*I’m one of the lucky few to have attended eating disorder treatment and it’s important to remember that many people living with an eating disorder never have the opportunity. Both inpatient and outpatient services are at a breaking point here in the UK and Northern Ireland. Quite often even those near the point of death are rejected from help for a variety of reasons. Please bear this in mind and if you can, donate to your local eating disorder charity.*
It can be very difficult to maintain recovery after discharge from services. To go from a stable, secure environment, back to reality is without a doubt daunting. But sticking to the plan and maintaining recovery is possible with the right approach.
During eating disorder treatment I was taught to understand my triggers, symptoms and dig deeper into where it all began. While it was difficult at times, it was made possible and bearable by the presence of my wonderful therapist and treatment team. Now, several months after my formal discharge, I’ve managed to stay on the road to full recovery. This is a feat I’ve tried many times before and while I’ve managed a few years of quasi-recovery, I’ve never made it this far in regards to my mindset.
Why can life after treatment be difficult?
During treatment, you’re surrounded by a supportive and safe place to begin to understand and heal from the disorder. This often includes a team of professionals such as a therapist, psychiatrist, dieticians, occupational therapists, and even councillors. You may also be healing alongside other patients with similar issues if you’re an inpatient or attending day clinics. The support received in such an environment is often nurturing and therapeutic, if not also quite difficult at times.
But life after an eating disorder often means returning to the ‘real world’. And usually rather suddenly. It can be overwhelming to return to ‘normal’ daily life. If you attend inpatient treatment, the transition back into a world where diet culture is the norm and body bashing is around every corner can be daunting. How can one avoid being triggered if the whole world is talking about the latest celeb weight loss?
How am I able to maintain recovery away from the support system of my treatment team, you ask?
Your guess is as good as mine! But fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to actively push back against the triggering thoughts and maintain the positive steps you’ve made during recovery.
6 Ways to maintain recovery after discharge.
Stay away from content you know will be triggering.
If you know certain movies, creators, books or artwork will trigger the eating disorder mindset, then it’s best to avoid them. While we can’t remove all the triggers from our lives, there are some things we can choose to avoid. This includes things such as the Instagram influencers we follow, the websites we choose to visit, the media we consume, and even the environments we put ourselves into.
Think about the places you visit and the people you spend time with? If they’re constantly dieting, or you’re constantly exposed to negative body talk, then you’re more likely to relapse into that mind frame.
Engage with friends who support your recovery.
This can be a difficult step if you’re a people-pleaser like me. It took guts for me to admit that there were and continue to be certain people in my life who just aren’t good for my recovery. Things can become especially difficult if these people are your family. But recovery is all about making hard decisions and continuing to trod on against all odds. If you need to cut ties or simply reduce contact in order to remain well, then it’s simple. They either change how they interact with you, or you begin to remove them from your space gradually. As harsh as it sounds, it’s the only way.
Prior to my discharge in 2021 there was the pandemic which meant more time locked indoors and away from the people who continued to hurt me. And magically, against all odds, this resulted in a complete change of mindset, attitude and led me to a much happier place. Even now with rules eased and contactable to be made, the positive changes have remained.
What’s the takeaway here? The people we surround ourselves with can make or break our recovery. And as harsh as it may be, it’s time to cut off the dead leaves if you want to continue to grow.
Find recovery resources in your community.
They don’t necessarily have to be aimed at your specific addiction! You can attend meetings in regards to self-care, depression and even just wellness to feel the benefits. Our communities can have so much to offer in the most unlikely of places.
I personally have made use of our local Recovery College. They specialise in mediation, wellness, teaching you how to self-advocate etc. I’ve even utilised their Friday morning coffee dates over Zoom. Just the presence of others who may be going through similar issues can make you feel united and supported.
Connect to things that light your soul on fire.
Find what fills you with joy and run with it! If you love to write, start a blog. An avid painter? Grab a few old canvases or your iPad and go ham. There’s nothing like getting creative to channel all your energy, both positive and negative.
Utilise healthy coping skills.
We’re taught many coping skills during our time in treatment. These range from talking about the problem, to grounding exercises. In order to maintain recovery after discharge, we need to utilise these in times when they’re needed the most. This might be different for everyone depending on the situation, but in the heat of the moment, they can be easy to forget.
Don’t panic! That’s where taking a moment to assess how you’re feeling and the situation as a whole comes in. Remember to breathe. What can you do to alleviate these feelings? Why might you be feeling like this? Write your thoughts and feelings down if it helps.
Practice self-care often.
I am a big self-care advocate! Before my breakdown in 2018 self-care was only a phrase used by wellness gurus and celebrities. Now it’s on my daily to-do list! Self-care is in no way selfish – it’s essential! Need some tips? Check out any of these blog posts.