Advice by Kaela: Navigating Setbacks - Giving Yourself Permission To Be Human
By Kaela Scott
Q: I am feeling so defeated. After months of making progress I had a really big set back and it feels like I am right back at the beginning. All of this is making me question whether recovery is really possible for me.
A: I have so much respect for people who can admit when life has gotten the best of them and can be honest about the impact it has had. While acknowledging the setback to ourselves doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, it does set you up to be successful moving forward. For starters, I think the most important thing to know is that setbacks are normal. Life is hard and we can’t always master it without being affected. Your eating disorder has pulled you out of painful moments in your past so when they happen again, it can be easy to slip into that familiar way of coping. Secondly, it is also important to remember that you overcame so many different setbacks to experience the progress you mentioned. Recovery is a process of setbacks and successes. Some setbacks may not have felt as significant as this one but if you take some time to reflect you will remember that there were moments, days, weeks and months where you were certain you wouldn’t be able to accomplish or overcome a barrier that then became manageable over time. Whether this be working through a relationship struggle, making it through the holidays or learning a new way to nourish yourself, you survived all the moments you previously were convinced were impossible. Finally, you never go back to the beginning once you have made steps forward. You have been through too much and worked too hard to go back to the place before those skills existed. You are not only stronger now, but you also know what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past so you can choose to fall back on the knowledge you have of yourself and keep moving forward.
So what do you do when you find yourself facing a relapse and feeling not only defeated but also overwhelmed by the journey forward? You take a deep breath and you start your journey to healing one small step at a time. Go back to the toolbox you have so courageously and intentionally built over your recovery journey so far. Instead of focusing on all the ways you feel you have fallen, focus instead on the ways you have gotten yourself back up in the past and try them out again. It might require some tweaking of those skills to fit this new place you are in, but you have it in you to make those adjustments. Next, set boundaries with the self-defeating thoughts that are running through your head telling you that you will never recover or that you can’t possibly overcome this. This is one of the most significant steps you can take towards recovery because it moves you from a position of fragility into a position of power. Instead, focus on building yourself up while giving yourself permission to not be perfect. Eating disorders like to live in the idea of a perfect next step, a perfect outcome, a perfect idea of progress. Living by the perfection principle enables the eating disorder to thrive and leaves your healthy side feeling overwhelmed and defeated. Instead, give yourself permission to be human and to move forward with acceptance that you will fumble, that it is okay to be human and that you have the strength and capacity to get back up. Did you find a certain self-care practice really helpful at the beginning of your recovery journey? Maybe give that a shot again. Was being vulnerable with a loved one something that always left you feel less isolated and more hopeful? Be so brave as to open up your heart again and share your current struggles. Whatever it is, remind yourself that if you have done it once, you can do it again and that you have all of the answers of what to do next if you just take a moment to look within.
Setbacks are a part of recovery and arguably an important part. By learning to trust your ability to work through them and keep going, you develop a skill set that will set you up to be successful when life hands you hard times in the future. So take a deep breath, remind yourself that you can do this, and take your next step.
"Life is a river. That's what grandad always used to say. A beginning, an end, a million different ways in between. He used to metaphor my whole life, how it'd ebb and flow, following the path of least resistance, barreling straight through the impossible. Clear as air and black as night. And no matter what direction or how it'd move or what it'd look like, the point according to grandad, was that the river always moved forward." - Life Cycles Film, 2010
Kaela Scott is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who specializes in Eating Disorders. She runs her own private practice and works with the Looking Glass Foundation in both their summer camp and their Hand In Hand Program. She has been passionate about working with eating disorders since freeing herself from her own struggle and realizing what it is like to be happy and well. When she isn’t working, you can find Kaela either cozying up with a cup of tea and her friends or up in the mountains going for a hike.