What does a hard week look like in post-(lots of)treatment recovery?

This has been an extremely difficult two weeks or so for me. It has brought back old thought patterns, urges, and behaviors. I think a huge part of the “why” is stress. My first two nursing exams were this past week. I also have worked more than normal, so studying kind of took a backseat. Adding to this, I’ve had some pretty terrible body image, little to no hunger, and general frustration with food. These things are not an excuse to return to Ed, but it certainly is a factor.

While it can be disheartening that I am back in this space, I am (attempting to) treat myself the way I would treat my best friend. Recovery isn’t perfect and I need to accept that. I deserve grace. If I sit here and go “woe is me,” I will be stuck and feel more hopeless/helpless than ever.

Before, I had zero tools for effective coping. I turned to the eating disorder again and again and again. It was never “I can do this and it will take care of these urges in a healthy way.” Now, I do have a variety of coping skills to use when I need them, everything from mindfulness to journaling to using my kinetic sand. The problem currently resides in the fact that I’m not using them. While I am past the learning phase, application can be difficult too. It comes down to motivation at this point, which has obviously been lacking some.

One thing that I didn’t necessarily expect is how scary this all is. I am on the cusp of choosing recovery and getting back on track or continuing this downward spiral. It’s only a slip right now, leading towards a lapse. While neither of those are great, I’m not in a huge danger zone. I am leaps and bounds above where I was last fall or before residential. This doesn’t need to become a relapse, but it does remind me of the beginning of each one I’ve had.

For me, the main and most important thing now vs. pre-treatment is that I have a strong desire to turn it around. I don’t want to sit here and continue fading away. I have reasons to recover that truly matter (and aren’t all extrinsic). I have hope. I know my strengths. I may not have constant support like in treatment, but I can do this. I am not alone. I don’t need to recovery alone. That’s a beautiful thing.

To come out of this, I must apply what’s worked before. I haven’t had to really use these things in a long while, but now is time to bring them back out. Some pro-recovery things I will do from here on out:

  • Utilize my DBT corner when I’m having urges or very strong emotions
  • Phone a friend – the support I receive is invaluable
  • Journal, journal, and more journaling. It is something I need to do every day, whether I’m in a rough patch or not
  • Eat.the.food. Mechanical eating may be the only way I can go about this and that’s okay short-term. I can’t expect to continue recovery if I’m slowly starving myself. Also, that just fuels the eating disorder even more
  • Listen to and be honest with my treatment team and myself. This is huge. My team are not mind readers. It’s impossible for them to help me if I’m not telling the truth. I won’t get anywhere this way. What starts out as little lies quickly become complete denial. I start to convince myself of the “truth” as well.
  • Practice self-care. This is the last thing I want to do when I am in the ED/anxiety/depression, but it also has helped to bring me out of negative periods as well. Just 5-10 minutes of treating myself like I am worthy it will make a difference.

It isn’t easy just because I’ve been here before, but being here before means that I know how to break free. I am ready to do so.

When you leave residential ED treatment

You dearly miss the people at first and later the support you had.

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You will eventually lose contact (minus social media) with those you were in with.

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Everyone on the outside will have unrealistic expectations.

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You may have unrealistic expectations.

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You’ll wish you could add all the good staff on Facebook.

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You’l miss all (or most) of the staff and maybe even write them letters.

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You’ll be so grateful for the simple freedoms. Hello shaving when you please, long showers, flushing your own toilet, going to your room whenever you want, and leaving the house at will!

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You’ll be completely lost at times and wish you could give those freedoms right back.

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You will absolutely need a good support network of friends – not just your treatment team.

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Suddenly talking about bowel movements and GI issues isn’t acceptable.

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You’ll find the real world to be a scary place and forget how you ever lived in it.

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It will feel strange not having or being able to share your thoughts and feelings constantly.

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There will be bad days and lapses and relapses but this is normal, expected, and okay. What matters is that you get back up and continue to stay in recovery.

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You will get “you look healthy” all the time.

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You will also get comments on your body. Ignore them.

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The worst possible advice will come from people who know nothing about recovery from an eating disorder.

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You’ll begin to find success in the little things, like having one snack, rather than only becoming proud of yourself when you have the huge fear food ten times and go 1000 days without behaviors.

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You’ll realize all those “dumb skills” actually work in the real world.

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You will need all the support you can get. Take the PHP/IOP, extra therapy appointments, and support groups. Not all of us are so lucky.

 

Yes, people will stop asking where you were (especially if you shared it on Facebook).

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Its healthy to distance yourself from sick people – even those you just met in treatment.

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Every single example/memory/funny thing you think of will be residential related.

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You’ll oddly miss vitals checks. Yes there’s something satisfying about staff doing BP, HR, temps and asking you 10,000 times to rate your depression, anxiety, etc.

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You’ll be able to recite any DBT concepts without missing a beat.

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You will miss process group even though they almost always sucked.

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There will be a zillion and one mixed feelings about your time in treatment.

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You’ll wish for more time to explore whichever city you were in.

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The recovery high does fade eventually which makes things difficult.

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Some days you want to go back and others you wouldn’t without a tranquilizer.

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The scale is never a good idea.

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Diet talk is E V E R Y W H E R E outside of the treatment bubble.

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You’ll spend a very long time wondering if recovery is really worth it. (Hint: it is!)

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You’ll miss every single part. (Yes, even the poop checks, being forced to face your biggest fears 6 times a day, and extreme boredom.)

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You’ll realize that you CAN do this!

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Week 1 at college

Today marks the end of my first week back at school. More than anything I’m relieved that its over. I know, not the best reaction but its a hard situation.

I was fearful moving back into Calvin. This was a place where I had previously only been sick, and very sick for most of my time there. Stepping onto campus gave me flashbacks to last fall: fainting episodes, overexercise, isolation, failing grades, emptiness. I didn’t get a college experience last semester, instead I was slipping more towards death each day. No matter how solid my want to recover is now, I still worried that just being on campus again would send me slipping. Thankfully I was (mostly) wrong.

I’ve definitely had more ED thoughts since coming here. I can’t go anywhere on campus without being reminded of the “before,” the old me, the sickness. At times it is almost enough to make me flirt with that lifestyle again. What I can realize now is that all of those euphoric images I hang onto from my darkest days were false. I wasn’t happy, healthy, or anywhere close to flourishing. Recovery this past almost two months, on the other hand, has gotten me much further.

So yes, there have been some hard times. I anticipate even more in the coming weeks. The difference between now and back then is that I am working hard not to give in to ED or any negative thoughts. One of the things that has helped me the most and I never believed in before is my skills. I have employed basically every one CFD taught me that I had available: deep breaths, thought stopping, though records, reaching out to support, affirmations, stress ball, frozen orange/clementine, lentils, scents, and general distraction at times. Thanks to my own hard work and these skills, I haven’t had any behaviors or restriction at all!! I am beyond proud of myself and I deserve to be. I took a scary and stressful transition while being just out of residential and proved that I could handle this.

Beyond the eating disorder (now that I can finally focus on anything other than it), I am finding my place here. I really enjoy my interim class so far on eugenics and genomics. Its a challenge with the amount of reading and work packed into each day but I am welcoming the opportunity to learn. It almost feels like I wasn’t gone at all when it comes to my friends. I’m honestly surprised they didn’t forget about me. I’m so excited to form even more relationships and deepen those I have. I went rock climbing yesterday and truly enjoyed it even though I was really rusty. I feel like its going to be both physically and socially engaging as the year goes on. I plan on stating up my yoga practice very soon and I’m hopeful that with good intentions it will become a great outlet and way to appreciate my body. Lastly, and most importantly, I am working on my faith. Its a process that the ED once again nearly destroyed, but I know God is capable of building it back up. Overall, I am going to be a well-adjusted, involved, and more joyful college student this time around.

Here’s to a second week of learning, self-compassion, and fun!