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15 Things Anyone Who's Been in Eating Disorder Treatment Probably Knows to Be True

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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 741741.

If you don’t have an eating disorder, you likely haven’t experienced the weird, wacky, (occasionally) wonderful world of eating disorder treatment.

Because eating disorder treatment is a world of its own, here are 15 things anyone who’s been in treatment probably knows to be true.

1. When you arrive in residential treatment, you might not know what to expect.

How many times do you eat per day? What the heck is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)? Do you at least get to keep your phone? And why is everyone talking about their “observation level?” Don’t worry, though — you’ll figure it all out soon!

2. You’re asked to fill out heaps of paperwork.

Consent to treatment, HIPAA compliance, financial responsibility. Within your first day or so, you’ll probably feel like you’re drowning in boring legal forms. The reviewing and signing will be over before you know it though — and then you’ll finally get to the good stuff: Treatment!

3. Eating in front of strangers might be scary at first.

You might wonder if those unfamiliar clients who barely know your name are watching you eat or judging your food choices, especially if you’re chowing down on Oreos while everyone else opted for carrots. But you’ll soon learn that everyone else probably feels just as apprehensive about you as you do about them. The awkwardness won’t last too long though.

4. You probably spend a lot of time in the bathroom.

Within a few days of entering treatment, you might feel like every hour, you have to make a mad dash to the restroom to do your business. Your catchphrase? “Please open the door quickly; I need to go now!”

You’ll soon learn your new bathroom habits are just a result of the re-feeding process, not a symptom of the disease you diagnosed yourself with on WebMD.

5. And you may spend a lot of time talking about what you do in the bathroom.

Whether you’re showing the facility staff your poop (so they can log your bowel movements) or celebrating your newfound lack of constipation with your fellow clients, you know that reaching a big BM milestone is definitely brag-worthy.

6. You probably have to get vulnerable about your life.

Whether you’re presenting a timeline of your life, sharing your difficult relationship with your body or opening up to your therapist about a defining moment in your disorder, you’ll likely have to be more open with others than you’ve ever been in your life. The moment you reveal your deepest, darkest secrets and see everyone’s support though, you know your candor is valuable to your recovery.

7. But you know that treatment can also be a lot of fun.

Whether you’re teaching a new client your favorite “table games,” bonding with your peers over how ridiculous treatment is or laughing over inside jokes with your treatment besties, you’ll discover that treatment isn’t all therapy, fear and food exposures.

8. You’ll probably break down at least once.

Whether you miss your family, your eating disorder is getting stronger or your therapy session brings up repressed memories, you might hit a point where you feel you just can’t keep going. You might cry, scream or argue with staff, but you’ll ultimately reset, refresh and surrender to the process.

9. You’ll likely learn new coping skills.

When you come into treatment, every therapy modality might sound like alphabet soup to you (DBT? CBT? ACT? W-H-A-T?) But even though the different types of therapy may seem confusing and boring at first, all of those “therapy mouthfuls” can teach you important coping skills.

Thought records! Throwing ice outside! Opposite action! By the time you discharge from treatment, you’ll likely have a whole new set of skills to help you combat your eating disorder.

10. You may learn to appreciate the small things.

Did you finally get to flush the toilet without staff supervision? After weeks of waiting, do you get to go on a mindful walk? Do you get to shave your legs for the first time in three weeks? Whether your team lowered your observation period or you have new movement goals, every small step forward is a celebration.

11. Your friends might not understand your life in treatment.

It might be difficult to see Instagram photos of your friends smiling after hikes or trying out new restaurants because you likely don’t have the time or the opportunity to do the same. You may feel overwhelmed when your bestie confides in you after you’ve endured a long day of food exposures or express frustration when they make plans without you. But when you tell them how you feel, they just might start to understand your perspective and change their behavior.

12. But your treatment friends probably do “get it.”

Your fellow clients likely understand the changes in your body, your perspective and your relationships because they’re living them, too. They’ll be right by your side with kind words and big hugs on your hard days, which is basically the best feeling in the world.

13. Watching your new friends discharge from treatment can be heartbreaking.

You’ve developed such a strong bond with your treatment friends in the past few weeks and now they’re leaving you!? How could they!?  But truthfully, even though it hurts that you may never see your fellow clients again, you’re probably excited for them to continue their recovery journey — and you might even exchange numbers and emails so they don’t seem so far away.

14. You might experience “treatment senioritis.”

When the insurance company is pushing back, you have a huge discharge planning packet and 17 unfinished therapy assignments to complete, it’s tempting to just take a nap instead. After all, your body and mind are probably tired and treatment’s likely made you an excellent napper — so why not spend your last four days shirking your responsibilities? But somehow, you hunker down and (mostly) do the work, even though you may rather not.

15. Leaving treatment can be bittersweet — but it’s worth the wait.

After several weeks of eating, sleeping, opening up, laughing, crying, bonding and planning your future, it’s finally time to say goodbye. You may feel anxious about the future, excited to “step down” and sad to leave the place you’ve called “home” and the friends you’ve called “family” for so long. But even though your time in treatment is over, you likely feel hopeful about the next steps in your recovery journey. You’re officially ready to conquer outpatient!

Getty Images: Anna Ismagilova

Originally published: November 22, 2019
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