I wrote in a recent post that after winning the battle against Blue Cross Blue Shield, I was given ten more days in intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment. These ten days were a gift. I’d been cut off so suddenly that I hadn’t had any time to make an after-care plan with my treatment team. Now, I had the opportunity to tie up loose ends and start thinking about life after treatment.
And that’s what I opted to do. From the start, I decided to use my remaining days to transition out of treatment and back into my full-time. I have two days left and then, ready or not, I will conclude a yearlong journey of intensive eating disorder treatment. From there, my recovery journey continues on the outpatient level only. This means going from 18 treatment hours per week to three hours per week divided among my therapist, nutritionist, and an outpatient support group.
As my discharge date draws closer, I’ll admit that I’m feeling increasingly afraid. I’m afraid I won’t find as supportive of a community as the one I’ve found in treatment. I’m afraid that I haven’t learned enough to sustain me on the outside. I’m afraid that if I slip one day but don’t have the security of knowing my next meal will be in the safety of the program, I won’t be able to regain my footing quickly enough.
Most of all, I’m afraid of myself. I’ve been in treatment programs for nearly a full consecutive year. I’ve done the hard work of recovery or battled the eating disorder voice in my head without the support of a community.
What awaits me on the other side of this treatment experience? Can I really make it on my own?
But when I take a step back, putting a space between myself and the fear and anxiety, and look back over this year, I realize that I have, in fact, learned enough. I’ve acquired the tools and I’ve learned the coping skills. I know what to do when my eating disorder gets loud. I know the difference between the times that I need to reach out for extra support and the times that I just need to push myself harder.
And that’s enough. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a moment when I feel fully prepared to leave treatment, whether it’s next week, next month, or next year. I will always have reservations about how long my strength will hold out and whether I can maintain a recovery mindset, especially now that I’ll be in my own head more often than I’ll be in a support group. I can’t spend my life in treatment, though. At some point, I need to take the leap and trust that my wings will carry me.
That, I think, is the final lesson of any mental health treatment: There are no certainties in life. We don’t know what is waiting down the road or how we will react it. But we have to trust ourselves and fly anyway.
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