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11 Things I Learned in Intensive Outpatient Treatment I Will Forever Carry With Me

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I’ve written a lot about my experience with intensive outpatient program treatment (IOP). My time in IOP was not only very much needed, but it taught me so much about myself and the world around me. Below I have explained 11 lessons I learned in IOP.

11. My emotions are there to help me.

One of the main exercises we did in IOP were “emotional sculpts.” This is where you assign one of the “Inside Out” emotion characters to each member in the group, you stand in the center of the room and you place the emotions in proximity to you based on how you feel them. The emotions act out or say whatever it is they have been saying to you in your mind, and then you get to rearrange them to how you need them to be. You change their actions and words to become positive so they are now on your side.

This exercise changed the way I view my emotions of fear, anger, disgust, joy, sadness, etc. By seeing them as a team, there to help me, it makes it easier to ride the waves of these feelings when they arise. It taught me to sit back and process each emotion and what they could be helping me with. It taught me  not to fear my emotions anymore.

10. Rest is essential.

I was very blessed to be able to take eight weeks off of work while I went through IOP and focused on getting better. I was intentional about using my time off to rest my body and my mind. I got into a healthier sleep habit/pattern. I got on medicine to help me get restful sleep because prior to my time off I was waking up every hour in the night. I allowed myself to nap when needed and to have days of staying in bed a little longer. I began to understand how rest can impact not only my mental health, but my physical health, too. I learned how much rest my body needs to thrive. Giving my body rest taught me how to listen to my body and to better care for myself.

9. It’s OK to reach out for help.

I have a type A personality. I have rigid expectations for myself, and I often feel as though I need to push myself to reach those. Asking for help has always been a huge struggle for me. Asking for help involves taking a risk, making yourself vulnerable and it often feels defeating. When I was offered the chance to do IOP, my pride and ego screamed, “No!” My mind kept telling me if I were to take this step, it would mean my mental health was unfixable, I was hopeless and there must be something “wrong” with me. I knew in my heart it was what I needed, but my pride got in the way for far too long.

By being humbled into the position of doing IOP, I learned not only is it OK to reach out for help, but when I do reach out for help, I will be able to see just how much people love and care about me. I learned and finally realized it takes strength and courage to reach out for help.

I’m living proof reaching out for help very well could be the best thing you ever do. Reaching out for help could be God’s way of blessing you with relationships and things you never even knew you needed. Reaching out for help could be a way for God to show you how much He loves you.

8. It’s OK to take care of myself.

Nobody can care for you the way you can care for yourself. Let that sink in for a moment. Nobody can take care of you the way you can care for yourself because they are not you. This was a huge revelation for me. Again, this wasn’t something I hadn’t ever heard before, but it was something I never allowed to take hold within me.

Prior to my time off, I had already begun to care for myself in the food I ate and getting more exercise; however, I wasn’t actually listening to my body. When I would go on diets, exercise, etc. in the past it was because I wanted to look better or I thought others would like me more if I lost weight. Unhealthy, right?

By taking time off of work, resting, going through IOP and learning to love myself, I began to want to take care of myself. When you love yourself as you are, you begin to want the best for yourself. I began to learn how to listen to my body. Thus, I learned not only that it is OK to take care of myself and put myself first in certain situations, but I learned I feel better when I do and can give more of myself to others when I do. Now, I am more in tune with my body and I know what my body needs. I love and care about myself now, thus I desire to be healthy and care for myself. It’s amazing what self-love and compassion can do for other all areas of your life.

7. Vulnerability opens doors.

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”  -M. Scott Peck

Like many people, vulnerability is a scary thing for me. It’s scary to risk your reputation, your heart and your relationships. I kept so many things bottled up inside for so many years for fear I would no longer be loved if I shared the dark parts of me with those I love so dearly. I was so very wrong. By sharing those very things with those around me, it allowed me to be loved more deeply than I could have ever imagined. It allowed me to have true community with those around me. To fully be seen and to be loved despite my faults, my sins, the things I thought made me unlovable, is so powerful.

6. Acceptance.

The activities and experiences I did in IOP helped me to learn to accept where I am at in life, the things that have happened in my life and who I am. It gave me such an appreciation and different perspective on the experiences I have had and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. I learned to accept myself as I am, so I can love myself, but also so I can move forward and continue to grow. If we do not accept who we are and where we are in life, we get stuck. Accepting where you are is the first step in moving forward because you know your starting point. By accepting yourself, you learn to also accept others.

Not only that, but I saw firsthand that by being vulnerable about my struggles, it opened the doors for others to feel comfortable enough to share in their own struggles with me. It created bonds and connections with others who were experiencing the very same thing I was. It encouraged trust and community. I now know vulnerability is the only way to have true community because it allows others to see and love all parts of you.

5. It’s OK to let go.

One of the most memorable experiences in IOP was the experience of letting go. We had to make a collage using words and pictures from magazines that represented things we were holding onto we needed to let go of. Once we all finished our collages, we sat in a circle and shared what each thing in our collage represented.

We all stood around a trash can. One at a time, we would hold our collage out over the trash can, share with the group the impact that holding onto those things had in our lives, and each time we shared a negative impact, a member in the group would place a hand on top of their hand. This was to represent the weight we feel when we hold on to things we shouldn’t. Finally, when everyone’s hands were pressing down, we had to answer the dreaded question: “Are you ready to let these things go?” When we were ready, the weights came off of the hand as we dropped the collage into the trash.

This experience will forever stay in my heart. It taught me it is not only OK to let go of things in our lives, but it is necessary in order to move on and make progress. When I am weighed down by things, I get stuck. By giving up control to God and letting go of those things, I am lighter and free to move forward.

4. Self-forgiveness.

Forgiveness is such a challenging thing to do for many people, myself included; however, in IOP I learned it is much easier for me to forgive others when they hurt me or do not meet my expectations, and the person I so rarely offer forgiveness and compassion to is myself. I learned to be able to offer true forgiveness and compassion to others, we have to first be able to offer compassion and forgiveness to ourselves. How can we love others deeply if we cannot first love the person we spend the most amount of time with?

I learned self-forgiveness is something I have to continually practice. I’m a type A personality. I hold myself to such high, unobtainable expectations and when I don’t meet them, I beat myself to a pulp. My self-talk used to be awful, and it’s definitely something I still struggle with; however, I’m more aware of the way it impacts me and am able to reframe my thinking. Just take a moment and think about what message you tell yourself when you make a mistake? Is it, “That’s OK, you’re human.” Or do you say something like, “You’re so ‘stupid,’ why did you do that?” Reframing the way I talk to myself and treat myself has made a way for me to be able to not only love myself, but it has opened the door for me to see myself the way God sees me. It has shown me a small glimpse of the kind of love He has for me.

3. I am not alone.

IOP taught me I am not alone in my struggles. No matter how many forums, Facebook groups or chats you have online with those who are struggling with similar issues, it cannot replace the connection of face-to-face interaction. I knew I wasn’t alone in my struggles with anxiety and depression before going into IOP, but connecting with people face-to-face who were in similar circumstances as me, was invaluable. Being surrounded and embraced by people who get it, have been there and thus have nothing but love and acceptance for you is something you can never replace with online communication. I am not alone, and you are not alone in whatever it is you are facing.

2. I can love myself.

Like many people, I have gone my entire life being my own worst critic. I offer so much compassion, empathy and forgiveness to others, but I beat myself to a pulp.

I learned to forgive myself for not meeting my own unrealistic expectations, my part in things that have happened in life and most importantly, I learned it is OK to have compassion for myself. I now know to listen to my body, care for my body and mind and to treat myself with the compassion and respect I give to others. When I view myself the way God sees me, when I look back on how far I have come, I can’t help but appreciate who I am and who He made me to be.

1. I am loved and accepted.

This wasn’t the first time I had ever heard or felt I was loved and could be accepted, but it was the first time in a long time I truly felt it in my soul. My IOP group became a little family. Everyone was there for similar reasons, so there was no judgment, just pure acceptance. It was the first time in a long time I felt like I wasn’t alone and felt like other people truly understood what I was experiencing. I was able to be vulnerable with them and I got nothing but love and acceptance in return.

Even though it wasn’t the first time I had heard these lessons, it was the first time in a long time I felt God reaching His arms around me and loving me via strangers. After finishing my last IOP session, I was filled with so many emotions. I wept the entire 45-minute drive home because I was filled with so much gratitude that God chose to love me in such a tangible way. I just kept thanking Him for using IOP to show me a glimpse of how loved I am. It’s a moment and feeling I hope to never forget.

If there is anything I want my readers to take away from this, it is this: reaching out for help does not mean you are weak, it means you are strong and courageous. Taking time to process life, who you are and what God is trying to show you is worth more than you can imagine. This life is but a glimpse in terms of eternity, so try not to get so caught up in work and life. Don’t keep pushing yourself until you are forced to stop and rest from illness or injury, begin resting and being present now.

If IOP is something you think you need, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for it. If you think community and vulnerability is something you need, share that with a trusted person in your life. I don’t think God wants us to just be busybodies, He wants us to be present and in deep community with Him and others. Please take care of yourself. You are the only you in this world, and you have one life. Live it well and know you are loved more than you could ever imagine.

Thank you so much for reading my rambles and supporting my work. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

As always, I am not a licensed therapist and these thoughts are all my own. If you are in crisis or feel hopeless, please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

You can follow my journey on Ramble Life.

Unsplash image by Anna Demianenko

Originally published: November 25, 2019
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