Recovery- What happens after Treatment
by Kelly Garin- Alsana Alumni
Back when I was in the grips of my eating disorder I didn’t believe there was such a thing as “true recovery.” It was so hard to imagine not being consumed daily by self-hating thoughts and disgust of my body. As I spent time in treatment I would often see recovery speakers come and tell their story, and it seemed like their stories were all the same. They came to treatment, were cured, and left to live a perfect and happy life. Hearing this I had such a hard time believing in recovery, if everyone else went to treatment and was miraculously cured why was I in this revolving door of treatment centers and hospitalizations, never seeming to find a way out of this tangled web? It wasn’t until my second time at Alsana and living in the real world outside of treatment for years to come, when I began to realize what true recovery was.
I believe there are many stages of recovery and you are never “recovered” or “cured.” There is not a day that goes by where I don’t learn something new. It started out with absence of symptoms, being able to go hours, then days, then weeks without acting on an eating disorder behavior. Now I always thought if I just learned how to eat normally and keep my weight in a healthy place I’d be cured, right? Unfortunately it’s much more complicated than that, and it is when you stop using behaviors that emotions come back in full force. I’ve learned recovery is not about not having emotions or hard times, but rather letting yourself feel them.
It’s true when they say the hard part comes when you leave a treatment center. You are not cured or fixed and everything certainly isn’t perfect. But what they don’t tell you is that although it is hard, learning to stand on your own two feet without running back to the safety of your disease is the most powerful feeling.
I left Alsana and came back to school at a normal weight and was able to follow my meal plan on my own for a few months. Things were sunshine and roses the first few months, I loved being back around my friends and getting to experience so many things I had missed out on. Unfortunately this feeling didn’t last forever and the next semester I found out a close friend from school had killed himself. I was devastated, wasn’t this supposed to stop happening now that I was surrounding myself with seemingly normal and healthy people? This was the first real threat to my recovery, but I got through it by allowing myself to be a mess and fall apart while surrounding myself with people who could hold me up when I wasn’t strong enough to stand on my own. And even though during this time the last thing I wanted to do was eat I knew using behaviors wouldn’t help anything. During this time I really proved to myself that it was possible to get through something without running back to my eating disorder and the safety of treatment. I learned that it’s okay to let myself fall apart, because it doesn’t last forever.
Things after that were great, and I began to think I had gotten through the hard part, and was a normal person again. I hadn’t struggled in over a year and things were going well, I shouldn’t have to still be working on things and therapy and processing emotions right? Wrong.
As I began to slowly let old habits like care-taking and always having a smile on my face creep back into my life I told myself it was fine as long as I was eating. This is where the eating disorder likes to lie to you and convinces you that everything is fine as it deceives its way back into your life. After quite a few months of taking care of everyone else and never acknowledging to anyone that I had days where I was sad or upset, I began to feel the need to numb out. This is when the eating disorder slipped back into my life and before I knew it, I was counting calories and restricting my food intake again.
How could this have happened? I’ve gone this long without it, wasn’t I cured? I began to question if there was such a thing as recovery, or if I would have years of doing okay until I was back in the throes of my disease and needing to run back to treatment. It was at this time that I began to learn what recovery really meant. During this period I relied on my treatment team and my friends as much as I could and let myself feel all the emotions that I had been holding back those past few months. And after a few weeks of following a strict meal plan and letting others keep me accountable I was back on my own two feet. I was back to eating what I wanted and not obsessing about what I was putting into my body.
I was in shock; I just did something I’d never been able to do. I was able to get back on track without going into a full relapse, without getting to the point where I needed to be hospitalized because my body was going to give out. This is when I learned what I truly was capable of, and this was recovery.
I used to be so ashamed of the fact that I struggled again after leaving Alsana. Ashamed that things were hard and sometimes I really didn’t think I could keep doing this. I realized all those recovery speakers who gave me unrealistic expectations were exactly the standards I was holding myself to. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to tell you that I’m cured and everything is perfect. There are days that all I want to do is lie in bed and cry or go back to starving so I don’t have to feel all the emotions that life throws my way. But this wouldn’t be recovery and I’m done living a lie. But although it’s hard, it is possible and a hundred percent worth it. The bad days help me to appreciate the good ones and getting through them helps me prove to myself that life goes on.
I am back to a normal relationship with food but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with other things, or I don’t have to worry about my eating disorder coming back in. Things will continue to happen in my life and I will still have days where I just want to curl up in a blanket and cry but I know I can get through it by dealing with my emotions in a healthy way and being honest with the people around me. This will always be a part of my life but the difference is I don’t have to let it rule my life. I am in control not my disease.
Three years ago if you had told me I’d be in school, having fun, holding leadership positions and dating I would’ve thought you were crazy. But now I can’t imagine life any other way. No it’s not always easy but the ups and downs have helped me become stronger than I ever thought was possible. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I can honestly say I’m so proud of the woman I’ve become and I can’t wait to see what else the future has in store for me.
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