Returning to “Real Life” after Treatment Discharge

Transitions are hard. Even for normative people, transitioning to a new state, a new job, a new life is beyond challenging. It tends to be disruptive emotionally and physically, causing exhaustion and frustration not only during the actual move but in the aftermath as one adjusts to the newness of it all. Dealing with these transitions in recovery is exponentially worse.

Treatment is all about structure. In Residential, every hour is planned, every meal is made for you – there is little autonomy, which can feel both aggravating and freeing. Fighting ED takes all your energy, and the rest that you have is dedicated to getting through programming and to working in therapy and – let’s be real – to simply nourishing yourself! You need that structure, and you need the support. Making decisions would only add to an already incredibly overwhelming process.

By the time you step down to PHP, you have a bit more autonomy. More independent living, more choice in how you spend your time. Most of your time is spent in programming still, and you still have much support around meals, but there is choice. And its overwhelming! And hard. And such a struggle. But you get better at it. And by the time you (hopefully) feel like you’ve got it, they start decreasing your days and dropping you to IOP. And again, that feels like getting pummeled by a ton of bricks.

But none of those step downs compare to life after treatment. Discharge is such an exciting idea – the chance to finally get your life back! To be more than your ED. But the truth is, leaving the bubble of treatment is like entering another world. Especially when treatment was states away from where you need to build your life, as is often the case. I discharged and spent 4 days driving across the country to get back to home. The drive itself was hard, as was dealing with hotels and not having all my stuff – the usual moving woes. But no one warns you the once you get to your new life, you don’t know how to live.

For over a decade my life was my ED. It told me what to do and when, and I did it while trying to smush in what I could of my other responsibilities around it, always leaving ED as my priority. In treatment, ED is still your whole life, but from a different perspective. Now instead of bowing to ED you are fighting it, tooth and nail. Every. Single. Day. By the time you discharge, a lot of life still revolves around ED as you continue that fight and transition to out-patient care. But there is so much new time and space available for the rest. For life. And having not had a life outside of ED for so long, I didn’t know what the hell to do with that.

Treatment teaches you how to be less sick, but it doesn’t teach you how to be more alive. They try, focusing on your values and helping you think of what you might want for your life outside of the bubble. But it’s not the same as actually being thrown into it and having to live.

So the first few months were a struggle. Dysregulation from the move combined with dysregulation from being thrown into life, and was compounded by a summer of failed housing and repeated moves and just straight up struggle.

The following post was made in my first week since discharge, and I think it captures the feeling of this transition really well. Everyone on the outside acts like getting your life back should be wonderful, and that getting out of treatment is like graduating high school – fin and now you are on to the next stage. Check off the box, done. But in reality its just the next stage of struggle in a saga of struggle. Being better doesn’t mean life is all sunshine and daisies all the time. It’s fucking hard, every day. But it is worth it, because recovery represents the life you have the opportunity to experience now. Be grateful for that struggle, because every hard day in recovery is a million times better than the best day in ED.


June 7th, 2019 – Boulder, CO (Facebook)

It’s been about a week since I “graduated”. I made it through my 4 day drive from Raleigh, NC to Boulder, Co and I’m all settled into my summer sublet. I’ve unpacked my car, hung all my clothes, tucked away all my belongings. I had so much pride in myself in my journey as I left programming, and I still do. However, I’ve also come to realize that with that transition has come a lot of loss. I’ve lost all my amazing friends I made along the way — connections that have made such an impact of me and that I hold very dear to my heart and am working to maintain. I’ve lost the structure and predictability of not just programming, with all its familiar groups and supports, but also of the town I’ve lived in the last 5 months. All the coffee shops, yoga spots, parks, and other go-to’s I’ve amassed in my time there. Starting over is hard, even when it’s in a familiar place. Having to rebuild my support structure, my daily routine, my favorite spots – it’s hard. “Real life” is hard. I haven’t yet figured out how to fill my time, but more importantly – I haven’t figured out how to be myself in this new environment. Outside the cocoon of programming. Outside of the security of familiarity and friends. I spent all this time figuring out who I am, and now I have to figure out how to be that person in the “REAL” world. And surprisingly, it’s hard. I didn’t expect this part of the transition to be a struggle. I didn’t expect that I would be pulled into so much uncertainty, fear of vulnerability, and insecurity. 

I think leaving programming, I felt this sense of finality – as though in some capacity I had “finished” with recovery. But the reality isn’t so. Every new day is a struggle. A struggle to live by my values, to put recovery first, to be brave and vulnerable in the face of the utter uncertainty that is life. I have felt that struggle this week. I know I will bounce back, that it takes time. And I have had difficulty giving myself that time. I fought SO HARD to earn this life I am now living, I didn’t want to waste a minute of it once I was released into the “real” world. But recovery doesn’t stop. And it’s not a linear path. And I have to take the time I need to over come some of these struggles, root myself in the values and the strength and the vulnerability I forged in rehab, and build my new life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Future-tripping gets you nothing but grief. 

I have to follow the Joy, submit to Freedom, ignite Connection, dare for Authenticity, and give myself room for Growth. 

I have to remember everyone is worthy. Everyone deserves to be seen and viewed non-judgementally. Everyone deserves the time and space to grow and heal. To discover what they love and make a life out of it, and not settle for anything less. Even me.

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