One of the most frustrating issues while I was in recovery from bulimia, was the fact that I would get to a milestone of having achieved x days symptom-free, and then slip. I felt unable to cope with these binges.
What’s worse, after a slip, it could take days or weeks for me to pick myself back up.
“You just have to learn to let it go and move on…accept what’s done,” I’d hear from my therapist. My panic would rise.
“HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CHANGE AND GET BETTER IF I ACCEPT A SLIP??!!” I wanted to scream.
Learning to forgive ourselves for slips and moving on is one of the biggest hurdles in recovery. As if beating ourselves up and wallowing in self-loathing is what will keep us from all-out food debauchery, we hold on for dear life to our punishing self-talk.
“See, you’re fooling yourself”
“You can’t recover. You’ll never recover”
“What is wrong with you? How could you do this again?”
“Back to square one… then again, why bother?”
How to cope with binges
How has kicking someone while they’re down ever worked… for anyone? Why do we do this to ourselves when it’s more likely to fuel further disordered behaviors and binges?
Because many of us believe that forgiving ourselves or giving ourselves permission to slip while in recovery is akin to resignation or apathy.
We irrationally fear that accepting a binge will lead to permissiveness. And lack of control to the point that we will no longer be motivated to improve, change, or grow.
Saying it another way, we seem to unconsciously act as if practicing some self-compassion will stunt our recovery. Of course, rationally, this makes zero sense. But in the heat of battle, we refuse ourselves the compassion we deserve. And that we’d unquestionably offer another suffering being.
After years of struggle and countless relapses, I got to a breaking point. I just couldn’t beat myself up anymore. I was so exhausted and so ready to give up that I figured I had nothing to lose. So, I decided to just keep doing my best, and accept that I was going to slip. That perhaps, I was never going to be completely free.
I know it sounds crazy. But it was a completely game-changing transformative experience.
I remember the first time I tried acceptance and self-love after a binge/purge episode. It was hard.
I’d been feeling stuck in the cycle for several days, fearing that I wouldn’t be able to get back on track to recovery again. Through tears and desperation, I told myself:
It’s okay Rana… so you binged again. You’re hurting. This really sucks, but I know you’re doing your best. You’ve been working really hard, for so long, and you’ve had some wins. You are getting better. I promise that I will never ever give up on you no matter how many times you fall. Tomorrow is another opportunity to start fresh and do better.
The first time I had this little chat with myself, I had to repeat it like a mantra. It was hard to believe the words I was speaking, and I cried, but it certainly felt better than the alternative dialogue I was used to.
I vowed that no matter what, I would no longer allow myself to wallow in self-loathing after a binge.
I kept at it, and it finally happened.
I finally believed the words of kindness I spoke to myself. And a calm peace washed over me like a warm hug.
I felt the certainty that I was, indeed, going to recover. I was going to be okay. It was such a beautiful feeling that I still get teary thinking about it.
Imagine my surprise when the next day rolled around and I felt no fear or anxiety. I knew that I was going to be back on track, and not binge. I had found a new way to cope with binges.
As I continued to practice acceptance and self-compassion, within a matter of weeks, I began to make more progress. I felt better than I had in years.
That is what self-kindness can do. When the anxiety you feel after a binge diminishes, when you let go of the self-loathing, the fear, and the shame, the urges become manageable. Suddenly, there is more space for your more rational and loving self to intervene. And stop a binge before it happens.
Fear and shame are exhausting. They cloud your judgment. They create stress and deplete the mental and emotional resources we need to keep doing the work of recovery. They fuel our disease.
Acceptance, love, and compassion fuel our courage and resilience.
They are energizing and inspiring emotions. When you begin to accept your slips, and show yourself more compassion, you have more reserves to keep going.
Let’s face it: as much as we want to stop binging, and as critical as it is to our health to stop as soon as possible, the alternative of beating ourselves up simply does not work.
So after years of practicing here is what I recommend to cope with binges:
- First, swear off beating yourself up after a binge. Write it out. Make a contract with yourself that you refuse to treat yourself badly after a binge from this day forward.
- Write out a self-acceptance and love mantra. If this is difficult, pretend that someone else you love dearly, who you know is wanting and trying to recover, just shared with you that she/he slipped. How would you speak to him/her?
- If you slip, acknowledge out loud to yourself that you slipped. Validate your suffering. Tell yourself “wow, this hurts.” It’s okay to hurt and feel disappointed. Acknowledge that you are human and that everyone makes mistakes and slips in life.
- Go to your self-acceptance and compassion mantra and go over and over it. Imagine hugging yourself, and remind yourself that you will never give up on yourself.
Most important my friends, do not give up this practice. You may have to do it dozens of times. I know that there were days I practiced, only to find myself in the middle of a binge again within hours.
As difficult as it is, the diligence and refusal to give up are what works here.
Remember this: Has there ever been anyone in your life that you loved, and that you were not highly motivated to nurture, protect, grow, improve and encourage? I didn’t think so… and so it is with yourself.