My experience of stepping down from the 24 hour residential level of care to a less intensive program for the first time was really tough. For three weeks in residential, I had been monitored closely. I had been held accountable for eating and taking responsibility for my recovery. I had never been left alone with food. When those three weeks were over (when my insurance deemed me ready to leave), I went home, where everything felt overwhelming. I was anxious about the lack of structure I would have without the safety net I felt in residential.
When I arrived home, some of the first things I realized were:
-I was not being watched 24/7
-There was no limited access to food, no locked cabinets, and no locked bathrooms
-Acclimating to the “outside world” was overwhelming
Returning home after residential was anxiety-provoking. I began attending school again. My first few days back to high school were very difficult. I ended up getting permission to attend half-days at school for a few weeks. The guidance counselor sent a note out to my teachers about where I had been (with my permission, of course) and they were very understanding. The majority of them talked to me about how they cared about my well-being and that the make-up work could be done in its own time.
However, being the perfectionist and diligent student that I was, I wanted to get the work done as soon as possible to feel caught up and not having it hang over my head. This was manageable when I was attending half-days of school and had ample time to work on things. When those few weeks of half-days were over, the work became a lot more stressful. In addition to starting school again, I was attending an outpatient program five nights per week, at a treatment center about an hour away from my house. I stayed up late into the night getting things done. Weekends were no longer for relaxing, either.
The academic portion of school wasn’t the only challenge I faced. I got a lot of questions from my peers about why I was out for so long. Not wanting to talk about my eating disorder, my go-to reply was, “I was sick.” Most people accepted that and didn’t ask more questions. Of course, there were some people that were envious that I got so much time off from school. Yes, it was ignorant and made me mad inside, but I was able to brush it off for the most part, because they didn’t have context.
During the course of treatment, I went through various stages of emotion:
Fear of having to eat and facing my eating disorder
Relief that I was getting the help I knew I needed
Questioning my decision to be there
Thinking “I can’t do this,” and “This is too hard.”
Starting to think that, just maybe, I could get better.
It took more than one time in treatment for me to get better. It took a lot of emotional and physical stamina. Treatment was where I became motivated to recover. It is where I met some amazing people. It is where I was exposed to my biggest fears. It was where I was forced to challenge my eating disorder and explore the reasons behind it. It was not easy by any means, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made the decision to get help.
Alison is a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and recovery. She graduated from Salem State University in 2015 with a bachelor's in psychology, and returns to the school annually to speak about eating disorders and share her recovery story. Learn more about Alison on our Blog Squad page.