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The Part of Eating Disorder Treatment We Don't Talk About

This is something we don’t often talk about; how difficult it is to come back to the real world after being in residential or inpatient treatment. I started residential treatment for my eating disorder in July of 2018. It wasn’t until five months later that I was discharged and it took another four months until I was discharged from the partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. No one had warned me how it would feel coming back into the world after being under 24/7 care for so long.

It was probably the hardest part about treatment altogether.

When you’re in residential treatment, everything is monitored. We were given medications at specific times of the day. We sat down for meals and snacks at specific times of the day. Bed was at 10 p.m., 10:30 was “lights out.” Wake-up was at 6 a.m. every day with 15-minute showers, and we had to be ready for the day at 7 a.m., no later. There was a treatment team composed of a doctor, psychiatrist, therapists and a dietician. There were always two counselors on to keep track of everyone at all times, even during the night where we had bed checks. If you were not feeling well, there was a doctor. If your medications were off, there was a psychiatrist, and you saw your therapist four times a week.

My point is, a lot goes on in residential treatment and it becomes a bubble. You’re constantly in groups and your contact to the outside world becomes very minimal. But that’s exactly what people need at that level of care. It was really important for me to dive headfirst into treatment with no distractions.

However I was not prepared to re-enter the world after discharge.

And to no one’s fault, of course. No one can prepare you for what will happen until you’re in it. And at that point, it’s all about coping. I just didn’t realize how much coping I would have to do.

I wasn’t prepared to come back to my hometown where all of my triggers were. To come back to my family that I only got to see during family sessions and visiting hours. I wasn’t prepared to come back to my old job or walk past familiar houses and restaurants where I only remember being in the thick of mental illness.

I wasn’t even prepared on how to act in the world at all; how to present myself or how to be around others. I felt as though people expected a new me, as though I went to treatment and came back a different, better person. And I had no idea what that actually looked like.

I came out of treatment beating myself up for not being happier all the time or functioning all the time. I was confused as to why the medications I felt so good on in residential didn’t feel as good when I entered the world again.

But the truth is, that’s all OK. Life is not like residential treatment. And I had to learn that lesson by simply being back out in the world. It was a huge transition coming back from residential treatment and it takes time to adjust back to old life. But I promise it does get easier as time goes on. It just takes patience, trial and error and practice.

Getty Images photo via BerSonnE