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The Work Doesn't End When You Get Home From Eating Disorder Treatment

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My son came home from treatment from an eating disorder residential facility in Denver after being gone for four months. Getting him back home felt like my birthday, Christmas and Easter all wrapped into one special day!

It was a true gift. Friends called and emailed wishing us well. Each wanted to support us as we matriculated back into the world he had abandoned so abruptly to get treatment. People were eager to great him, but respected that the integration needed to be slow and methodical to ensure his transition went smoothly. To explain what is involved in this integration is daunting and even incomprehensible to friends and family who have never been faced with such challenges.

The phone rang often and people truly rallied when we first got him home. But as we got into our daily pattern, suddenly it became deathly quiet.

Our days and nights were fixated on following a rigid meal plan. This consisted of three meals and three snacks timed perfectly. Ensuring safety and compliance after meals was just as important. Keeping him distracted and busy was the goal to ensure his eating disorder did not permeate his mind, calling him to act on behaviors of restricting or purging. Each night after dinner was filled with a board game, or a movie or sitting side by side reading to pass the time and ensure all nutrients infiltrated his body and any bad thoughts were blocked out. We locked all bathroom doors as a safety net to ensure we were working our recovery and safety plan. At bed time, we would accompany him to his bathroom and observe while he washed his face and brushed his teeth. We would tuck in him by 10 p.m. in order to ensure he was rested for school. Often, we would wait up just to ensure that he entered into a deep slumber before trailing off to our own bedroom to grab our own much needed rest.

We refused to leave him alone and date nights were not as frequent as we were used to. This pattern is what we titled our “new normal.” We are now in the third month of this new normal and while we have relaxed a bit, we never stop worrying his eating disorder will repay us a visit. On certain days it does. Eating disorders are never quite gone for good. They seek a crack in the armor are always looking for a way to penetrate the mind. Recovery is a journey.

What is most interesting in working a recovery plan is that while you are spending every waking moment ensuring things are going according to plan, the world forgets the previous months and assumes that because the patient has returned home from treatment, they are recovered and the work is done. Invitations come and go and are politely refused. It is amazing to see the shocked look on our friends’ and families’ faces when they hear what our life entails these days. They have no idea this is what recovery takes.

Committing to this process is selfless and all consuming. If you want recovery to stick, there is no other option. Aligning with your spouse is critical to preserve your peace of mind. I am fortunate my husband and I are in this together like a lock and a key. For many families that is not the case. I can only imagine how much harder it is in these cases. Whether it is an eating disorder, alcoholism or drug addition, life as you know it does not return for quite some time. The day you work for is the day they are breathing on their own without the parent as their oxygen mask.

Helping a loved one be successful in recovery is hard work. The risk is just too high. The thought of another relapse is frightening. Not being committed could mean the difference between success and failure for the child. It is not for the faint of heart but, when you love your child unconditionally, it is just what you do.

Originally published: July 12, 2016
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