One of the questions that I always ask our TK alumnae when I interview them on our Instagram Live series, “Honest Talk,” is this: How do you maintain recovery, now that you’re out of treatment? Their answer is consistent: Community.
Our alumnae all have different stories, have struggled with and recovered from different diagnoses or combinations of them. They come from all walks of life and represent diverse ages, life stages, geographic regions, ethnic and racial backgrounds, religions, orientations and identities. Each is unique in the path they’ve walked and for how long, but each wholeheartedly agrees that staying connected to a strong, supportive, pro-recovery community, and being vulnerable with and accountable to them, is absolutely essential for sustaining their recovery for the long-term.
That may seem obvious at first, but upon further reflection, it becomes apparent that finding, growing into, and maintaining contact with a genuinely supportive community can be hard work. It does not happen automatically; it is something one must pursue when stepping down from higher levels of care. It takes proactivity and effort. Since this is such an essential part of the healing journey, I will break down here some of the wisdom our precious alumnae have shared with me in our interviews, so that their experiences and triumphs can help serve you or a loved one.
- Aftercare planning and Treatment Team
The first step toward solidifying a strong community is taken even before discharge, or leaving treatment. It is incredibly important to work with your care providers at the residential, PHP or IOP level to already establish a treatment team who will be there for you when you return home. This could include any or all of the following: a therapist, a dietician, a physician who is familiar with your medical history and/or specializes in eating disorders, and any other clinician who will be necessary to support your well-being. Those connections can and should be made ahead of time, so that your transition back in your home environment is guaranteed to be one where you can continue to have professional support.
- Support Groups
Consistently, our alumnae say that participation in support groups, whether virtual or in-person, is a helpful way to keep connected to others in a way that continues that feeling of “being in it together” that they established during their time in treatment. One of the biggest revelations when they come to TK is that they are not alone, and that group therapy, 12-step and other support groups lay the foundation for staying motivated in recovery. Timberline Knoll’s Alumnae Program offers virtual support groups, meal support, as well as monthly virtual workshops with TK clinicians to support our alumnae. If you or someone you know and love is transitioning out of treatment, getting involved in support groups like these in your community will be key to staying connected to a safe place where you can share the burdens of long-term recovery, and stay motivated to keep going.
- Family & Friends
Returning from treatment can be a time to re-evaluate the relationships in your life: which are healthy, which are not, start enforcing boundaries, and finding those loved ones who you can rely on to love and support you through the “thick and thin” of the long-term recovery journey. Not all family members and friends are able to fill this role, for various reasons. Recognizing that, it is important to identify a small, close circle of trusted family and friends to whom you can be accountable, who you can call in an emergency, who will listen well and provide empathic support and love, and with whom you can be totally honest about your struggles. These people will be your lifeline, like your therapist, like those members of a support group; therefore, be thoughtful about choosing whom to trust and with whom to show your most vulnerable self. It is often their love and their “holding hope” for you that will get you through the dark days of the recovery journey, and help lead you back in to the light.
Community is one of the most powerful tools to sustain long-term recovery. Illness festers in isolation, but healing is found in relationship and connection to others. I hope that sharing these insights and experiences from our alumnae will help to lead and encourage you, or a loved one, to step out of any fear that might be holding you back. Reach out for this connection which will sustain you. You are not alone, but are part of a broad community of others who have suffered, struggled, put in the hard work of recovery, and are on the continuous path to freedom and healing. Have courage, and connect; you and your recovery journey are worth it.