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Helping Your Family Adjust to Life After Treatment – Allison Spratt

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Recovery is one baby step after another. I’ll never forget the day my daughter’s treatment team told us she was going to be moving to ERC’s partial hospitalization program (PHP). She had been in inpatient treatment for some time. While she was in inpatient, she could not leave and we could only see her on the weekends. Going to PHP meant that she would be transitioning to coming home full time. We couldn't wait! It had felt like a lifetime since we dropped her off at ERC. While she was gone, I painted and reorganized her room. I cleaned the house and bought flowers to make every room look bright and happy. We did it, I thought to myself. We made it through the first part of her treatment. I knew the next part was not going to be easy but I felt like having her home would make everything better! My husband and I were standing in the waiting room, eagerly anticipating her arrival. We could hear the kids singing goodbye. I was surprised that the main emotion I was feeling was nervousness. This was my daughter, I thought to myself, how could I be feeling nervous for her to come home? I started questioning where this was coming from. And I realized that this is what I was feeling: there was comfort and safety in having her looked after by professionals. The time right before we checked her in to ERC was not a shining moment in our parenting skills. We had reacted out of fear and, unfortunately, the fear was still there. I was worried. Could we do this ourselves now? Could we take the advice from ERC and trust our parenting skills again? Could our daughter? The adjustment to her being home was more difficult than I imagined. I’m not sure what I was hoping for; I knew she was not “all better” and I knew that being out of treatment was going to be scary for her and for us. At home, she was:

  • Looking for ways to make sure we knew she was still suffering
  • Testing us at every turn to make sure we were paying attention
  • Dropping food on the table or floor in hopes that we would not make her finish her meal
  • Wanting to get back on her social media accounts and on the computer
  • Still not ready to share her feelings with us

All of these things were triggers for her when she was sick. I was not expecting it to be so hard. The ED was waiting for us to go back to the fear we had before so it could continue to give her the comfort she was looking for. We wanted her to know she did not need the ED anymore! We wanted her to understand that we were there to help her fight this disease. We could not let there be any cracks. That was our motto, “no cracks.” “No cracks” meant that we would not let anything slip. We would not let anything we learned from ERC slip and we would not let what we knew about our daughter slip. Here are some examples: she might try to convince us that she was full and did not want to finish her meal. But, we would make her eat everything. If she wanted to go for a walk on her own, we could not trust that she wouldn't run. It was hard to do this, especially at the beginning, but it was well worth it. We were always listening. Even if it felt like we were over-thinking a situation, we would listen to our gut. Before the ED, we did not mind closed doors. We were fine with social media. We had come to a point in our life that we could leave our kids at home if we wanted to go grab dinner. Once our daughter came home from treatment, however, we realized we would have to take baby steps to return to the life we once knew. It would take many baby steps to get to recovery. Thankfully, ERC helped us so much during this time. The daily classes offered for parents in PHP were incredibly helpful. We learned how to manage our anxiety and how to trust what ERC was teaching us. Our daughter came to trust that we were listening and that we knew how to help her continue her path to recovery. When she returned home, we had to come up with some plans that would change our lifestyles in a major way. It was hard but it was effective. Ten things that helped us adjust

  1. Letting her go back to school for only a half day
  2. Eliminating social media
  3. Monitoring screen time; if she was on the computer, we would sit with her to make sure she was not tempted to look up sites she had visited before treatment that helped feed the ED
  4. Monitoring her activities: In the beginning, she could not be left alone; she still had strong urges to exercise
  5. Not talking about exercise or letting her see us doing it; it was a big trigger for her
  6. Talking to family and friends about things to be careful of saying
  7. Meeting with her friends’ moms to help them understand how they could help
  8. Covering the mirrors in the bathroom to help reduce the anxiety around taking a shower and changing clothes
  9. Not letting there by any more closed doors
  10. Separating the eating disorder from our daughter

We added and removed things from our list as time passed. We would introduce some stuff back in slowly and we could usually tell fairly quickly if it was still a trigger or if she was ready. We knew to not engage with her when the ED was strong and when she was not able to listen. Navigating our new normal became routine. We learned that recovery takes time but it is well worth the wait! Allison Spratt lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two children ages 14 and 15. Helping families through the recovery process is something she is passionate about. She is optimistic that sharing her story will give hope to other families and let them know that they are not alone. 

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