What to Expect After Eating Disorder Treatment Ends – Robyn Cruze
Being in an eating disorder treatment facility provides you with a safe and supportive place to heal. It’s a place where you are nurtured and surrounded by a wonderful support network: professionals, therapists, group members and friends — while you learn how to nurture yourself.
In treatment, you can talk openly about your feelings and struggles at almost any time. You can challenge yourself, learn different tools, and rest when needed. When you are in treatment, you are in a cocoon… and you need that cocoon to recover and feel safe. What a gift.
Inevitably, you must leave the treatment center and re-enter your life in this big, sometimes messy and unpredictable world. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by this transition, and to even resist it a little. But it’s a transition you must make.
During this time, you may wonder about some or all of the following:
- Can I maintain recovery out there as I can in here? What if I forget what to do?
- Who will I talk to when I feel like I’m relapsing?
- How am I going to have time to follow my food plan, go to therapy, go back to work and look after my children?
If you can relate to some of these worries, I ask you to please be patient and kind with yourself. Here are four important things to always keep front and center while you are doing the brave, hard work of recovery.
1. Maintain your support system
When transitioning from eating disorder treatment to home, it is helpful to stay grounded by surrounding yourself with a strong and nurturing support system. We like to call these individuals your “safe people.”
As you create your list of “safe people,” ask yourself:
- Who can I connect with regularly to remind myself of the importance of recovery?
- Who are my healthiest relationships with?
- Who will truly support me if I need help, without judgement?
Identify three to five people that can help you feel supported and safe as soon as you leave treatment. Write their names and phone numbers on a small piece of paper and place this in your wallet — or put the numbers on speed dial — let the list be a reminder that you are not alone.
Whenever you need to, perhaps even every day at first, reach out. Ask for help, if necessary, and thank these people for listening. Staying connected to others is an important component of recovery.
2. Fully let go of perfectionism
Many of us who have struggled with eating disorders also struggle with perfectionism. Our eating disorders dictated rules and regulations to us for so long — and we felt that we had to follow these rules perfectly to feel sane and in control. This cycle leads to anxiety and it leads to shame. Don’t expect life to be perfect; recovery isn’t perfect, either.
If you slip back into eating disorder behavior — or find yourself in a shame spiral, feeling far from perfect, you may feel like you are starting to relapse. When shame strikes — and yes, it will strike — take some time to be aware of it with the following steps:
- Stop and notice what is happening in the moment.
- Take a few deep and calming breaths.
- Recognize the behavior or thought pattern that led you to this place.
- Remind yourself that you have a choice; you don’t have to go into shame. Even though you may feel out of control, in this very moment you are not.
- Acknowledge perfectionism or any comparisons that might be cropping up and take your power back from these feelings. Speak out to shame and say, “I don’t have to listen to you.”
Remember, this process is a tough one to master. It starts with taking baby steps. Each time that you are able to stop and become aware of what is happening, you are taking another step to combat shame. This is another step towards beating your eating disorder and deepening your recovery.
3. Always remain flexible
Recovery is being perfectly imperfect. In recovery, we must learn about the importance of flexibility. It’s not about following rules and regulations; recovery is about learning to trust and go with the universal flow. Beyond the eating disorder’s rigidity is a world full of spontaneity, surprises and joy. This is what you can focus on now: living a full life, rich with meaning.
From time to time, we will be triggered. Stress will happen. Life will happen. We may want to medicate these uncomfortable feelings and numb them. Binge eating, purging, drugs and alcohol may all be used as coping mechanisms. If this happens to you, you are far from alone. An estimated fifty percent of all people with eating disorders will have a substance abuse problem.
If you find that you are compensating with unhealthy behaviors, help is available. Reach out to us and we will help you find the assistance that you need.
And, if you do relapse (get active in eating disorder behaviors), know that you haven’t ruined everything. Please be gentle with yourself. Relapse is uncomfortable and scary AND if it does happen, it can provide us with an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. What we learn from a relapse can help us move forward in life in a deeper way. So, if you fall, get back up straight away, brush yourself off, and don’t let shame keep you down.
4. Create a life full of meaning
If you haven’t done so already, identify your passion, power and purpose, your three “Ps.” These are the things that will give your life meaning and these are the things that will help sustain your recovery.
Acknowledge all your successes in recovery — even the small ones — by doing the following:
- Start a gratitude practice.
- Pat yourself on the back when you reach out for help from your support network.
- Celebrate when you get through a tough anxiety attack.
- Reward yourself and indulge in your favorite form of self-care.
- Be proud of yourself for remembering to breathe instead of being reactive.
- Love yourself for always doing your best.
- Cheerlead for yourself when you have made a positive decision within recovery.
Pay attention to the moments when you choose recovery, hope and connection over shame, perfectionism and your eating disorder.
Getting help for your eating disorder may be one of the bravest, hardest, most important things you’ll do in your life. We want you to know that you are not alone in this journey. We are here. Let us know how we can help.
Robyn Cruze is author of Making Peace with Your Plate, a popular speaker, and a National Recovery Advocate and online community manager for Eating Recovery Center.