To the Person Entering Eating Disorder Residential Treatment (Possibly for the First Time),
Take a deep breath. This is going to be hard. It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. If it isn’t hard, it isn’t working. You aren’t getting better. That’s one way you’ll know. You’re going to be pushed to challenge and extend yourself in ways you never thought possible.
Take things one day at a time. You don’t have all the strength now to get through your whole admission. You’ll gather strength as you go. Consistent nourishment, emotional support, and rest will help.
Be prepared for gossip, popularity hierarchies, and mean girls. That happens everywhere, even in a professionally moderated space.
The food. Oh, the food. The food will frighten you. That’s part of having an eating disorder. With time and regular exposure to these foods, the fear will decrease. That’s how exposure therapy works.
You’ll feel like you want to crawl out of your skin at times. Your anxiety will be so pronounced that you might feel like you’re going to explode. This is normal. You’re doing hard work, and your eating disorder is being challenged. Sometimes, symptoms get stronger – and angrier – before they fade out.
The thing is, you can always go back to your eating disorder if life on the other side isn’t calmer, fuller, and brighter without the symptoms. It might be odd to hear an eating disorder psychologist say that, but you can always go back. Sometimes, it helps knowing that recovery has an escape hatch – hopefully, you won’t need to use it.
Listen to your providers, but at the same time, if something doesn’t make sense, ask for a rationale. You are entitled to respect and dignity.
If your residential treatment team promises you you won’t get fat or suggests weight loss is possible, tell them they’re feeding your eating disorder. These ideas have no place in eating disorder recovery – or anywhere, for that matter.
Don’t underestimate how scary it is to leave an eating disorder behind. Who are you without the disorder? How will you survive without it? Start to explore these concepts while you’re there.
You’ll probably want to fight or take flight. The urge to bolt will be high. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. One more group, one more meal, one more day. . .
Cater to your senses. Inhale oils and lotions. Use warm and cozy (and even weighted) blankets. Pick and peel apart that silly putty in your hands. Listen to upbeat or soothing music, nature sounds, and white noise. Do a puzzle. Watch something rhythmic and repetitive, like ocean waves, on a computer. Then watch mindless tv. Ask for a hug.
When it’s time to leave, honor your progress while recognizing the long and windy road that lies ahead. Follow through with aftercare. Anticipate more difficulty as you leave the bubble of residential treatment. Back in your life, and with decreased support, things will be more difficult. Your triggers will find you – guaranteed. It will be easy to cut corners. Keep yourself accountable. Ask for more help if you need it. Have compassion for yourself and your process. You’re doing the best you can and you can continue to challenge yourself to do better.