My grieving process

This has been in the back of my mind for a while now. I always wish I could talk about it, but whenever I do nothing comes up. This leads to guilt and shame which then causes me to not want to mention it again. I am choosing to write about this because it is time to not fear what I am feeling or not feeling.

My grandpa passed away this past June. I was one week into residential.

I knew, leaving for treatment, that this would be a possibility. My grandpa was sick for a long while. He nearly died from pneumonia 3 years ago, went to a rehab unit in a nursing home, then lived in senior apartments for just about 2 years. We were lucky to have that extra time with him. He started getting sicker in 2017 and ended up moving into the nursing home then. In some ways, I think he gave up hope once his independence was gone. I visited him at least once a week, even when I was in school. I remember hating it sometimes. I just wanted to relax, not spend 2 hours at his apartment or the nursing home watching him sleep. Now, I’m glad I had that time.

I was in session with my therapist when the house manager knocked on the door. She went outside to talk to her. I didn’t even have to hear the words “That was your dad. Your grandpa passed away this morning” to know what happened. I broke down and cried for a while. The girls and staff all were wonderful and took care of me that week. Every single staff member was made aware so that I was met with constant support. I needed that. God knew exactly where I should be when it happened. I was unable to fly home for the funeral, and I’m not (completely) ashamed to say that was the best decision too. Instead, my dad skyped me so I could watch it. He started the video when he was in a room with all of my family, which was harder to watch than the actual funeral. I was allowed a little bit of time after it ended. I cried for a bit, but then went back to the group, where I received more support.

I still have some guilt and shame from wanting to be away from my family, but now even my parents agree it was for the best. When I heard my mom say that, I was so thankful. It was like she released this cloud hanging over me.

Ever since then, the guilt and shame have multiplied. Unlike my mom, I don’t think about him all of the time. We have his cat living with us now and I don’t even correlate him with my grandpa. It doesn’t feel like he died, just that he’s completely gone. My mom has reacted much differently than me. She cries all of the time. The holidays were extremely different without him there. Almost every day he is brought up. It is her dad, so that makes more sense. She’s also been one to show her emotions relatively strongly. Sometimes I get so annoyed. I just want her to stop. I want a break from hearing about it. Does this make me a terrible person?

I have not cried at all since the funeral. I am void of feelings. There is just nothing when someone brings him up. I feel numb. It’s like he didn’t exist. Nothing phases me. It’s actually made it hard to even support my mom. 

I don’t get it. Why don’t I feel something, anything? Am I just abnormal? Cold? Wrong? I know that grieving is different for everyone with multiple stages, I just have a hard time accepting where I’m at. 

I’m not sure where to go from here. Should I work through my non-feelings? That seems almost ridiculous and definitely unnecessary. I do need to come out of this shame train (residential term). I know it only feeds into the eating disorder and depression. 

It feels good to put this out there. Talking about it means that I can (hopefully) make some change soon. It’s a step to being ready for that. 

3 months.

I’m having a hard time holding it together today. I’ve been on the edge of tears all day long (nearly cried while listening to someone talk at clinical). It could be many things: waking up at 5:45, a pretty long and anxiety-provoking day at the hospital, or the very stressful situation that came up last night. More than anything else though, it is because today marks 3 months since leaving CFD. That’s a quarter of a year (!?!?), 92 days. My feelings today really mirror what I felt back then. I want to insert my journal entries from my last day there. These will be in italics throughout this post to help differentiate.

The CFD journey is officially over. I am so blessed to have 34 days with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. This was and will always be the best decision for me. God knew exactly what I needed. This is it. 100% true to this day. I think I’m able to appreciate my experience even more now that I am removed from it.

I want to believe all everyone said. I want to remember it forever and ever. That I am: a light, the official Michigan guide, kind, RESILIENT, courageous, strong, worthy, that I have changed, I can do this, a fun presence in the house, going to recover, overcome lots of things in my time here, have a bright future, have made so much progress, have to keep opening up. 

I want to believe these things ^ More than anything in the world

I’ll admit, I’ve had a difficult time believing any of this. I think part of it is not making an effort to remind myself. My goal will be to write these down somewhere I will read it often. I want to make encouragement, mantras, and positive attributes part of my daily life as it was in residential.

J (my therapist) – if you give a mouse a cookie… she knocked on the door of all my shame but I am the one who opened up. That shows my growth. She has hope for me to continue this. I am grateful for everything she’s done for me. I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I never could have let the shame out if I hadn’t had her. Maybe I would have just carried it forever. While there will never be anything outpatient like J’s shame train (choochoo!) group, I am continuing to explore my shame. I don’t want to live with it forever. EMDR is the current answer to this. I’m hopeful.

What has changed? A LOT

  • I am using my assertive voice
  • choosing recovery over vacation, my parents, what I want my summer to be like
  • I am letting go of the shame
  • I see that my family has perpetuated the shame
  • I am nourishing my body again
  • I can be trusted to eat on my own accord
  • I am using skills
  • the thoughts don’t fully control my life and I can see beyond them
  • I know how to lean on supports
  • I am closer to who I want to be
  • I am equipped
  • I have 34 days of trials, tears, setbacks, frustration, feeling like a failure, steps backwards, resorting to old ways, giving Ed a loudspeaker and more bu also 34 days of discovery, fighting, using skills, so many successes, backing down from Ed thoughts, opening up, checking in, and getting support
  • I am the Challenge Queen

I want to recreate this. What has changed post-discharge:

  • I’m nearly a month into school and doing very well, all things considered
  • I am putting my recovery first by adding in as much support as possible during each week
  • feeling empowered enough to make strides in my recovery all on my own
  • honesty: some slippage, but this is a normal thing that doesn’t need to continue
  • being BRAVE and making strides I haven’t been able to do for a long time
  • I have been with only outpatient care for exactly 4 weeks and I didn’t start sinking right away like before
  • I am proud of my summer instead of embarrassed
  • slowly getting back into yoga
  • giving myself a break and time to rest
  • overall I have maintained the mood improvements that came in residential
  • I feel stronger than I have in a long time, outside of treatment
  • I have hope
  • I am listening to my dietitian and therapist (sometimes reluctantly)

I don’t think I could reflect on CFD without reminiscing. I miss it. I’ll think of memories and laugh, smile, cry, feel proud of myself or others, and experience pretty much every emotion out there. Residential is this life-changing experience. I get emotional thinking about it because my entire stay was full of finally feeling again. I was in a very vulnerable state while also being pushed and challenged. I haven’t ever been a part of anything like it. Right now, I can’t look back at my journal without crying because of the impact it’s had on me. I will never, ever take this all for granted. Instead, I am forever grateful for the opportunity and everyone who made my experience what it was.

These three months have been nowhere near perfect, and I am okay with it. Recovery is a process that’s led to more ups and downs than any rollercoaster. The difference now is that I am fighting like hell. My worst days still are better than any from last year.  CFD (and subsequently, PHP and IOP) helped me build a strong foundation. Now I am just building on to that and continuing in this process.

I will end this post the same way I ended my journal 3 months ago: This is the beginning of a beautiful, freer life.

Long, long overdue update.

I really hate not blogging for so long (besides one off topic post), but I also needed a break. I’ve been spending hours upon hours of each day living and breathing treatment. 4.5 weeks in residential, another 3.5 in PHP, and now I’m back at IOP. It’s exhausting, to say the least, but now I am finally ready to explain the last 2+ months.

I left for residential on May 25th. Thankfully, I was able to once again be admitted into the same SoCal location as before. It felt like returning home. Around half the staff is the same, so I immediately received half a dozen hugs. Knowing everything about the program meant a hell of a lot less anxiety compared to last time. At the same time, I had plenty of worries about the other girls. The time before brought some not so great drama filled days, so I desperately wanted to avoid that. I was blessed with 5 of the most amazing women I have ever met. They made the experience better than I imagined. More importantly, though, was the staff and what happened because of them. My therapist was a perfect match. She gave me the confidence and safe space to speak about the most shameful memories and past that I’ve never talked about before. She listened and believed me. She comforted me, inspired me, pushed me, and supported me. I could not be more grateful, so I still update her now. One counselor in particular was a complete blessing to me. She’s a strong Christian and compassion just oozed out of her. I also shared some of the same things I did with my counselor, and actually with her first. There are about a million more things I want to write about regarding resi, but I’ll save that for another post (or 20 🙂 ). For now, I’ll just end with the fact that I learned more than I thought possible. I knew I would change, but I guess I just didn’t expect it as much as I should have.

I discharged from CFD on June 26th. I panicked when I first found out the date around 10 days prior. Suddenly, going home was actually on the radar. An immense fear of the same environment came over me. I felt stronger, but not enough to handle everything so soon. We had always planned on just starting IOP three days a week after. That Monday before I brought up the idea of heading to ERC’s Chicago PHP program. It was a huge risk to go there, but ultimately it’s what was best. After spending under a day and a half at home, I was off to Chicago, with the support of my treatment teams from CFD and home.

I struggled immediately after admitting to ERC. The program was completely different than CFD: three times the size, therapy just once a week, a new mealplan I hated. Those first almost two weeks were miserable. I had pretty much given up hope of gaining anything. I wasn’t open in the least bit. Something changed in me, and suddenly I wanted to work hard again. I took notes and participated and challenged my ED 24/7. I realized that the chance to come was a privilege. I could have been home, but instead I worked hard to get more treatment. My original plan was just under 3 weeks of time. I used money as the main factor in why I couldn’t stay. The team didn’t buy it, and offered financial help to keep me longer. I accepted. I ended up getting more out of the last 2ish weeks there than I imagined. I settled in, made friends, worked hard. I again am grateful for the opportunity to stepdown instead of coming straight home. I left the 24th with even more growth under my belt.

I started IOP the day after my discharge. Now I’m there twice a week for the full day and therapy 2 days. It’s been almost two weeks and I’m mostly used to being home. This certainly isn’t easy. Adjustments aren’t my favorite, and here I am with some huge ones. I am just beginning to mourn leaving treatment. I am “treatment sick” terribly. I miss it all: the support, staff, girls, safety, weather, adventure, challenges, essentially just about everything. This may be the hardest part now. I am figuring out how to do it (mostly) on my own. I want this. I need this. I will put all that I’m able so I can finally live.

It’s just over 4 weeks until nursing begins. This last bit of summer needs to have the same amount of effort as the first 10 weeks. My life, my future, and my freedom depends on it. Spending all of summer in treatment wasn’t anywhere close to what I had hoped going into it, but this has given me a fighting chance and a will to live. I am blessed.

IOP: a fate more difficult than residential

By Thursday, I still hadn’t connected with my emotions, broken down, or processed the fact that I am on medical leave with mandatory (if I want to stay out of further treatment and continue school) IOP. I had so much on my mind that I couldn’t handle it. The time came when I was meeting with the new dietitian. I was randomly called out in the middle of AT/process after lunch. Being under the impression that I was able to continue with L made it a surprise, one that I never wanted. I finally broke over the change and lack of control in my life now. It was then that new L (to make things more confusing of course, ha) confirmed what I had already been thinking about, “this is going to be harder than residential.” We talked about how much of an uphill battle I’ll be facing these next few months. I cried from being so completely overwhelmed. This is a harsh reality to face.

This may seem odd to anyone who has never experienced multiple forms of treatment. Residential means being stripped of your freedoms, weeks or months away from home, and a complete overhaul of your behaviors. It certainly is hard to make an abrupt change and carve out the time to do so, however, one that’s just as cushy as it is drastic. You are stuck in this place that has all of the support you could possibly need, 24/7 to be exact. It’s actually pretty difficult NOT to experience at least some growth, even if that may be forced.

IOP is a 180 from residential. In my case, I will got 3 times a week (M, T, R) from noon until 5-5:30. We have 3 groups plus lunch/snack each day, along with weekly individual therapy and dietitian appointments. The entire rest of the week we are solely responsible for following meal plans, avoiding behaviors, and applying all we’ve learned. There is no one to check in on us multiple times a day or monitor our meals. If I didn’t finish a meal in residential I would only get a supplement. On the other hand, not adhering to my meal plan or otherwise slipping backwards now can lead to forced inpatient or residential and medical leave. I have major work to do and much to lose.

I always assumed my time at CFD would be the most challenging thing I have ever done treatment-wise. How could it not? I traveled across the country and gave up school. Adjusting to the new life that is residential was unlike anything else I’ve experienced. As much of a struggle this all was, it really was the best environment for recovery. In no way is recovery ever easy, but the amount of support in residential makes it significantly more attainable and manageable.

I can fully see how different IOP is. The effort to show up for my recovery is substantial. I have just 15 hours a week in treatment with 3 meals and 3 snacks. I need to make every single second count. The work doesn’t stop there. I cannot go home and just return fully to the ED. Motivation is key and if I fail to find it I am looking at IP or residential in the very near future. No one can make me recover now.

Where do I go from here? I could become consumed by fear and hopelessness, knowing of what’s to come. Giving up is absolutely the easiest option; however, it is not the one I choose to make. I am going to fight. I’ve been through years of struggle – times where I never believed I could make it through, but I did. IOP seems impossible right now and this may be my hardest battle yet. Even so, I will hold on to hope for a healthier future.

 

I’m doing this all on my own.

A few weeks into residential, my therapist and I were discussing discharge plans. She asked whether I would be able to head back to Forest View’s PHP, then step down to IOP, and eventually go to therapy twice a week with a dietitian, etc. Right away I told her none of those things were possible. I started school the week after I left resi. PHP (and IOP) is 45 minutes away from home, and although it’s close to my school, I didn’t have a car at the time. Of course there is also the issue of school. I had to sign papers that I would come back for interim or forfeit enrollment at Calvin. There is no way I could give up my college career. Her concern immediately grew. Instead of having a month or more of step-down care, I went from 24/7 support to therapy once a week, and no dietitian for the first few weeks.

This was a hard pill to swallow. I knew all along that step-down care wouldn’t ever happen, but being so close to discharge it started to sink in more. I changed and grew immensely at residential, more than anyone expected. I was the girl I had never seen before in my sickness. Even so, the real word is scary. You aren’t in a bubble with people to help you through urges, meals, meltdowns. I no longer had groups with others who understood exactly what I’m going through. I dropped from a safe place into a world of triggers and little help.

I tried to be as optimistic as possible as discharge crept closer. There were looming fears I couldn’t shake: dining hall eating, being back at school in general, the food police, being so fat/bigger than before. I was originally going to leave the Monday before Christmas. That caused me the most worry of all. How would I be able to jump right back into a holiday after only four days out of treatment? My therapist pulled me into her office the Wednesday before I was supposed to discharge and gave me the best news possible: insurance approved an extra week. I cried feeling so blessed by this opportunity. We had to share my decision with my parents. That was a difficult conversation and is still full of negative emotions on their part. I mostly ignored it because to me getting the most time at residential as possible was going to add more confidence and motivation to my recovery.

Unfortunately, nothing CFD did to prepare me for the real world could fully do so. Coming home meant uncertainty and outcomes both good and bad. If I gave up or gave into anorexia I would just end up back where I started. On the other hand, finding the strength to fight with all I am meant finding the girl I had lost so many years ago.

Leaving residential and going straight back to completely outpatient has been challenging. I no longer had the cushy protection to help me not use behaviors or restrict. I wasn’t in treatment for 8 or 4 hours each day. No one was there to ensure I ate enough.

The thing is, by much less support (and more of a drastic change because of it) after residential I have had to own my recovery. Sure, I still had people cheering me on and did therapy, but that was only an hour of professional and then the meals I had with my family, as far as physical support goes. I so appreciate everyone who has been there for me; however, it never will be the same as being in residential or treatment in general. I completely am on my own now.

I have grown but also struggled these last almost 10 months post CFD. I miss it, or at least some aspects. Groups definitely top that list. I feel more alone now that I don’t have people to under­­stand me. (Luckily that is changing as I attend 2 support groups now). I’ve looked through my journals and pictures from residential sometimes and just bawl, longing for any part of that program to return. About a month ago I drove to Forest View and sat in the parking lot. I so wanted to have the safety, support, and even the dreaded ensures. Also, and really surprising/confusing/weird, I miss Dr. VH?!? He was a hard ass and somewhat mean but holy cow do I miss him telling it like it is and threatening me. I honestly thought about checking myself into inpatient and just riding it out for a week so I didn’t have to face reality. I know that’s really not how I felt about inpatient at the time and I don’t plan on returning ever. For whatever reason sitting there brought up all of the good things about my time in that building and blocked out anything bad (aka most everything I experienced). More than anything it was be realizing I was so close to what parts of treatment I missed the most: groups, 24/7 care, supervised meals, being with others the same as me.

I am currently taking some steps backwards as the fall goes on. My thoughts are very negative and consumed by ED, depression, and anxiety. I am doing my best to take care of myself by going to support groups, spending time with people I love, taking another try with a dietitian, relaxing some, and eating as well as I can. Realizing all I have and haven’t done since discharge gives me motivation to keep going. I haven’t had any sort of treatment other than therapy/occasional dietitian, and I have done well without it. I haven’t needed to return to treatment. I have had so much more energy and don’t look or feel like a zombie.

I am very proud of myself for this progress. I’m in no way saying that I’m better than someone who has had step-down treatment after residential. I wish sometimes (especially during lapses in recovery) that I would have been fortunate enough to. I felt that was unfair for a long time. Now, my feelings are very different. I am glad that I came right out. I am continuously choosing and working towards recovery each day because I want it.

I was so certain I would end up back inpatient or residential without any good aftercare plan., but I didn’t. I survived each day and made it through on my own. I continue to do this all on my own. Little by little, I am finding strength on the hard days because I came home from residential and went straight back to real life.

Life After Residential – 6 months out (!?!?!?)

Holy cow. 6 whole months since I signed papers, hugged the staff and friends, and stepped on a plane to enter back into the real world. It feels like just yesterday and a million years ago. There isn’t a moment where I’m not thankful for all I learned during my time at CFD, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. Realizations in the past sis months:

Motivation for recovery lessens when things start to get hard after the “honeymoon phase.” Much like the spiritual high you receive coming back from church camp, the recovery high after residential fades away. Real life doesn’t come with 24/7 support, a ban on any diet/food/calories/exercise talk, distracting table games, lack of mirrors, others who 100% understand you, and therapy every single day. Without the extra push to recover it has been hard to keep at it. I start shifting toward using exercise to cope and believing a little restriction is okay. Thankfully I’ve now learned to keep motivation up by focusing on my goals and doing recovery for me.

I can get out of a relapse. I feel stronger than ever since beating my first relapse. Seeing my weight was a huge trigger, one that could have sent me into a deep pit I couldn’t get out of. Fortunately, I found my strength in myself through Him. I deserve recovery and I have so much life ahead of me. I don’t need to turn to my eating disorder to deal with things. I can fight urges. In previous relapses, I never wanted to or thought I would be able to fight. There was an entire year spent on the edge of being forced into treatment, FV round 2, and residential. I was sick and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. A huge factor now is knowing what recovery is like: freedom, joy, truly living, despite struggles.

I am capable on my own. I have relied on therapists, dietitians, friends and mentors, the entirety of treatment staff. While that was absolutely needed during residential and as I transitioned back to life on the outside, it isn’t at all realistic or healthy long-term. At some point I had to take control and responsibility for myself. I can’t have therapy everyday. Sometimes I have gone two weeks. Sure I have had days where I needed someone to rescue me, and then I did get support from others. As time has gone on that hasn’t been the case. I journal, manage my emotions in a healthy way, fight urges, talk to friends about anything but my eating disorder. Heck, today in therapy we didn’t focus solely on the ED and I was able to work through anxieties and other things. I really can’t explain how amazing and empowering it feels being able to stay healthy mostly on my own.

I can share about my eating disorder in a way that isn’t a sad story that I feel is burdening others. Before, I told others about my ED and MH issues out of necessity. I needed support and for people to avoid diet talk. Some relationships were built and consumed by my sickness. I felt guilty for sharing my story because I was broken. I haven’t actually told anyone new in person about this yet, but I am planning that very soon. I’ve prayed about it, and I am going to tell my favorite from work. She has noticed the difference in me now and I want to let her in. I feel such joy about all I have accomplished. Why wouldn’t I want to share openly how I have become resilient through God’s strength? Instead of “look what I am going through” it is “look at what I’ve conquered that’s made me into the person I am today.” I am blessed by this change.

There is no perfection in recovery; I am a work in progress. This is kind of cliché but also true. I have had countless slip ups, even in the past two months coming back from my relapse. Just like my self harm recovery, I have days where I follow urges and compulsively exercise/restrict. These things are normal. I can’t expect myself to be completely recovery-minded 110% of the time nor allow others expectations to affect me negatively. I have learned to forgive and accept my failures in the same way I celebrate my successes. It isn’t a linear process in the slightest.

I am different from the girl who left treatment 6 months ago. (Not talking about my body here). My dreams have multiplied as I realize how much more I am capable of now. I am working very hard to not let food be the main focus in my life. Sure, I probably think about it more often than the average person, but it in’t anywhere near when I first left treatment. Until a month or so ago I was still counting exchanges and being rigid in my diet.I have conquered many fears since coming home. Some examples: being able to eat a healthy amount around basically everyone without struggling (much), trying former fear foods, openness about my story, looking at my body in the mirror. I feel so much joy. I never expected or dreamed of this. I wake up happy, enjoy my job, talk with people, find happiness everyday. I definitely had more a more positive mood coming out of resi but not like this. I have grown in self-love exponentially. Overall, I have been able to discover who I really am along this journey (not what the ED made me).

He makes recovery possible. I have struggled in my relationship with God, especially during my darkest points in my eating disorder. I felt abandoned and unworthy of His love. I am just now seeing how wrong I was. He has been there since Day 1. My faith and relationship with the Father is my number one now, not my ED. It is such a blessing.

It’s crazy to think of all the progress these 6 months have brought. I learned how to deal with everything in a healthy way and without relying on the ED in residential; however, this time has been applying those things. Each day I continue on my recovery journey which all began at a house in San Diego.

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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