What to do when leaving treatment

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Congratulations on completing your inpatient eating disorder treatment! Getting this far is no small accomplishment, and you should be really proud of yourself. In fact, every day spent in recovery is a huge win. But you may find that it’s a lot harder on the outside world.

Meal plans are no longer mandatory. You aren’t constantly surrounded by fellow eating disorder sufferers anymore. And you may be trying to change, but your daily responsibilities could be the same. Now, though, you have to get through them without your old coping mechanisms.

If you’re anxious about going back to “normal” life, you are definitely not alone! Recovery is a lifelong process, and it’s something that you need to practice every day. The bad news is that you will find it challenging when you leave the safety of treatment. The good news is there’s a lot you can do about that.

Don’t expect everyone to get your recovery

You’ve been working on yourself, but the rest of the people in your life haven’t been. Even if your loved ones have come to family and friend sessions and are supportive, they probably won’t understand everything.

Don’t expect them to. The important thing is that you actually ask for what you need. And expect them to make mistakes. One recovering anorexic describes how her (very loving) mother still talks about skipping breakfast after an indulgent dinner. They’re not perfect – but neither are you.

Continue therapeutic treatment if you can

In rehab, you probably uncovered painful emotions or events. Chances are, you’re still processing them. You also need a space to talk about and practice your new coping mechanisms, and to release your old ones.

Therapy is the perfect place to do all that. Recovery is absolutely possible without it, and it isn’t always possible to continue when you go home. But if you can continue, it is strongly advised. You’ll be able to face more challenges and work on your personal development more deeply.

Work out a relapse prevention plan

Before you leave treatment, your counsellors will almost certainly have you write up a relapse prevention plan. Usually, this involves identifying different behaviours, resources and tools that you can use to maintain your recovery.

For example, you might need to identify bottom-line and warning behaviours. Respectively, these are indicators of a definite relapse and warning signs that you’re at risk of relapse. A bottom-line behaviour could be starting a new diet; a warning behaviour could be reading a weight-loss magazine.

You’ll also probably need to make a list of high-stress situations, places and people. With your counselling team, work out which ones you can eliminate, which you can take in small doses, and what to do when they’re unavoidable.

Finally, you’ll need to write down all the tools, strategies and resources that you have to prevent a relapse. These could maintain recovery even when you’re in a good place, or help when you’re in trouble. That’s the difference between calling a recovering friend to check-in and calling when you’re about to act out.

Other strategies could include writing up a meal plan for especially stressful situations, or journaling every day. You could also list the relaxation or anxiety reduction exercises that you’ve learnt here. Only put down what works for you – not everyone finds drawing soothing!

Stay in touch with your recovery community

Go to support groups, fellowship meetings, and (very importantly) aftercare groups. You’ll get to air your feelings with people who really do understand. At aftercare, you’ll have a chance to work out healthy solutions.

Try to socialise with the people you met in treatment and other recovery circles too. Being able to support each other as you deal with an eating disorder is truly priceless. And if you stay in regular contact, reaching out when you’re in a crisis will be so much easier.

Maintain a meal plan if you need to

Meal plans in especially stressful environments (like family holidays) are great, but you might want to continue doing them every day for a while. This can be really helpful if you’re struggling to structure your time. Discuss it in groups or with your therapist, and come off the plan gradually if you need to.

Take time for yourself

The journaling and relaxation exercises that you put in your prevention plan should happen regularly. Whatever helps you make a little time for yourself is important. Whether that’s having a cup of tea, meditating or doing something else is up to you.

The point is to make sure that you reconnect and check-in with yourself. Recovery is only possible if you can take responsibility for your feelings. And for anyone with an eating disorder, it takes a little work to figure out what those feelings are.

Be patient with yourself – recovery is tough

Nobody does this perfectly; that’s just not how healing from an eating disorder works. Be gentle with yourself when you experience setbacks. Also, you might not always know what is best for yourself. That’s why you should discuss your prevention plan with your treatment team.

Each time you get back up and keep going, you’re doing something great for your recovery. Try to affirm every little win, because they really are incredible. And the more time you spend in that mindset, the more you will see how true that is.