by Jenna S.
People say that when you leave residential treatment for an eating disorder, the journey of recovery is not over. And, in fact, the journey is actually just beginning.
Now, don’t let that scare you. Of course we’d like to hear that all the hard work is behind us and that now we can really start living our lives, but let me stop you right there. Life is a journey and even while you’re in recovery, you’re still living your life. This is your life. You can exist or live. You can survive or thrive. And recovery is all about learning to live and thrive again.
I think back to the day that I graduated from the Woodstone Residence. It was so joyful. I was so proud of myself and how far I had come. I had every right to be. That day really was the first day of the rest of my life! Throughout my five months of residential treatment I had been encouraged and loved, comforted and supported by staff who told me I was worth it. I trusted them with my whole heart, but I didn’t completely believe them when they told me that the journey really only begins once you leave treatment. Now, having been out of treatment for a year and a half, I can say that they were definitely right.
When I first left the Woodstone Residence I realized quite quickly that there was a lot of adjusting that needed to be done. In order to do this I knew that I needed a solid support system around me. I found that this technique of reaching out was of great importance. Even though there wasn’t a nurse or mental health worker around whenever I needed to talk at home, I was still okay because I had built up my own army of supporters around me: trusted friends who knew my story. I created a long list of names and phone numbers so that when I did need to call, someone would always be available.
Friends and family began to put more faith and trust in me as they realized that I would ask for help if I needed it. Silent secrets no longer had a place in my life when I began to include others in my freedom journey. Remember to reach out in times of need for the sake of accountability and staying on track.
The second thing that I found and still find most helpful in being successful after leaving residential treatment is having structure in my life. This summer, the days that I work have been easy because there is a schedule set out for me. But if I don’t have a plan for my days off, it is easy to have a late start, miss breakfast and therefore feel like I’m struggling to keep up with routine for the rest of the day. On these days off I like to plan coffee dates or appointments late enough that I am not rushed in the morning, but early enough that I get going at a reasonable time of day and set myself up for success. Don’t be too rigid, but don’t exclude structure all together. Finding a balance and planning ahead can be a great thing when it comes to success in post-treatment recovery.
Thirdly, it is crucial to have not only coping tools and skills to get you through the tough moments, but a healthy outlet of some sort - something that releases tension throughout your day or week. That way those hard moments come less often. For me this has been music because I love to play guitar and write songs. Creating music has always been something that I enjoy, but since leaving treatment it has become something I absolutely need. The combination of having time to myself and the simple act of strumming my guitar can cause worries and stresses to melt away. Now for you it may not be music, but I assure you there is something out there that will work for you. Find your passion and go with it. Make time for you and be sure to include self care in everyday life.
Life after treatment for an eating disorder is hard work, but it is worth it. Take advantage of every opportunity to discover more about yourself. Learn from your mistakes and rejoice in every accomplishment. Your recovery journey is yours alone, so don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Surround yourself with love and reach out in times of need. Add structure in your day, set yourself up for success and find a healthy outlet that allows you to explore your passions. Eating disorders are not a choice, but recovery is. So choose life, over and over and over again.