

 

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.


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4 thoughts on “Taking Ownership of ED Recovery: Why it is my fault if I relapse and no excuses!

  • Sarah Ravin, Ph.D.

    I admire your tenacity and dedication to taking ownership of your recovery. Your commitment to keeping your AN in remission is extraordinary. I completely agree with you that it is important for adults in recovery from AN to take ownership of their health and remain mindful of behaviors and circumstances that may trigger a recurrence of symptoms. Other individuals in recovery have a lot to learn from your example!

    We differ, however, when it comes to the terminology we use. I believe that words are important because they shape how we think and how we feel. As I see it, there is a difference between “ownership” or “responsibility” and “fault.” Terms like “taking ownership” and “taking responsibility” suggest that you have an obligation to prevent bad things from happening, recognize when something bad has happened, and take constructive action to fix it. I think these terms are very appropriate when it comes to staying in recovery from AN, or any other illness for that matter. If you are in recovery from AN, it is your responsibility to make sure that you are always well-fed, that you get plenty of fats and proteins and carbohydrates, that you don’t exercise to excess, that you manage stress, that you avoid triggers when possible or manage the triggers that are unavoidable.

    The term “fault” is a bit different because it implies blame, criticism, and judgement. I don’t think it is helpful to blame oneself for making a mistake, but it is important to take responsibility for correcting that mistake. I think it is especially important to make this distinction because many (though not all) people with AN are perfectionists, highly sensitive, self-critical, hold themselves to very high standards, and go to great lengths to make sure they never make a mistake. The drive to avoid mistakes can itself be harmful because increases anxiety and prevents you from living a full life. We all make mistakes from time to time. It is inevitable, and in fact it is important, to make some mistakes. Viewing mistakes as learning experiences (as you alluded to in your post), and as an impetus for positive change, is much more helpful and much more effective in terms of sustaining long-term recovery.

    There are also some factors that are beyond our control, and that is just reality. Yes, it is vital to be prepared and carry non-perishable snacks with you to eat in the event of car trouble or an unexpectedly delayed meal or alien abduction, but not all circumstances can be avoided. For example, you could contract a parasite or a nasty stomach bug that causes nausea and vomiting which results in losing a few pounds. It is not your fault that you contracted the illness, but it is your responsibility to get back on the horse and keep riding, so to speak, by regaining the weight as soon as you are able to keep food down. It is also your responsibility to be proactive and make sure that you are in your optimal weight range, not just the bare minimum acceptable weight, so that there is room for weight fluctuation due to illness, and you are not constantly living one stomach flu away from a relapse.

    Even in circumstances that do involve a conscious choice, or an error in judgment, such as the ones in your list (e.g., eating a low-fat meal or missing a snack), can be seen as learning opportunities. A person can be in robust recovery and still eat a low-fat meal every once in a while, so long as she recognizes that it is dangerous to continue eating a low-fat diet for multiple meals in a row, and so long as she adds in extra fats in subsequent meals to compensate. I also think there is room for the occasional mistake – like forgetting a snack one day – so long as you recognize it, correct it, and prevent it from becoming habitual. I do not mean to imply that it is OK to be too lax about engaging in recovery-oriented behaviors. Rather, I think it is important for people to be flexible in their thinking.

    I use the term “relapse” differently. I see a relapse as a return of the illness – a re-emergence of multiple symptoms over a period of time, such as several weeks. This is in contrast to the behaviors you described on your anti-relapse list, which I would call “slips” or “risky choices” or “mistakes.” This distinction is important because while one slip (e.g., missing a snack) is not necessarily detrimental in itself, it is very easy for one slip to lead to another, and another, until a whole slew of symptoms are present again. The “slip” vs. “relapse” distinction is also pretty important because a many (though not all) people with AN tend to see things in a dichotomous (black & white) way. Taking responsibility for your recovery doesn’t require perfection.

    What comes next is also very different. It is not difficult to recover from a slip or a mistake. You can correct that within minutes and get right back on track. Recovering from a relapse, however, is much more involved and requires a lot more time and support.

    These semantic differences aside, I really like this post. I have no doubt that your take-charge, problem-solving approach has been a tremendous strength in your recovery and in your life in general!

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Interesting points!

      I agree with you on the relapse terminology and agree that I could have better distinguished “Slip” or “mistake” for the small little things that are not a full-blown return of the illness. I’ll keep that in mind for future posts for sure.

      I stand by my use of the term fault through, and it is actually important to me. The reason, is because when I own something as my “fault” it is a criticism and I need it to be a criticism as that puts me in a place of discomfort. It is the feeling of discomfort that makes me want to not do that action again. For me, it is helpful for me to feel the discomfort that comes with feeling at fault.

      Feeling at fault doesn’t have to be hand-in-hand with self-loathing. Assuming that to feel at fault means that I am beating myself up is to assume that those two conditions are inseparable, and for me they certainly are not. The discomfort felt is crucial to motivate change of behavior, and the discipline that comes with that is to allow the knowledge that I will not do that thing again to alleviate the feeling of discomfort therefore allowing the attribution of “fault” to result in a positive and hopeful feeling.

      Hope that makes sense? And I thank you for bringing it up and giving me a chance to explain that terminology as I do think it is important that attributing fault leads to a positive feeling of self and not a lasting negative one. My point is that in order to change behaviors most humans need to feel uncomfortable, and for that reason I chose the word fault. The discomfort of feeling blame needs to be present to motivate change, but should not be lingering in a way that is detrimental.

      Also, keep in mind that I am British, and as an example many of us prefer the term “criticism” to “feedback” because in general we don’t sugar coat as much. There may be a cultural difference here in how the word “fault” is perceived also.

      • Sarah Ravin, Ph.D.

        Yes, this makes total sense now that I understand where you are coming from. I can see how discomfort can compel you to initiate positive change. The cultural differences between the British and the Americans – and how they use words like “fault” – are fascinating. I had never considered it from that perspective. We Americans tend to be far too sensitive at times! There is value in being a straight shooter.

        By the way, I think it is really amazing how you can be self-critical and self-aware without falling into self-loathing. That is a tough line to tow, and a lot of people in recovery have a terribly hard time with it. Your example of assuming responsibility and “fault,” without spiraling into negativity, is inspiring.

        • Tabitha Farrar Post author

          Glad I was able to explain that and thanks again for pointing it out. I think I read somewhere once that guilt is considered a “change” emotion. Feeling guilty’s evolutionary role is to stop us from doing things that hurt us or others again in the future. The guilt I feel after ascribing blame to myself for a mistake is important in motivating change for me, so for me at least it is important that I feel blame.

          On the self loathing point, I am a huge advocate of little girls learning to ride horses, and I think that my ability to separate self-criticism from loathing comes from that. Horses are dangerous, and you absolutely have to learn that if your instructor yells at you it is because you are doing something dangerous and need to stop doing it immediately – not because they are mad at you or because they don’t like you. As a young rider, my instructors were fierce because they knew they had to be to stop us from getting injured. In that respect there was a lot of criticism, but I learned that the criticism was there to keep me alive.

          e.g., if my horse was bucking because I was doing something wrong there is no time for the instructor to speak softly and in a non-critical manner. I’m going to end up hurt on the ground if she does. I need her to yell at me and address what I am doing wrong so that I can stop it – and I’m going to thank her for shouting at me afterwards too because it stopped me getting bucked off!

          I honestly think this gave me a different view of criticism than most others have — it was so rife in my riding career that I learned not to take it personally 🙂