If, as I’ve come to know, recovery from an eating disorder is a process, then transitions are the bridges we build between each phase of the process. They need nurturing and patience and require planning and attention because they play an integral role on the path to recovery. The transition bridges we build carry the weight of the moment and deliver you to the next phase. So, I’ve learned, you can’t bypass or dismiss their importance and you have to live in them while you work through them.
I didn’t understand the very nature of transitions, or how important they were, or that we were smack in the middle of one until we experienced a break in a critical transition of my loved one’s recovery.
My daughter was diagnosed with ARFID a few years ago and spent three weeks in an inpatient program last January. Like many things with ED, this was a long time coming, yet still took us by surprise. She completed the program and transitioned from there to the next level of care, Partial Hospitalization (PHP), and then onto Intensive Outpatient (IOP). As transitions go, these were smooth: simple to follow, not much to figure out on my part, and there was space available for her to be accepted immediately following her release from the prior phase.
At the completion of IOP, we were preparing for her transition back to her junior year of high school when the COVID pandemic hit. The scramble to get both school and healthcare online meant that we were free-floating without either during, what I came to later understand, a critical and deeply challenging transition into the less protective, scripted, and regimented outside world. The world that still holds all the fears, anxieties, and influences that were kept at bay while she was busy with weight restoration.
Lacking support, structure, and a plan of action, ED has a sneaky way of filling that void. This was an extreme and unique scenario, but what I learned is that you have to steadfastly make your plan to get support in place before the transition and be prepared to make adjustments as you go. Watching and waiting is time lost on the road to recovery from ED. It was a difficult time and took about a month to get things back on track again. With remote healthcare provider options opening up and programs converting to online, I was able to put her support team in place and carry on.
While your loved one is in a program, use that time to assemble the team you will need to navigate the transition. Get recommendations and referrals, contact potential resources, and work through all the details. Actually make the appointments so there is no space for ED to occupy during those vulnerable times. Get yourself a therapist and begin to lay the groundwork before your loved one is released. Interview family therapists and dietitians to find a good fit. You will be managing the information and the team, so getting them in place before your loved one comes home will give you the support everyone needs to keep to the path.
Make a plan, work your plan, and when life happens (i.e. things change or fall apart), start a new plan to build a strong and steady bridge to carry you forward!
Cheryl Barcal is a mid-west Mom, advocate, and volunteer who is driven by curiosity and compelled to show up and get involved when and where she is needed.