Carrie beat me to posting about this Grey’s Anatomy quote:
After a trauma, your body is at its most vulnerable. Response time is critical. So you’re suddenly surrounded by people—doctors, nurses, specialists, technicians—surgery is a team sport. Everyone pushing for the finish line. Putting you back together again. But surgery is a trauma in and of itself, and once it’s over, the real healing begins. It’s called recovery. Recovery is not a team sport. It’s a solitary distance run. It’s long. It’s exhausting. And it’s lonely as hell.
The length of your recovery is determined by the extent of your injuries. And it’s not always successful. No matter how hard we work at it. Some wounds might never fully heal. You might have to adjust to a whole new way of living. Things may have changed too radically to ever go back to what they were. You might not even recognize yourself. It’s like you haven’t recovered anything at all. You’re a whole new person with a whole new life.
– Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy
The timing of this quote could not have been more appropriate for me — I had just gotten out of the hospital from having major surgery and was still kind of in shock about the whole thing. Of course, I think this quote extends far beyond recovery from major surgery. While relating it to my own trauma issues is difficult, it is very relevant to my eating disorder.
As I see it, there are three phases/periods of “trauma recovery” that the quote mentions:
- the critical period immediately after the trauma when you are most vulnerable
- early recovery
- the rest of life
I associate more intense treatment with “critical periods” in my eating disorder. In residential or day treatment, you’re pretty much surrounded by professionals. The rest of your life (school, work, other obligations, etc) is on hold, because your health takes priority. Doctors, therapists, and dietitians are “putting you back together again.” I don’t mean to discredit the hard work that it takes to be in intense treatment, but in many ways your biggest contribution is just showing up and being compliant. Someone else is managing everything else: your meals, your weight, your medication, your schedule. There is literally an entire team taking care of you.
While the critical period is part of early recovery, I’m going to make a distinction and in this case define that time as the period immediately after intense treatment. You re-join the real world and have that “oh crap, I have to do most of this on my own” moment. Even with supportive family, friends, and professionals, at the end of the day it’s still YOU making the choice to get better. And, as happy as you are to not be in therapy all day, it kind of sucks. Like Meredith says, “It’s long, and it’s exhausting, and it’s lonely as hell.”
The rest of life:
As time goes on, you get over / adjust to / accept the shock of early recovery and realize that healing takes a long time. Personally, I usually feel lost. You spend so much time in the throes of the eating disorder, and then immersed in treatment, that when you’re done with it all there’s this big void. Previously you were constantly preoccupied with ED stuff — either engaging in behaviors or working through them in therapy — and now you’re doing what exactly? Everything has changed: your body, your schedule, your eating, your relationships, your coping skills. While logically I know that I’m doing better, I don’t feel “over” the eating disorder, which makes it all the more frustrating.
With that said, I don’t think of “trauma recovery” as a linear process. Each relapse (or even slip) in the eating disorder can lead to another critical period. Hopefully you get to a point where you stay in “the rest of life” even through ups and downs. Don’t get me wrong, there are great things about recovery. I think that many people (without eating disorders) don’t realize how trying and lonely the process can be, though.