For many people who live with a mental health disorder, including eating disorders, making a choice to go into residential treatment is not only one of the most challenging and difficult but also one of the most vital steps on their path to recovery. For families of teens who are experiencing these struggles, parents must also make the difficult decision to place their children in a place that is not necessarily close to home, but in the end, is the best place for their treatment and recovery.
An important aspect of treatment and recovery to keep in mind is that completion of a residential treatment program is not the end. Going into residential is an important step, but it is just that, a step. When people enter residential treatment, it is often the last stop on what has been a long and challenging path. There may have been a few iterations of individual or outpatient treatment that have either failed entirely or were successful for a time until relapse occurred. By the time most people, teens, or adults reach residential treatment, they are desperate and residential treatment proves to be a saving grace from what feels like a never-ending cycle of triggers and relapse.
When people leave residential treatment programs such as Hillcrest, they often realize there will indeed be work left to do once they return home. However, they often do not understand precisely how much work they will still have to put into the process of maintenance and recovery once their initial treatment program is over.
Life During Residential Programs
While someone is staying at a residential treatment facility, their choices when it comes to certain things are limited. For instance, if they are seeking treatment for an eating disorder, they will not be given the option of choosing to eat or not to eat. Food will likely be prepared according to the instructions of a dietician in the interest of helping return the individual to a state of physical health while helping with the mental health aspect of the eating disorder. Support for their disease, whatever that maybe will be available on a 24/7 basis, so it is not necessary to have to seek out assistance. Residential treatment is not glorious and not without its challenges, but it removes the difficulties of facing day to day struggles and stressors that are often faced at home.
While at residential treatment, people are also afforded the opportunity to participate in therapy groups and individual treatment sessions without having to go anywhere to do so. This is often beneficial in assuring people attend the sessions and get the help they need to address the mental health aspect of their disorder. Also, at residential treatment, they are surrounded by people who are sharing their experiences. Although people may be further down the path to recovery or just starting out, they are still in the same place going through the same things. Under these circumstances, strong bonds of support are formed, which can help through the dark and challenging times that inevitably come.
This means that coming puts people in the position where they are faced with having to make hard choices they are not used to making. Suddenly they must choose when and what to eat. They also can choose whether or not to exercise. These challenging decisions, combined with the normal stressors of daily life, tend to feel overwhelming when people first return home. This is when people also tend to realize their disorder for which they sought treatment did not disappear upon completion of their residential treatment program.
Returning Home from Residential Treatment
It is not uncommon to believe that most of the real work begins once people return home from residential treatment. Residential treatment presents people with a process of recovery and an understanding of what recovery could look like down the road. Unfortunately, moving from the concept of recovery that people come to understand during residential treatment to actual recovery is where the real challenge begins. Moving forward from the concept to real life is hard. Recovery in real life once people return home is extra hard. For the first few weeks and months, it can feel really discouraging.
Returning home is the goal and also the challenge. What are some things that you, your teen, or your family can do to help easier navigate the early stages of recovery?
Be willing to be uncomfortable
Recovery often means having to sit with your disorder without utilizing unhealthy coping mechanisms as a means to get through. If you are in recovery for an eating disorder, your disorder is often a means for helping you not to feel uncomfortable in other areas of your life. If you are stressed, you may eat. If you are depressed, you may eat. If you are feeling anxiety or other mental health symptoms, you may eat. For individuals with eating disorders, eating is a coping mechanism, but it also often leads to unhealthy behavior. During treatment, you will be taught other means of coping, and you will need to use those during recovery to get through triggering events and experiences. This may lead to discomfort.
The discomfort you may feel is not only emotional. You may also feel physically uncomfortable, as well. Again, with an eating disorder (and many other disorders), you will experience body changes as well as stomach and digestive problems. These are not pleasant and may be triggering for some people when they find they do not have the same level of support at home as they did in residential.
Over time, you will find that you may feel uncomfortable, even when you feel good overall. Many people with eating disorders or other mental health concerns have felt bad for so long that it tends to be their baseline normal. The emotions associated with feeling good are foreign and even disconcerting at first because that feeling is something that is new and takes some getting used to. It is essential to remember the uncomfortable feelings will not last forever; it is merely a phase on the path to recovery.
Make Sure You Have A Support Team
While in residential treatment, your support team was right there every step of the way, every hour of the day. Once people return home, support may be harder to come by, and depending on your home life structure, there may be added complications. Mental health disorders, including eating disorders, can be very isolating. Once people return home, it is vital to lean on those around them as well as members of your treatment team as opposed to trying to struggle through those feelings alone.
It is essential to hold yourself accountable and ask others to help you remain accountable as well. Once you return home from residential treatment, you will continue to attend therapy sessions with frequency. These sessions will also help you to remain accountable and avoid possible relapses while helping to determine the root cause of the challenges you will face along the road to recovery.
Triggers Will Happen
It is vital to be prepared for triggering events; they are inevitable. As a healthy eating pattern is developed after leaving residential treatment, there will be friends, family, and co-workers who are engaging in unhealthy yet socially acceptable eating patterns in your presence. This will undoubtedly be a challenge, but it is important to remain on your course. This is where seeing a dietician post-residential treatment will be helpful. Having an expert to help guide in proper nutrition and eating choices as opposed to typical “diet” culture is vital to continued recovery.
Be Prepared for The Ups and Downs of Recovery
Recovery is not a direct nor a straight path. There will be slips and falls. There will be moments when triggering events are powerful, and you consider going back to the place you were prior to seeking residential treatment. This again, is where having a support system in place to help you fight those emotions will help immensely. It is also important to not be so hard on yourself that you feel as though failure is your only option.
Once adolescents reach residential treatment, they have been working with, struggling with, and living with their disorder (whatever that may be) for many years. It is unrealistic to assume complete recovery will happen quickly is unrealistic as healing is slow and takes time. Experiencing triggers and faltering, as a result, will provide the opportunity to reassess your levels of progress and determine if there is something else you need in terms of guidance or support.
Be Willing to Let Go of Old Ways of Being
Upon leaving residential treatment, people often quickly realize there are things (people, places, events) in their everyday life that are contributing factors to their desire to stay wrapped up in their disorder. It is essential to take a long and hard look at these relationships, events, and situations and make the decision -regardless of how difficult it may be-to make changes. It is vital to let things go that do not serve the end goal of recovery and sustainable mental health.
Recovery takes time. Completing a course of treatment at a residential treatment facility such as Hillcrest does not mean you will walk out the doors of the center free of all mental health challenges you were facing when you entered. It takes time (often years) of therapy appointments, meetings with medical providers, medication changes, life changes, learning new coping skills, working with your support circles, and facing down triggers and fears. In the beginning, there will be more bad days than good, but eventually, this cycle will change.
At Hillcrest, we offer a wide range of teen treatment programs for teens struggling with various mental health and addiction disorders. Out treatment plans are designed to be individualized and to meet the specific needs of the person. We also work with you and your family to ensure post-treatment care is in place.
As noted above, the recovery process does not end when you walk out of our doors. Continued treatment and support from your providers here at Hillcrest, along with your support systems back at home, are vital to ongoing recovery.