This One Thing is Hindering Your Recovery

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When returning home from treatment, life may feel quite overwhelming. It can be hard to navigate the road to recovery while integrating back into your life outside of treatment. Leaving the safety and support you have in treatment is scary but adding the additional pressure of responsibilities that you walk back into can feel paralyzing or even impossible.

The population of people with eating disorders is riddled with overfunctioners. Overfunctioners tend to stay busy, rescue, micromanage and delve into other people’s problems rather than turning their focus inward. “I don’t feel, I will do. I don’t need help, I help.” This tendency and practice can be a maintaining factor of your eating disorder. It is imperative to be aware of this soon after discharging from treatment.

Yes, it is true that you will take on more responsibility, both in your recovery and life in general, once you are the outpatient level of care. However, the stress of that responsibility can be lessened by continuing to utilize your outpatient team and by setting realistic expectations for yourself.

You might have worries, but if you share those worries…they don’t have to become problems. – Glennon Doyle Melton.

Some steps to take to prevent falling into the overfunctioning patterns:

  1. Talk about it. Talk to your treatment team – Primary Therapist, Family Therapist, Registered Dietician, and Psychiatrist- about your tendency to overfunction and the role it played in maintaining your eating disorder, what things activate your overfunctioning and how overfunctioning served you.
  2. Sit down with your Family Therapist and the support you will be returning to (i.e. parents, significant other, roommates). In this meeting, discuss what responsibilities are truly yours. Make sure to be honest about what is actually necessary and what can wait to be taken care of once you are further along in recovery.
  3. Discuss with your entire team what your work schedule would ideally look like if you have to return to a job. What would provide a safe work environment for early recovery, and what work environments could be detrimental to recovery?
  4. Set a schedule. Schedule your meal times, quiet time, therapy, and social events. By having some of these things on a schedule, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed and turning into overfunctioning. However, it’s also important to be a bit flexible in your schedule because rigidity can lead to overfunctioning as well. Leave room for some spontaneity in there.
  5. Practice self-love and compassion. Remember, you are only human. You aren’t a superhero. You will feel like you “supposed to” be doing more in some arenas, but be gentle and, extend some grace to yourself. Brene Brown defines “supposed to” as, “the battle cry of fitting in, perfectionism, people-pleasing, and proving ourselves.” All of which we are trying to avoid! Keep in mind that you’re doing the very best you can. The more you practice this the more satisfied you will feel with your progress.
  6. PLAY! Dr. Stuart Brown, the author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul’ wrote, “The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression.” He continued, “Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of creativity. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.” Our work and our craft, after treatment, is a mixture of recovery and responsibility. We must set aside time in our lives to truly play. Take a break from ‘productivity’ and do some serious ‘unproductive’ play. Honor the need to fill your life with joy and excitement. Life doesn’t have to be a race to the next deadline, next meal, or next commitment. Life can be a comfortable balance of play and responsibility. Take the time to re-up and enjoy the journey.

It’s expected that you feel a little overwhelmed and pressured to return to a busy life (most likely the pressure is from your own idea of what life after treatment “should” look like). Don’t try to go at it alone. I’ve come to learn and have to remind myself often, that recovery is not a solo journey. So, use your support team and resources. If you find yourself slipping into your old habit of overfunctioning take a step back, re-evaluate priorities, and make some changes to your game plan. Make things as simple as possible for yourself. Recovery becomes much less daunting this way and the idea of a life without your eating disorder becomes much more plausible.

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