Waking up with anxiety feel compelled to binge eat days, weeks, months or even years after being free of the behaviors and desire to act out is shocking. If this is you you may be feel disheartened, weak, frightened and uncertain of your worth as a person.
Return of binge eating, restricting and pervasive anxiety: a call to grow
You not only experience this anxious state in the present. You remember all your past experiences, the trials you thought you healed yourself out of with psychotherapy, group work, reading, 12 step, maybe residential treatment. Was it all for nothing?
Understanding the cause of your reaching for your old coping style and what you need to restore your balance helps you through this challenge. Pay attention to this call and you can move into a healthier, stronger and more satisfying way of living than you ever had before.
Active behavior and psychological development
I find in my work with others, and from my experience when I look back at my own recovery journey from bulimia, that the recovery process is twofold: active behavior and psychological development. These parallel aspects of recovery need to be in balance.
When psychological development does not keep pace with behavioral changes, you may not be able to function without the eating disorder behavior. Your anxiety rises. It can reach intolerable levels. That's when you reach for the binge or restrict or both. It's seems to be all yu have to numb yurself away from the anxiety.
If, at the point of so called "relapse" focus is placed on behavior, the imbalance and accompanying feelings of guilt, failure and despair increase.
Understanding your experience as a call to action
If the developmental aspects of your psyche are addressed so that you grow psychologically you will be more capable of dealing with your current challenges. These are challenges you could only cope with in the past with the numbing or emotionally blinding effects of your eating disorder behavior.
With ongoing development your dip into old behaviors becomes a call to learn and grow in new ways. There's no guilt or shame in that. In fact, a relapse, addressed in this way, can be a positive pointer to a more healthful and developed way of living.They may be challenges you never had to address before. You are older. The world is changing. You may have developed as far as you needed for your previous way of living. But now, more is required of you. Your level of development may even prevent you from seeing what your challenges are.
If you are in therapy, then the therapy deepens. The energy of your guilt or fear or despair can be harnessed and channeled into the new work. This work allows you to develop more wisdom, competence and justified self confidence.
If you are no longer in treatment, the relapse is a signal to increase your self-care work and perhaps go back into psychotherapy, maybe intensely and for a short time.
Through new personal work you can face and get through your current challenge. You can learn to recognize that challenge. You can develop what might be large or small aspects of your psyche that need to be supported and nourished. Then you will no longer need the anxiety, the binge eating and restricting behaviors to cope. You will have found the right balance for you now.
Are there more such challenges ahead? Maybe. Probably. We can never know for certain what's coming. But we can know how to recognize challenges when they occur. We can take steps to grow in time to care of ourselves and what we hold dear.
And if we don't recognize our new challenges, our anxiety, binge eating and restricting will grab our attention and call us to action again. Relapse is a friend, a trumpet that sounds the alarm. It's our call to develop a new inner strength and balance to prevail.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a psychotherapist in private practice specalizing in eating disorder recovery. All appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation e-mail her at
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