Reemerging After Treatment
Treatment for my eating disorder was life-saving and affirming. The structure of it taught me I could live my life without the symptoms of my eating disorder.
I will never forget my first meal outside treatment when I was 18 years old. I waited for ED to show up, and it never did. I was scared, sad, missed my friends, and mostly I was excited to live in a freedom that I had honestly never felt in my life before.
ED did eventually show up later on, and I went through treatment twice more before I began to see that full recovery was possible. I have been in treatment three different times throughout the course of five years for my eating disorders. I feel so grateful today to say I have been in recovery since 2009. Each time leaving treatment once its own experience with its own stressors that have helped me learn to lean into long term recovery.
Struggling is part of the process.
Eating Disorders are everything but simple. They are a complex mental disorder that requires support and treatment, especially in a society fueled by body shame and diet culture. Coming out of treatment and back into this world was overwhelming. Everywhere I looked, there were fitness and diet ads, people scrutinizing their bodies, and criticizing what other people ate. This narrative and way of thought are more prevalent than ever before with social media, although many social media platforms didn't exist the last time I left treatment.
Struggling is often part of the process of healing. During the early stages of my recovery, it felt like things were getting worse when in fact, they were getting much better. Reemerging into the world after recovery felt very loud and very scary at first. Could I trust myself? What if I mess up? How will I know what to do? These were all questions I was scared to ask out loud. Don't shy away from those questions - ask them and keep asking them.
Struggling is normal. It is how I learned, grew, and continue to grow. Struggling does not mean relapse. Struggling does not mean that you are not getting better. It just means that recovery is not easy, but It is always worth it. Stay connected to everything that uplifts you when you're struggling. It will not seem easy or comfortable at first, but you can get through it by staying connected to your support system, treatment team, and fellow recovery peers.
Take Your Time.
If I could go back and tell myself anything, it would be, TAKE YOUR TIME. I understand certain parts of life are not negotiable, such as work and bills. I had to work as soon as I stepped down to IOP and then outpatient. I felt like I was behind all my friends and needed to rush back into school and social life. Rushing to "catch up" was a large part of what led to my first slip back into my eating disorder. My eating disorder did not just manifest overnight, and it would be unrealistic to expect it to be treated as quickly.
It is ok to set boundaries and to ease back into life. I was told by a friend in recovery to keep it simple, meaning work, treatment, and support. I had to relearn a whole new way of approaching life and how I viewed myself.
There is no finish line in life, school, work, and especially in recovery. I had to put my recovery first because I wouldn't have anything in my life to return to without it. I asked my manager if I could work a schedule around my treatment, and to my surprise, they were more than willing to work with me. Eventually, when it came to school, I used the resources of my counseling center to work with my teachers to let me eat in class and even be late to some classes so I could have time to eat. I know it can be scary, and I also know that I must speak up for my recovery.
I have a hard time calling something a relapse, primarily because in my experience with recovery, this word is very shaming. One of the most important and revolutionary discoveries in my road of healing has been around shame. What shame is, where it comes from, and how it affected me? My eating disorder was centered around shame, and for many years, this monster emotion remained hidden and unnamed. Relapse for me was centered in feelings of unworthiness or guilt around my struggle. It had more to do with shame and less about my behaviors to cope with this shame.
Relapses are an essential part of my story, and in each of them, I uncovered a compelling piece of the puzzle. Don't let shame around struggle keep you from getting the help you need. If you are like me, where treatment is not always affordable or accessable, know there are many low-cost or free options such as Eating Disorders Anonymous or open Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I have learned so many valuable tools and insights about my struggles from these communities, including that I am never alone or too far down the scale to get better, and no one is ever unworthy.