I remember sitting through many lectures and discussions during treatment that talked about different triggers for relapse. I understood a lot of them such as certain comments, stressful events, a big change, seeing your weight etc. There was on though that I struggled to understand until I recently experienced it. That trigger was VACATION. Now, vacation may seem like a very relaxing time where one can forget about all worries and struggles and just be able to wind down. However, for someone with an eating disorder, a vacation can bring about a whole host of other problems.
Just this past week, right after my discharge from treatment, I went on a week long vacation with north to a family camp in the redwoods called Mt. Hermon. This is something that I look forward to every year. I love the fresh air that floats through the Santa Cruz mountains. I love the shade that the redwoods provide as I stand in the middle of the forest surrounded by thousands of trees. And, I love the people that are there. The crazy dance sessions during worship, the shout of 47 seconds as the timer counts down, and the race to save the very first row because that has been tradition for the past 8 years. This year was a little different. I still had the trees and the fresh air and the people, but I also had an extra “voice” that had spent a couple years nestling itself into my brain.
At Mt. Hermon we have all of our meals provided for us in a buffet style dining hall. They also constantly provide snacks throughout the day such as donuts, cookies, scones, ice cream etc. I found that during my time there, a common topic at meal time was how much food everyone ate. I heard comments such as, “Good thing I did the morning trail run” or “I just find myself eating, eating, eating, I’m going to have to go on a diet when I get home.” I sat through a lunch as one woman counted out each and every goldfish to make sure that she had the exact amount for one serving while explaining to us how she had to be “disciplined” and can’t have too many carbs. My eating disorder thrived on this. Of course they didn’t know that I was struggling, how could they? I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want everyone around me to adjust. I just wanted my eating disorder voice turned off and to be able to sit through a lunch without shaking with anxiety. I hated having limited options to choose from. I hated being worried about how much I was eating. I hated the reminders of when I was back in my eating disorder.
It was more difficult at the beginning of the week. I felt so lost and alone. The trees weren’t as beautiful, the smiles weren’t as bright, and the air wasn’t as fresh. I felt as if I was walking through life in black and white (not the CBT distortion 🙂 , just the lack of color) As the week progressed however, so did my recovery voice. The more I hung out with friends the more comfortable I became. I walked mindfully through my favorite redwoods and was increasingly relaxed. I had psyched myself out for vacation and focused only on the things that had triggered my eating disorder instead of all the things that were building up my recovery voice.
The week flew by way too quickly and my family and I piled into my mom’s minivan ready to make the trek home. I looked at going home as another trigger in and of itself. I was returning to the hustle and bustle of work, family, driving, and life. I wanted to stay on my vacation because it had finally become the definition of vacation. It was a period of rest. It became a period of relaxation. It was a time for me to unwind and finally separate from my ED. I had thought that at the beginning of the week this vacation going to lead me back into treatment. But instead it built up my recovery voice and helped me continue on my path of recovery.