Is There a Difference Between a Slip and a Relapse?

The water rushed through my fingers as my goggles fogged with condensation. I was at the local aquatic center center racing the older gentleman next to me. Except he didn’t know we were racing. He was clueless to our competition. But there was no way I could let him win.

I’d skipped breakfast that morning due to being busy and rushed. And the guilt and the old familiar high was hitting me all at once. I was timing myself and thinking, I must swim X amount of minutes or I did not exercise at all. One more lap, one more flip turn, one more…

I stopped and ripped the goggles off of my face. A familiar sinking of my stomach shook my wise mind back into being.

What had I done? I meant to have a relaxing swim, yet once again, I skipped a meal and pretended to be Michael Phelps in the water. I had slipped in my disorder.

Slips vs. relapse

You see, I am recovering from anorexia with purging tendencies. Exercise was my drug of choice. I had abstained from running for over a year. So when the opportunity arose for me to have a leisurely swim in the lap pool, I thought, “What harm could it do? I am not running!”

Well, it only took me 10 minutes to figure out that swimming was not harmless for me. The actions leading up to that innocent swim were most definitely a slip in my recovery. Have you experienced a slip before?

What is the difference between a slip and a relapse? 

According to,

There is a major difference between having one slip and having a relapse. A lapse represents a temporary slip or return to a previous behavior that one is trying to control or quit (usually a onetime occurrence), whereas a relapse represents a full-blown return to a pattern of behavior that one has been trying to moderate or quit altogether.

Recognize the slip

In the pool that day, I had experienced a slip in both my anorexia (skipping a meal) and my exercise addiction (turns out swimming is exercise… who knew!?!).

After I recognized the slip, I got out of the pool, dried off, and went directly to the Chinese restaurant next door to order Mongolian beef.

The thoughts and feelings after that slip were varied and many…  It was my first slip, so I was confused, scared, disappointed, and lost. I didn’t know what my next move should be, and then I remembered the cycle of addiction that I learned about while in treatment.

According to the cycle, I had gone through the first four steps of relapse. Therefore, I had experienced a slip. I pre-contemplated the swim by getting my bathing suit and going to the pool. Then I contemplated the actual swim. Finally, I acted in the behavior of exercise. I had a lapse! The cycle can go on and on until I am in full relapse mode. But I stopped the trend by recognizing I was in the middle of my addictive behavior. I stopped it dead in its tracks.

You can always choose recovery

In the past, I hadn’t been so quick to stop my behaviors. And I had gone into full blown relapse…numerous times. One skipped meal turned to two… one day of exercise turned into a month long running binge.

The good news is, whenever you recognize that you are back in the old behaviors, whether it be immediately after the act or weeks into a relapse, you can ALWAYS choose to begin recovery again.

Staying clean in any addiction and/or eating disorder behavior is not easy. It is a process that may need to be revisited for months or years on end. But it is a process that will save your life.

There is no one person that is too far gone. Everyone has the choice get help and choose recovery. We all deserve a life free of disorder and addiction.

If you’re in the midst of the lapse/relapse cycle, take some time to sit with your wise mind. We all have it; sometimes it just takes honest reflection and hard action to restart the journey to recovery.

Recognize that it is never too late to start recovery again. There is always hope. Recovery is possible. And no one person is too far gone. Keep fighting to live free. You are worth it.

Image: @wellingtonsanipe

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