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What I've Learned Since Leaving Residential Eating Disorder Treatment

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

One hundred days ago, I walked out of a house in Anderson, Indiana, amidst bubbles, cheers and hugs (but no pictures cause HIPAA). I left a place that had become home and people who had become like family to go back to my normal life, and I was scared. I had been at Selah House for almost seven weeks, and I had found life, peace, freedom and hope I had been desperately lacking when I entered treatment. I was terrified of losing what I had found at Selah, and it was so hard for me to imagine my “normal” life without my eating disorder.

The day I discharged from Selah, I had a commencement ceremony with the other clients, the Selah staff, my family and my treatment team. The people at my commencement were a few of my biggest supporters, and I will never forget the words they told me as I started out on my recovery journey. My therapist picked out the necklace in the picture with three words she wanted me to remember as I left Selah — “wisdom” to use the things I had learned, “friend” to be the friend to myself that I am to others, and “harmony” to live at peace with and in my body.

Today, as I look back at my first 100 days out of residential treatment, I realize how much I have needed these three words and many, many others. These first 100 days have been hard, and I am grateful for the opportunity today to reflect on these days and seven specific things I have learned.

1. Sometimes, recovery feels awful.

Just because I’m in recovery and went to treatment, it does not mean everything is better and my life is amazing. An eating disorder is a way of living and coping with life, and taking that away does not feel good. I feel so many more emotions than before, and sometimes my eating disorder seems so much louder than it used to as I disobey it instead of letting it control me. Sometimes, eating food feels terrible because my body is not used to it, and anxiety does not help this situation out. I always have to be conscious of what and when I eat and of what I’m feeling, and recovery is often an exhausting battle. Sometimes, I really miss my eating disorder, and it’s so hard to want recovery. Recovery takes up so much mental and physical time. Not only do appointments take up a lot of time, but it’s a lot more work for me to make my brain go down a different path than for it to go down the one it is used to.

2. Most of the time, recovery is absolutely amazing.

For every hard thing about recovery, there are so many good things that make it worth it. I don’t feel so alone as I try to hide that anything is wrong with me. I have hope I was made for more than this way of living, I don’t have to plan my life around workouts and skipping meals. I don’t have to lie to my friends and family. I don’t have a huge list of food rules that are impossible to perfectly follow. I’m not hurting myself. I don’t wake up every day wishing I didn’t have to face the day with myself. I can focus so much better in classes. I have the energy to laugh, talk, think, and move. I’m no longer always believing that the voice I hear in my head is telling me the truth.

3. Vulnerability is key.

In my eating disorder, I felt isolated even though I had great friends and a loving family. I was scared to let anyone know something was wrong. Now, I still have bad days, but I can talk to someone about it. This makes all the difference. Being known by people allows for true connection, and I have seen this over and over again in the past 100 days. Being vulnerable can be wildly scary, but it is so worth it.

3. Give yourself grace.

I have had good days in recovery, and I have had bad days. I have messed up plenty. But, as my therapist frequently tells me, not all things are black and white. I cannot expect perfection in recovery; something that took so long to develop will not go away in a few months. I have had bad days where I have felt like I am a failure at recovery, but I have had people in my life gently remind me that one bad day, week, month or even year cannot undo the work I have put in and the change that has happened in my life. Beating myself up for a mistake only makes my eating disorder stronger, but viewing myself with the same grace God gives me allows me to move past a struggle. I have adopted a truth that one of the other girls at Selah clung to during treatment: “grace upon grace.” This phrase has been such an important truth for me when I get down on myself for slipping up in recovery.

5. Let yourself be loved.

Wow, God has blessed me with some amazing people in my life. In the past 100 days, I have actually opened myself up to people in my life and let myself be known and loved. We truly were created for community, and I am really thankful for the community God has given me to walk this journey of life with. Most importantly, for the first time in the past 100 days, I have opened myself up to the immeasurable love of God. It truly changes so much about the way I personally live and view my world.

6. Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides.

One of my therapists told me this phrase this summer, and it has stuck with me through a lot. Comparison is so hard for me. Many times I have gone to my therapist frustrated that everyone else can eat “normally,” handle their lives perfectly, and be so happy while I’m over on the other side of the room falling apart. However, I can’t compare the way I feel on the inside with someone else’s outside. They have their own race to run, and I need to run mine (or walk or whatever feels good to your body.)

7. Finally, recovery is brave.

Some days, I feel afraid, weak and tired. I feel anything but brave. But, even when I can’t see it for myself, I see it in the lives of my beloved friends who are walking this journey of recovery with me; they are so brave. Brave doesn’t necessarily mean always feeling strong and fearless. Brave is giving up a comfortable yet harmful way of living because you believe God created you for something more. Brave is believing recovery is possible, even on the darkest days. Brave is admitting you need more help. Brave is trying a medication when you know it could help but it scares you. Brave is leaving a comfortable, safe treatment center because you know that’s not how you were created to live. Brave is eating a fear food. Brave is sitting with your feelings. Brave is being vulnerable. Brave is admitting you can’t do something. Brave is saying no. Brave is letting yourself cry. Brave is telling someone when you’re struggling and letting them be with you. Brave is choosing recovery every day.

So yup, 100 days out of residential down. Here’s to a million more.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Originally published: November 12, 2017
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