This guide relies heavily on my own experience with recovery after discharge from an eating disorder team. However, it is for anyone experiencing recovery of any kind. Whether it’s from burnout, an injury or an eating disorder. Use this guide to help you as you move forward and adjust each pointer to best suit your situation.
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 to dig deeper into where it all began. While it was difficult, it was made possible and bearable by the presence of my wonderful therapist and treatment team. Now, two years 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 regard 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, dietician, occupational therapist, 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.
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?
This guide isn’t just for those in recovery from an eating disorder.
While I may rely heavily on my own experience of recovery, this guide can be used and adapted to any form of recovery.
You might find yourself constantly on the go, without a single moment to spare. Whether it’s a job that takes a lot more than the average forty hours, or you’ve got children that have been on holiday during Easter, you might find that your personal ”resources” are depleting. And quickly! Like a cup that’s almost empty, you could be closer to ”running dry” than you realise.
It’s important that we all recognise the signs that we need to step back and take some time. We think about the idea of recovery as something that we can do after the event. But being in recovery mode is an ongoing practice and should not just be relegated to quiet time during the night. We shouldn’t fight fires when they start, instead, we should act to prevent them from burning in the first place.
This guide will help you get into and stay in recovery mode.
Eight + Ways to maintain recovery after discharge.
Stay away from the content you know will be triggering.
If you know certain movies, creators, books or artwork will trigger you, 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 they’re more likely to relapse into that mind frame.
Establish a routine.
It’s important to build a routine around healthier habits and things that soothe our souls. That could be a healthy exercise, an eating routine, or soft rituals such as reading before bed or painting in the evenings after work. Of course, it’s also important that we are able to step away from these if need be. Plans change and life moves whether we’re ready or not. We should be able to take an evening off or eat out of sequence, otherwise, it can become an unhealthy crutch.
Routine is a fine line and while it can be a helpful tool, it can also become an obsession.
Engage with friends who support your recovery.
This can be a difficult step if you’re a people-pleaser. 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 twenty-twenty-one, there was the pandemic which meant more time locked indoors and away from the people who hurt me. And magically, against all odds, this resulted in a complete change of mindset, and attitude and led me to a much happier place. Even now with rules eased and contact to be made, the positive changes have remained. But not without continued and ongoing work.
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.
Recognise When Stress Hits You Hard.
Part of the problem we’ve all got is thinking that we just need to keep pushing through stressful situations. We can worry about the fallout later, right? But when we do this, we’re wearing ourselves down and we don’t think about rebuilding ourselves back up. That is until we feel like we’ve gone twelve rounds with our stresses and emotions.
This is why recognising when you’re about to feel overwhelmed by something allows you to put the things in place to stop it from getting worse. Lots of people swear by CBD oil, but others could benefit from going into themselves and relaxing with deep breathing or meditation.
Whatever works for you, it’s important to recognise that when you feel you’re digging a massive hole for yourself, rather than waiting until you are fifty feet under, you can use the right tools to fill up that hole back up.
Find recovery resources in your community.
They don’t necessarily have to be aimed at your specific addiction! You can attend meetings in regard 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.
Look After Yourself, Even if You Don’t Feel Like It.
If we feel stressed out because of life or a particularly difficult time, it’s at this point that you need to know how to look after our bodies. Knowing the things that hinder your abilities, whether it’s gluten intolerance or too much caffeine are all things that can be minimised. Prioritising your physical health by eating healthy regular meals and getting enough sleep can help take the edge off, especially when you don’t feel like doing anything.
Even putting clean clothes on every day allows you to look in the mirror and view yourself as someone that is worth treating well. We have to remember that our minds will reflect the things we put into them. If you constantly beat yourself up verbally, your brain is going to throw out bile. Do the little things like this, even if you don’t want to.
I am a big self-care advocate! Before my breakdown in twenty-eighteen 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.
Connect to things that light your soul on fire.
We can work until it’s time to go to sleep, in which case, we’re not doing everything we can to prioritise ourselves. Hobbies are an amazing thing for your mental health. If you’re feeling particularly anxious take the time to recognise that you’re worth prioritising. Even if you spend ten minutes doing something that you truly enjoy, this is enough to allow you to feel like you have nourished yourself.
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.
Celebrate your successes.
No matter how small, your successes are worth celebrating. I was given a new department to work with in my day job. There’s no extra money or title involved, I simply get to work in an area that gives me early starts and a set purpose. It’s a grocery store, so it’s nothing flashy. Yet I feel like I’ve succeeded! Even if it’s just to ensure that no one picks up bad apples!
Take time to acknowledge your progress and successes. Be proud of yourself for the hard work you’re putting in, and know that every small step forward is a step in the right direction.
Have you any additional tips for maintaining recovery after discharge?
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.