Life around us doesn’t stop in order accommodate our pursuit of recovery from an eating disorder – no matter how hard we wish it did. This includes work.
It’s Hard To Re-enter The World After Treatment
Many don’t have the luxury of going to residential treatment. And even if they do, stepping down to a lower level of care still means facing the challenge of integrating “normal” life things – grocery shopping, school, paying bills, perhaps child care, and a job – into the recovery process.
It can be one of the hardest things to do, especially since much of recovery involves re-orienting life to align with your new values aside from the eating disorder’s, creating new rhythms in old environments, and letting go of toxic people and activities.
In effect, all big changes that take a lot of courage and effort but are absolutely necessary to sustain long-term health and well being.
What Happens When You Have To Go Back To Work?
But how do you do recovery well at work? There high expectations of professionalism and boundaries that must be set at work that can make it difficult to know who to trust, how vulnerable to be, and whether you should disclose your recovery journey at all. Is it appropriate? Will it jeopardize my advancement in the company? And will my colleagues think I’m weak/sick/weird/insert-other-negative-comment-here? It is exhausting.
Your Health Comes First
The only consideration should be your health, not what anyone else thinks of you. Therefore, if you’re not in a job or workplace where you can healthily pursue recovery, you should look for another job – immediately. No workplace is perfect, but that doesn’t mean better options aren’t out there.
Companies are increasingly paying attention to their employees’ mental health and developing more compassionate policies regarding it, so have hope. Better work environments and colleagues are out there. It may take some time and research to find them, but your healthy self deserves the effort.
These Are the Best Practices to Apply for Someone to Navigate the Recovery Process at Work:
Seek support for your treatment team. Talk with them about specific challenges you anticipate and seek their advice in making a plan to deal with them. This can involve deciding who to confide in at work about your recovery process. And how to handle lunch outings with colleagues as well as how to interrupt negative thought patterns or triggers that could lead to eating disorder behavior during office hours.
It is important to be cognizant of the people you surround yourself with. Are they positive or do they constantly engage in negativity and complaining? Is there incessant diet talk or body-related discussions? Actively seek out relationships with co-workers with a positive outlook. You’ll find it makes a tremendous impact on your mood and feelings of efficacy. Also it can prevent feelings of shame, self-doubt and criticism that can trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms.
There is also an incredible opportunity, if you’re strong in your recovery process, to be an enormously positive influence on those around you at work. You can actively challenge negative body-talk and the promotion of dieting behavior. You will most likely develop a keen eye or sense for others who may be suffering from anxiety, loneliness, depression or burnout, and be able to talk to them and recommend them to seek help. Your experience in recovery can allow you to be an advocate for those around you, and if it ever feels right, sharing your own recovery journey can be empowering for you, and for someone else who might be struggling – the catalyst that encourages them to get the help that they need. You can choose to see your office as an advocacy opportunity, not just as a “job.”
Heading back to work while on the recovery journey can seem daunting, but for most, it isn’t a choice. The good news is that integration of all parts of life into the recovery process – and not segmenting “recovery” as something that happens only in a therapist’s office or at meal times – will help sustain long-term mental health. And being someone who is recovered, a beacon of light to those around you, brings empathy and advocacy to the workplace so that people are seen not just employees, but as human beings.