My friend, *Mary, is a recovering alcoholic. Last year, after being sober for several years, she relapsed. When she told me, I was heartbroken for her as I knew how hard she was working to maintain her sobriety, but I wasn't surprised. To those who don’t know her well, Mary was sober. She did not drink at social gatherings, she did not tempt herself by frequenting her old "watering holes, and she attended AA meetings weekly. But, having been friends with Mary through a prior relapse, I saw the subtle signs creeping in. She was edgy, snapping at me for not returning a text or siding with her on one of her increasing complaints. And she began to "pile on." Turning the little things that occurred throughout her day, a work meeting gone long, a extra needed trip to the grocery store, or going to her son's soccer game into huge inconvenient tasks. Mary had relapsed before her lips ever touched the bottle.
"Why didn't you say something to me," Mary said when she got back on track, and I, after much Alanon soul searching, shared with her my observations.
"Would you have believed me?" I asked.
When my dietician Gretchen finally handed me my" walking papers" and I left her office for that final day, I felt like Mary Tyler Moore, spinning around on the sidewalk joyfully tossing my blue beret into the air. But simmering under the initial elation, was a fear, I wasn’t going to “make it after all.” Although overall, I liked the way my body looked, the increased energy, and the clothing choices available to me in adult sizes, I was not entirely comfortable in it. I was still very aware of my slight tummy pooch as I glanced sideways in a mirror, the way I felt my breasts bounced when I ran for a ball, and how the waistband of my jeans left an indentation on my skin when I took them off for the night. I was afraid without Gretchen and Kirsten's watchful eyes on me, I would, within a week, take my years of hard work and destroy it with one step on the scale or run on the treadmill.
Man, I have had the opportunity for a great deal of learning these past two post-treatment years.
I quickly learned staying in recovery means I have to be on alert. Anorexia is sneaky. It can creep up like a cat, silently hiding unaware until it pounces on its unsuspecting prey. Unlike some other addictions, I cannot "blow it" overnight. I do not have to worry that if I go one night without ice cream or play tennis twice in one day, I will wake up the next morning, and my pants will slide down my body. I have learned I can say no to a dinner out with friends without the fear it will turn me into an isolated shell. But I have to be aware of the feeling those activities elicit in me. The sense of control over denying myself something I crave, the high from prolonged exercise, or the comfort and safety of routine. I have to be deliberate in my choices. When left unchecked, especially in times of emotional stress, these occasional occurrences can quickly spiral into old rituals and routines that signal danger is ahead.
Recovery is catching a relapse in my behavior well before I notice it on my body.
*Name and slight details changed to protect anonymity.