What You Need to Know About Life After Residential Treatment

Going into residential was a vital step on my path to recovery. But it was just that – a step.

Residential treatment reached in and grabbed me from the inescapable hole I had found myself in. It gave me strength to stand and start walking again. Without it, I doubt very much that I would be where I am today in my recovery. 

When I went into residential treatment for my eating disorder almost two years ago, I knew that I would have some work to do when I came out. Yet, I didn’t think I would need anything like a therapist or a dietician when I was done.

When I commenced from my treatment program, I felt really good. I was eating comfortably and had done a lot of hard therapy work.

But the reality of how far I still had to go hit me like a brick when I got home.

At residential, I didn’t have a choice. I had to eat, or face an unappetizing supplement. The food was prepared for me. Support was offered 24/7, so I didn’t necessarily have to seek it myself. Although therapy was challenging, and eating was hard, and using the bathroom in front of people was difficult, I wasn’t faced with my day to day struggles and stress of my life at home.

So, coming home meant I was faced with hard choices I wasn’t used to. All of a sudden I had to choose when and what to eat again. I had free reign to exercise whenever I felt like it. That combined with the daily struggles of everyday life came at me all at once.

It was then that I realized my eating disorder wasn’t close to gone.

And so began the real work. Residential had presented me with the concept of recovery and what that could look like. And through that I realized I really liked the concept of recovery.

I wanted to stay with that happy, hopeful encouragement and sit with just the good thoughts of being recovered.

It’s easier to sit with the concept of recovery then to actually recover though.

I had to move from the concept to real life. And recovery in real life is hard – and quite frankly feels really really bad, for a long time.

So here are a few things that I have learned and have helped me after leaving residential, and I hope can be helpful for you.

1. Be willing to be uncomfortable

In recovery, I found that I had to be willing to be really uncomfortable a lot. Since my eating disorder was a means to helping me not feel uncomfortable in other areas of my life, it has been really hard to sit with the uncomfortable feelings that come from recovery itself.

There’s being physically uncomfortable, with possible body changes, and stomach/GI problems.  Plus there’s being mentally uncomfortable multiple times a day when your brain is screaming at you that being full is the worst thing possible.

It is extremely hard to argue with your brain, but it’s the only way to change those unhealthy neuropathways.

So I learned to cry and eat anyway.

I also found that I even felt uncomfortable when I actually felt good. I had felt bad for so long, that it is what I had grown accustomed to. Feeling good was surprisingly disconcerting at first because I didn’t know that feeling and wasn’t used to it. I would immediately find myself wanting to go back to old habits that. Even though they made me feel bad, at least they were familiar.

Know that the uncomfortable feelings won’t last forever. It’s just a season.

2. You have to have a support team

I have learned that a part of holding myself accountable, is asking others to help me as well.

Having an eating disorder can be so isolating. It’s been heard work to lean hard on my husband, friends and my treatment team instead of trying to power through it on my own.

While my eating disorder was telling me that no one wanted to help me and that everyone was annoyed with me, I had to believe people when they told me that they wanted to help me.

These people needed to speak truth to me, because the eating disorder would only tell me lies. I have been seeing my therapist twice a week since I got out of residential. Continuing this intensity of outpatient treatment has helped me stay accountable and on top of possible relapses, while helping me dig to the root of my issues.

3. Prepare to be triggered – it will happen

People are going to say weird and unhelpful things. Society as a whole is still going to be trying to lose weight. As you are trying to develop a healthy eating pattern, friends, family and co-workers will be engaging in unhealthy, but socially approved eating patterns.

Stay the course.

This is where seeing a dietitian has helped me tremendously. Having an expert in nutrition to help guide me instead of buying into diet culture has been essential.

4. Prepare for recovery to be up and down

Recovery is not a straight path. There have been many times that I have fallen down; that I have flirted with the possibility of just going right back to my eating disorder.

But having a support system fighting alongside me has helped immensely. I also had to learn to give myself grace. My treatment team constantly reminds me not to be so hard on myself.

I have had an eating disorder for almost 19 years now, so expecting myself to be completely recovered quickly is unrealistic. Healing takes time. Falters in recovery have given me the opportunity to reassess where I am and if there is something more I need.

5. Be willing to let go, and step into new ways of being

When I got out of residential, I realized quickly that there were things in my life that were actually contributing to the desire to stay mired in my eating disorder.

I had to take a hard look at certain relationships and at my religious/faith practices and make some scary, but necessary changes. I had to work through letting go of these things that no longer served me.

But the key in all of this letting go was to replace these damaging things with helpful practices and relationships.

It has taken some time to let go and replace, but it has well been worth all of the hard work and risks taken.

Persevere

It has taken me almost two solid years of intense twice-weekly therapy appointments, dietitian appointments, meal plans, medicine changes, life changes, learning new coping skills, reaching out to people, etc..to finally reach a point where I feel good more days than not.

I can actually say at this point that I am in a better place than I was on my last day of residential (and I was feeling pretty good then.) It has taken a lot of time, hard work and perseverance though.

I know that two years seems like a long time, but standing on this end of the two years, I can tell you that everything I’ve gone through has been completely worth it.

So, if you are new to recovery, or just getting out of residential, take heart. The journey is so very hard. You will probably feel a lot of bad before you feel good, but it will be worth it.

Just hold on to hope.

Image: @shitsuren

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