When Trauma Triggers Relapse

trauma and relapse - foggy black and white image of profile of figure with hand on forehead and looking down

TRIGGER WARNING: The topic of sexual assault will be discussed in this article. If you are sensitive to that type of material, proceed with caution. This article discusses a relapse in response to sexual trauma.


We can’t prevent the inevitable stress we’re going to face from time to time, right? Life happens. We form coping mechanisms, strategies, support teams, and an array of (healthy!) habits to help navigate through tough times. What happens, though, when the stress becomes overwhelming or morphs into something suffocating that we feel like we can’t escape?

Unsurprisingly, the research I did in undergrad revolved around eating disorders. Something I’ve learned over the years is that evidence (unfortunately) suggests that people with eating disorders tend to have a higher vulnerability to stress and its consequences. But what about severe stress? Something severe enough to be considered… traumatic?

Trauma and Relapse.

We’ve all heard about how “traumatic events can lead to a relapse.” But how much do we actually know about trauma and relapse? How do trauma and relapse go hand in hand? And how long does it take to heal? Where do you even begin? I’m going to answer those questions with a story about my friend. (After asking for her permission, of course.) We’ll call her Allie*.

Allie’s Story

Allie battled an eating disorder for quite some time. For years and years, a terribly harmful monster seemed to overtake her entire life. However, after reaching out for help, putting in hard work day after day, and never giving up – she found freedom in recovery. She was the happiest and healthiest she had ever been. She was recovered, doing well in school, loving sports, and she had a boyfriend whom she was head over heels for.

So, you can imagine how devastated she must have been when it all came crashing down in a single night.

Allie, her friends, and her boyfriend went to a concert one evening during the summer. They had all had a few drinks – but as Allie and her friends kept drinking, her boyfriend had stopped. She noticed, but dismissed any worry and assumed he was just trying to be responsible. Once the event was over, he took her home and invited himself in. However, it wouldn’t have mattered if she had told him no or not, and that was about to become apparent.

Allie was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend that night. Allie felt empty, broken, and had never felt more powerless in her entire life.

False Comforts

This may sound strange, but if you’ve ever battled an eating disorder, you know that it provides comfort in some sort of twisted way. It also provides a (false) sense of power and control. So, unfortunately, that’s what she turned back to. Her relapse wasn’t met without grit and determination, though.

I figured it’d be best to close with Allie’s own words:

“To anyone who went through something similar to me: you are not alone and you are not broken. It may feel that way, but don’t you dare believe it. If you have not gotten help, please do. Talk to someone you trust. Don’t go through this alone and do not let someone else’s monstrous actions wreck you. Get up and dust yourself off. Hold your head high, and fight back.

Dealing with trauma is insanely difficult, and coupling it with a relapse is unbearable. Everything in my life got bad. I relapsed, I slacked in sports I used to put my heart into, school had me stressed to the point of leaving class to cry, and I isolated myself from friends. I wish I would’ve reached out sooner. But, I’m getting better each and every day. I made a full recovery slowly but surely. It’s possible, I promise. Keep fighting.”

Take Back Your Power

Even when life seems like it relentlessly beats you down, you still have choices. You still have power and you still have abilities. It’s up to you to make that choice. It can be hard – worth it – but hard. Trust me, I know. Recovery isn’t some perfect plan with step by step actions that are followed and everything gets magically fixed. It is messy… but it is so rewarding.

If you are hurting, we see you. You are not alone.

*The individual’s name was changed to protect their identity. The name being used is not in any way connected to the story being told.

Free National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE

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