Image: @averieclaireYou’ve worked so hard. Think about where you were 3 months or 1 year or 3 years ago–you’re barely recognizable. You’ve learned self-care, and stress management, and how to handle that insidious anxiety that always threatens to take over. You’re stable and happy and feel pretty good.
But then, something unexpected happens
A job change, a death in the family, a financial difficulty. Something throws you off your game, and you suddenly can’t remember exactly what you’re supposed to be doing to stay on track.
About 3 months after I completed by treatment, there was a period of time when I was in transition. I didn’t exactly have a catastrophe to deal with, but I definitely felt off-kilter. I was trying to move into a new professional life that was more satisfying to me (hello, self actualization!), but I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to do. The thought of continuing in my current jobs felt unbearable, but I couldn’t see an immediate solution. I was really, really unhappy about it.
The slippery slope
I felt very unstable. I knew my eating patterns had changed and my self-care had all but gone out the window. I know what a slippery slope feels like, and this had the makings of one. I didn’t even realize how much I was struggling until I went back to therapy and it was such an enormous relief. It was hard to admit, but I definitely needed the extra support.
That experience and others since have taught me exactly what I need to do to stay on track, no matter what. Here are three straightforward ways you can protect yourself in challenging circumstances, regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum of recovery.
1. Stick to your usual routines.
Remember what you need to do in order to feel your best, and try to keep doing those things as much as you can. Make sure you’re eating around the same time you normally do, and sticking to your sleeping schedule. Maintain your self-care habits even if you’re out of your usual element.
If you normally meditate for 15 minutes each morning, find a way to do that no matter what’s going on. If you know you need some alone time each day or to read and listen to podcasts for additional support, find a way to work that into your schedule regardless of the challenges.
Remind yourself that it’s self-protection, and your recovery should be your first priority.
2. Maintain flexibility
Rigidity may give the sense of control you’re desperate for when the chips are down. It’s tempting to fall back into old habits when you’re feeling vulnerable.
Don’t fall for it--having too many rules is part of what got you into trouble in the first place. Make sure you’re always practicing self-compassion and cutting yourself some slack. You may have to handle things a little differently than you’re used to. Just do it with awareness, and you’ll be fine.
3. Seek support when you need it
I know how much it sucks to feel like you’re not making forward progress. Returning to therapy after a couple months off felt like a huge fail to me. Even still, I was so happy I did it and could eventually see it as a sign of strength.
It’s so important to remind yourself over and over again that this process is not linear, and there will continue to be ups and downs.
It is not a sign of weakness to recognize that you need some additional help and go get it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Seeking support when you need it is one of the biggest milestones of recovery–you know yourself well enough to quickly identify trouble and nip it in the bud. When you do this, nothing can stop you.
No matter what your life is like, you can expect the unexpected. That’s just the nature of the game.