Understanding and Overcoming Challenges After Leaving Treatment | Alsana

There are challenges involved with leaving treatment, but you can overcome them.

Allison Burnett, LICSW, CEDS

Leaving treatment is an exciting time filled with opportunities for continued growth. The time after treatment is a time to take what you’ve learned and practice implementing it in the real world. It’s also a time to learn how to tackle new challenges with recovery behaviors instead of eating disorder behaviors. 

To help you succeed in recovery after treatment, we’ve put together a list of a few of the most common challenges individuals face after leaving treatment, along with some tips to help you prepare for success.

Family Gatherings

Family gatherings, whether big or small, are some of the most stressful and triggering situations for our alumni. It seems we all have that relative who will comment on our weight and we all have that aunt who swears by her latest fad diet. Add on top of it food that can be triggering, family dysfunction, and the feeling that everyone is watching you. While we can’t make these gatherings easy, we can help you make it through. 

  • Consider probable and possible triggering situations and plan ahead of time how you’ll cope in the moment. If you have enough notice, discuss these situations with your outpatient team before the gathering.
  • Ask for support from someone you trust beforehand. If possible, seek support from someone who will be with you at the gathering. Otherwise, a friend you can contact will also work well.
  • Commit! Commit ahead of time to follow your meal plan during the gathering, regardless of how uncomfortable you feel.

Returning to School or Work

Leaving treatment and returning to school or work brings many new challenges, such as a new schedule, new food, new living situations, and possibly moving away from your treatment team. It’s a lot of opportunity for growth, and here’s how you can make the most of it.

  • Prepare for the transition as far in advance as you can. Returning to school or work is a big change that can go smoothly with ample preparation and help from your team.
  • Consider a gradual transition to school or work. If possible, ease into your “real life” by continuing to participate in your IOP program while going back to school or work part time. This approach gives you plenty of support as you navigate living life in recovery.
  • If you’re moving away from your treatment team, ask for their help in finding a good team near your new home. Look into any school counseling services for additional support.
  • Research local eating disorder support groups.

Vacations

It’s common for family or friends to want to go on a vacation with you after you complete treatment. You’ve been away for awhile and it’s a great way to catch up, reconnect, and relax. Vacations can be challenging in your early recovery due to schedule changes, less predictable meals, and foreign food. 

  • Before you go, talk to your family or friends about your needs during the vacation, such as daily meal times. 
  • Bring plenty of snacks in the event that a meal or snack at your usual time isn’t available. Take ownership and responsibility for following your recovery meal plan and ask for support along the way.
  • Make sure you have someone you can talk to if something comes up for you during the vacation that you need extra support around.

Shedding the Eating Disorder Identity

After treatment, you might come across people who expect you to still engage in eating disorder behaviors or who are surprised by the changes you’ve made. These comments can be hurtful and bring up new challenges to staying on track. 

  • If this person is healthy and safe, try communicating to them how their reactions impact you.
  • If you can’t talk to this person or their comments continue, consider limiting or even ending the relationship.
  • Seek support from your treatment team and a trusted loved one.
  • Try not to make assumptions about what someone else is thinking or expecting. I think you’ll find that most of the time, people will be highly supportive and proud of your recovery journey. 

Of course, each person will experience their own challenges and opportunities for growth after treatment. A strong support network of trusted family, friends, and an outpatient team can help you come out on top. Whatever these challenges are, we at Alsana are also eager to support you as you work through them. Consider joining our weekly alumni support call (https://www.alsana.com/alumni-online-support/) and our alumni Facebook group (not sure where link is?) where you can get advice and support from peers and trusted Alsana staff.

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