"The Challenge" by an Eating Recovery Center, California Alumna
When I signed up for the recent alumni retreat in Folsom, California, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been out of the Intensive Outpatient Program for eight months. The person I remembered most was my counselor, Robin. I remembered her face, her voice, and her belief in me when she told me that I should challenge myself by considering new food options. As I drove to the reunion, I felt conflicted about spending an entire Saturday at the reunion when I had other things to do. Then I remembered that nothing is more important than self-care: taking care of me. If I don’t tend to my addiction, it can get out of control and then I can’t focus on what’s important in life. I also knew that to change my deep-seated habits, I needed a refresher. While at Eating Recovery Center, I got heavy infusions of coping strategies. Since I’d exited the program, I’d received emails. I knew that information is best absorbed and adopted when reinforced over time. In other words, hearing and practicing while in the program was good, but these experiences needed to be bolstered in doses received afterwards. Upon arrival at the reunion, I found a warm environment: meeting other program participants, hearing speakers, discussing what we had heard, engaging in art or writing projects, and, of course, eating. Some attendees had been to other retreats and, finding them helpful, now returned. Some attendees knew each other and others who like me didn’t know anyone. The climate set felt “safe”. I listened to every word. Halfway through an afternoon session, my counselor Robin’s face and voice broke through my thoughts. I imagined her saying, “I’d like to see you challenge yourself to….” I thought of a few strange eating behaviors I had hung on to or that had re-entered my daily routine. In that moment, I realized the unanticipated value of the retreat. Though Robin’s teachings were never far away, being “in the vicinity” brought it all back. I had challenged myself to go to the reunion. I had given up a Saturday for something important. I had followed through, when it might have been easier to do something else. As the day was winding down, I got to see Robin in person when she arrived to lead yoga. This time, she didn’t need to say, “I’d like to see you challenge yourself to …” because I had already done it myself.