What No One Told Me About Residential Treatment

June 17, 2020 Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

As a college freshman, I was hospitalized for anorexia. It's been almost a decade since then, but no one told me about the pain—and payoffs—of residential eating disorder treatment. I had just embarked on a harrowing three-month process that would stretch, unravel, and change me. 

While I did not realize it until much later (because the memories I have of this time are blurred and disjointed), today I can assert with confidence that residential treatment saved my life. But as a scared and withdrawn 19-year-old, no one could have braced me for what to expect. So I'm sharing five lessons about residential treatment for an eating disorder (ED) that I had to learn for myself in hopes that others might be less afraid than I was to undertake this step in eating disorder recovery.

5 Truths About the Pain and Payoffs of ED Residential Treatment 

  1. The intake process for residential treatment can be overwhelming or traumatic. Many details about the day I entered treatment are vague, but I do recall dissociation. As I signed the admission form, I remember looking out the window and noticing a hail storm—an ironic visual of the chaos inside me. I abstractly took in the events around me but could not find an emotional response. The situation was too abnormal for my brain to process, so I detached and shrunk into myself. Now I see this as evidence of trauma, but in the moment, I was just numb.    
  2. The impulse to do whatever it takes to escape that facility will be strong at first. The initial period of overwhelmedness was soon replaced by anger, combativeness, rebellion, and desperation to leave at all costs. I whined to my parents over the phone to discharge me. I denied that my eating disorder was even an issue to all the clinicians on my treatment team. I informed everyone in my first group therapy session that I did not belong there. In fact, two weeks passed before I started to lower my guard, trust the process, and consider the invitation to heal.    
  3. The bonds created with other patients will be intense, but they often do not last. Life in the confines of ED residential treatment is unique. The schedule is rigid, the environment is insulated, and each person is there because of an eating disorder. Due to this shared experience, I formed intense friendships with other patients, but the camaraderie was not sustainable. As we grew healthier and returned to our lives, the memories of an illness were our only common ground. My love for these women remains, but I am still friends with just one of them. 
  4. The treatment process is nonlinear—both high points and relapses are common. Once I wrapped my brain around the notion that recovery was possible, I embraced it with a zeal my therapist called "the flight into health." While my enthusiasm was real and honest, it spiraled down quickly, as familiar patterns of behavior resurfaced again. The continuous ebb and flow between the euphoria of healing and the false security of an eating disorder are normal. I have learned treatment does not follow a linear path, so all that's required is to keep moving forward.      
  5. Eating disorder residential treatment is arduous and uncomfortable, but it leads to gratitude. When I turn 29 next month, this occasion will mark 10 years since I began residential treatment. I have no desire to retrace the steps of this time in my life, but I am grateful for the resilience, freedom, strength, and opportunities I discovered on the other side. As painful as residential treatment was, it's one of the main reasons I am both alive and in recovery a decade later. Sometimes the hardest experiences yield the most gratitude—and that is absolutely how I feel about treatment.   

What are the areas of both pain and payoff that no one told you about eating disorder residential treatment? Which lessons have you carried on from this time in your life? How do these continue to impact your eating disorder recovery? Please share in the comment section below.  

See Also

APA Reference
Schurrer, M. (2020, June 17). What No One Told Me About Residential Treatment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

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