In December 2013, I was gearing up to go to treatment in Florida after 8 years of living in the eating disorder cycle.
In my mind, I had this notion that rehab was gonna be this all-knowing descent into radical self realization.
More or less, I expected to come out of it being Basic B*tch Gandhi… or at the very least, Mother Teresa’s sinful pseudo-daughter. Meditating on the reg – zen-like in feeling, and – of course – still thin because in my jacked up head I thought the weight I felt was “extra” was only there because I binge ate about as much as I starved.
I’m not laughing. This disease seizes your brain.
But needless to say, that was not the outcome of my six weeks in residential rehab.
What treatment gave me, ultimately, was a frame of reference to start figuring out just what the hell I wanted this “recovery” lifestyle to be. That’s all.
It didn’t give me a whole new world – or any form of enlightenment (in fact, it ultimately left me predominately enraged at insurance, and the way we treat mental health in this country). But, treatment gave me light at the end of the tunnel – to motivate me to start actually climbing outta the hole I’d been buried in.
And, alongside a take-no-sh*t therapist, family and friends, and a community online, I’ve found my own way because, while cliche, it’s true that no one can really “save” you except for you. (p.s. shameless plug but if you’d like to try couching with me or at the very least – guidance, my offer is here!)
If you want to know what rehab or treatment is like, read my experiences on my front page, Rehab Truths 1-9, which basically translate to short stories about life in rehab.
The whole reason I started this blog was to document those days in the treatment center, cattle-called into single filed lines and force-fed Boost (ah, bliss), and it’s from those days that this blog began. Mostly, I was trying to process what I went through in there.
Fast forward five years later, and I’ve had time to mull, contemplate and needle.
Below are 5 lessons that rehab never taught me, and perhaps I wish – it had.
If you have more to offer – feel free, as always, to comment below:
1.) You will grieve the fantasy life and body your eating disorder promised far longer than the eating disorder itself.
There is a subtle, but distinct difference here. You don’t miss anorexia – you miss what you looked like in anorexia. You don’t miss binge eating – you miss the comfort food gave. You don’t miss your eating disorder – you miss the fantasy you created around what blessed tidings would happen in your life once you were at that dream weight or body.
This is not to be glazed over. It will take a lot more time to understand what you’re feeling if you don’t take the time to deconstruct these feelings.
2.) Dating will be hard; that’s why they say not to.
Navigating when to tell someone, how much to tell, and getting a grip on any shame you still carry — is tricky.
I’d know. I continued to date half of mankind after I got out of treatment, falling into a 9-month relationship with the wrong person almost immediately.
Let me clarify: he’s a great guy. He’s now engaged to the right girl in Arkansas, and I graciously double-clicked the Instagram pic when I saw it.
BUT, that’s not the point. The point is that I went through a rough ‘who am I?’ period after treatment and I went to what felt stable: a relationship.
I ignored that we were different in almost every way, conveniently escaped that we each did not want to live in the others home (me in Brooklyn, he in Arkansas) and I feigned enjoying golf when I actually find that sport the bane of sporting existence.
Ultimately, we realized we were not suited.
Soooo naturally, I went the opposite way and burrowed down with a Brooklyn manbun in a band, who couldn’t be arsed to call me back for weeks after a date.
I’m generalizing, sure. There were co-workers and clients and Bumble dates and other outrageous stories of New York City dating, but the point is that I just had no idea what the hell I wanted from a relationship because I didn’t know who the hell I wanted to even be.
It’s like that Runaway Bride movie with Julia Roberts from the early 2000s. “You don’t even know if you like your eggs scrambled or egg whites only!”
That’s probably a good metaphor for my mid-20s. I dated scrambled eggs and egg whites with no idea of which I preferred.
3.) Depending on facility, treatment can usually feel dehumanizing – especially when coming out.
Stripped of many choices, like when and where you can pee, means it’ll take a hot second to adjust back into the idea that you are 100% responsible for you.
I got out of treatment with all these CHOICES again.
Naturally, I immediately went on a X-mile run, strained a muscle, and pouted on the couch while my parents scratched their chins in concern. “Does she really already need to go back?” they likely wondered.
It’s a lot – the responsibility of caring for yourself again. You weren’t doing it before treatment and you sure as hell weren’t really doing it in there.
Everything in residential treatment is programmed, timed, and monitored. I mean literally down to when you pee. Sure, they give you more ‘freedom of choice’ as it goes on – but you still have some version of a counselor ‘stink eye’ on you at all times.
4.) Calorie counting sticks far longer than you plan for it.
This is REALLY something I wish I had understood. Just because you spend however many weeks in a treatment facility, or in therapy, does not mean you will unlearn calorie counting so quickly.
It’ll take years to unlearn, but the brightside of this is that I know it’s possible.
I have written many times about calorie counting. It has been the bane of my recovery existence over the last five years.
But, as I recently noted, it dawned on me that over this past year – I’ve stopped counting with any sort of regularity.
AND I CAN WRITE THAT AND ACTUALLY MEAN IT WAHOO!
I have no bloody idea how many calories I take in every day. I could take an educated guess, sure, but why bother?
So, I tell you this not to defeat you – but to beg you to just keep moving forward through the automatic calorie counts.
It’ll fade. It just takes awhile to unlearn.
5.) Watch out for sneaky Orthorexia
Eating, but only eating under prescribed ‘rules’, is not the freedom you’re looking for.
That is simply Orthorexia.
I don’t have much else to say to that.
Ultimately, the simple truth here is that you will spend a lot of time putting faith into a process you’re not sure is worth it.
You’ll fight it. Think how you’re doing it is ‘wrong’. Step back into what you think is ‘right’ and be no better off.
Eventually, you’ll get tired of fighting it. Or you’ll see your life evolving and think “oh okay. So, this is the life I was meant to have before all this.”
Or you’ll be walking around one day, and it’ll dawn on you:
Oh sh*t, being not anorexic has its perks. And, in fact, I’m getting stuff done in my life that I thought I would only ever achieve with an eating disorder.
So, I promise you — I absolutely promise you —
All this hell, is worth it.