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My Eating Disorder Story: Daily Life In a 12-Step Recovery Home (Part 6)

If you missed Part 5, please click here

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have lived my first year of recovery in the structured environment of a treatment facility. It enabled me to build a strong foundation of recovery. I doubt this would have been the case if I had gone through a quick, traditional in-patient hospital program.

Are you considering checking into a recovery home for your eating disorder, like I did? If so, you might be wondering what it’s like to live 24/7 in treatment.

I’m going to share with you my experience of what daily life was like living in a 12-Step based recovery home.

Daily schedule

After my first week at the recovery home, I began to feel more comfortable as I got used to the routine. Some might find the rules and the schedule to be constricting and hard to live by. But I needed a very structured program, and it was the right environment for me to begin my recovery process.

During that first week, I learned that in addition to lots of rules and schedules, there were also restrictions based on how long you had been there. It was split up into 30, 60, and 90-day increments, and the first 30 days were the most restrictive.

In the first 30 days, you weren’t allowed to drive, talk on the phone, or go anywhere by yourself. You also weren’t allowed to read any books that weren’t about recovery. At 60, then 90 days, more privileges were added.

My first 30 days were really hard, with all the restrictions, but I understood the reason for them. Even though I didn’t like it, I knew it was for my good. Having 30 days to concentrate fully on recovery, without outside interference, was the best thing for me at that time.

Mornings

White old-fashioned alarm clock, set to 6 o'clock
6 AM wake-up time

Most mornings were relatively similar. Wake-up time was always at 6:00 AM (except for Sundays, when we could sleep until 7 AM). There was one hour of personal time before breakfast at 7 AM (Sunday it was at 8 AM).

A staff member always slept overnight at the house, and they were up in time to have breakfast with us. Meals were always supervised by a staff person.

Breakfast

All meals were prepared by the residents, with one person in charge of cooking the 3 meals for that day. After the food was prepared it was moderately portioned out, and checked by one of the staff before the food was put on the table.

Everyone came to the table together, and we prayed the Serenity Prayer before starting to eat. Breakfast usually seemed to be a quieter meal, I guess because people just didn’t feel like talking much first thing in the morning.

After breakfast was over, the assigned people would wash dishes and clean up the kitchen.

Meditation

After breakfast, it was time for a short meditation. Someone would read a passage from one of the recovery books, and choose a relaxing music CD. Then we would have about 10 minutes to close our eyes and meditate however we wanted to. It was nice to have the reading beforehand because it gave you something to focus on during meditation.

I always enjoyed that time of the morning, just having a few moments to breathe and relax with gentle music before starting the day.

Daily walking

Before breakfast, we got dressed in preparation for walking (and chores later). Right after meditation, it was time for our 30-minute walk around the neighborhood.

One of the aims of treatment was to teach moderation in all areas of life. Some of the women came to treatment having never exercised before, or disliking exercise. And some of us (myself included) had come from a background of extreme over-exercising. Going on daily 30-minute walks was a way to stay active in a moderate and healthy way, not going to extremes in either direction.

The morning walks were one of my favorite parts of the day! It was fun to walk with the other women, and we had a few different routes around the neighborhood. I loved getting outside in the fresh air, and having good conversations while we walked.

Chores

After coming back from our walk we had a few minutes to stretch, and then it was time for daily chores. Each person was assigned a particular chore to do, which was rotated monthly.

Some examples of chores were: cleaning the bathroom or kitchen, vacuuming, dusting, mopping floors, tidying up the garage, or doing yard work. We only worked for about 30 minutes a day on chores, so it wasn’t too strenuous. With all of us working together, it was easy to maintain the house and keep things clean.

Morning group

The morning group session was at 11:00. There were four staff who rotated shifts throughout the week. Two were psychologists, and the other two were clinical social workers. Whoever was on staff that day would lead the therapy group, and there were different types of sessions, depending on the day.

One of the therapists had her private office near the beach, and we would sometimes have our sessions there. In that case, we would bring packed lunches and drive over to the beach. Then after group, we would eat lunch on the grass at the park near the water.

Afternoons

Lunch

Lunch was right after group, at 12:00. It was usually a pretty simple meal of either sandwiches and fruit, or leftovers from dinner the night before.

I remember that lunch was kind of a triggering meal for some of us, because not all of the plates were identical. Some might be a sandwich meal, while others could be a few different types of leftovers.

When lunch was called, it was sometimes a mad dash as some of us tried to sit at the plate that had the food we wanted. I didn’t even realize I was doing this until it was pointed out to me!

Afternoon group

After the kitchen was cleaned up from lunch, we had about an hour of free time before the afternoon group.

Similar to the morning group, depending on the day, certain counselors would lead the group. The format of the session varied; sometimes it was just general sharing, and sometimes it was more guided with a particular topic to share on.

Other times, the session would be focused on one person working with the counselor, and the group would be there for support and feedback. It can be very intense working on anger or grief issues, and it is comforting to have others around you as a witness to your process.

Shower & free time

After group, we had a few hours of free time to take care of any personal business. This included 12-Step reading/writing, or writing assigned by our individual counselor, phone calls, and taking a shower.

Besides the group sessions, each of us had our own individual counselor. During either morning or afternoon free time we would have our 1-hour session, on the same day each week. The group sessions were good, but I also really appreciated having that one-on-one time with my counselor.

There were two showers available, one in the main bathroom, and another in the staff bathroom. We were each allotted 15 minutes in the bathroom, so it took some time for all 10 of us to finish our showers. While you were waiting your turn, you could read recovery books, work on writing assignments, or take care of personal business (phone calls, laundry, etc).

After a shower, we each had 20 minutes of private time in the bedroom to get dressed. I really treasured those 20 minutes, because almost every moment of the day was spent with at least one other person (and usually many more) around you. Especially in my first 30 days, it was really nice to have a few minutes to myself!

Evenings

Dinner

Dinner was at 6:00 PM. After all the plates were checked, the food was put on the table and we all came together to eat. We would say the Serenity Prayer first, and then begin eating.

Sometimes it was just the house residents and staff at the dinner table, but other times visitors would join us. Members of the 12-Step community liked to come and share a meal with us, either to support us or to get support for their own recovery. When someone is struggling with their food, it can be helpful to see what a moderate meal looks like.

The recovery home was not only a safe place to get 24/7 support for our eating disorder; we also gave support back to the recovering community at large. Holidays were also a time for fellowship, and our doors were open for recovering people and their families to come and join us for a meal.

Free time

Depending on the day of the week, there were different things scheduled for the hours after dinner.

  • Free time to read 12-Step literature, work on writing assignments, do journaling
  • Gather together in the living room to watch a movie
  • Go on a group outing (for example a movie theater, a holiday event, etc)
  • Tuesday and Friday nights we hosted 12-Step meetings at the house, open to the community
  • Those over 6 months were allowed to go out with friends or family (but had to be home by 9:00 PM)

Bedtime

When I first arrived at the house, there were no beds available, so I slept on a couch in the living room for the first couple of weeks. Fortunately, a bed opened up when someone completed their program, and I got my own bed in one of the rooms.

The house had 4 bedrooms and one of them was the office, and also where the staff member on duty slept. The other 3 bedrooms had 3 beds each (a bunk bed and 1 single bed).

It went by seniority and since I was the new one, I got the top bunk. Imagine a 30-year-old woman climbing up a ladder to get into bed; that was me! As time went on, I “graduated” first to the lower bunk, and then months later I finally got the single bed.

Photo of Planner Book and Writing Materials On Brown Surface
I looked forward to certain days

Weekly events

In addition to the regular daily schedule, there were also things planned for certain days of the week. When I first got into treatment, I imagined that each day would be exactly alike. I was pleased to find out that the residents did lots of fun activities together as a group, and that there was also time for visiting with friends and family.

Tuesday & Friday nights

Twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday at 7:00 PM, the recovery home hosted 12-Step meetings that were open to the recovering community. The large family room accommodated a big group, and we always had a lot of visitors on those nights. It was nice to have the fellowship, and I looked forward to it.

Thursday nights

This was an open night when we were free to enjoy some “fun time”. Sometimes we would watch a DVD movie together, or the staff might plan a group outing.

Once you had completed your 60 days, you could go out for the evening with someone from the 12-Step community. You had to let the staff know specifically who, and where you were going. If you were having dinner out, you had to tell them which restaurant, and what you would be eating.

I remember my first time eating out away from the house, and it was a little nerve-wracking! I was glad to have the support of another person in “the program” to help me through it. It was a chance to practice eating moderately, without having my food measured out for me.

Saturday afternoons

Especially in my first 30 days, I really appreciated the outings the staff planned for us. Saturday still had a schedule, but it was a little looser compared to the weekdays, and more geared toward relaxation and fun.

I remember my first Saturday at the house, we went as a group to a favorite park in my city. I was overjoyed to be able to go somewhere that had always been one of my “happy places”. We brought a packed lunch and sat outside to eat, then spent the afternoon walking around and exploring.

I had been feeling very emotional and sad during my first week in treatment, but that afternoon brought me so much joy!

Sundays

Sundays were quite a bit different than the other days of the week. It was the one day we could sleep in until 7:00 AM, and we were allowed to eat breakfast in our pajamas. It was such a treat! There were also no chores to do on Sunday.

Sunday was called “Friends & Family Day”. This meant that if you were still under 60 days, a few of your friends and family members could come and spend the afternoon at the house with you. They could also join the group for lunch if they wanted to.

If you were out of your 60 days, you were free to go out for the afternoon. You could go with either someone from the 12-Step community, friends, or family. If you were having lunch out, you had to let staff know where and what you would be eating.

Holidays

On Thanksgiving and Christmas, members of the 12-Step community were welcome to come and enjoy dinner and festivities of the season with us. It was a nice time of fellowship and sharing a moderate holiday meal together.

My assigned “cook day” was on Thursdays, which of course fell on Thanksgiving. I’ll never forget the anxiety I felt in the weeks leading up to that day. I had never cooked a turkey before, so I definitely had to ask for help with that! I had also never made gravy before, so that was another new skill to learn.

Fortunately, I only had to make the turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes. The rest of the meal was potluck style, so the guests all brought sides and desserts to share. I was so relieved to not have to worry about making all the other dishes!

Summary

In this post, I wanted to give those who are thinking about going into treatment an idea of what day-to-day life looks like at a recovery home for eating disorders. I think it can relieve some anxiety to hear about someone else’s experience and to kind of know what to expect.

Of course, every treatment center will have its own way of running its own particular program. And not every program is based on the 12-Steps, as was the one that I attended. But it is likely that most ED recovery programs will rely heavily on having some type of daily, and also weekly, schedule.

My next post will deal with what happened after my year living in the recovery home. (Spoiler alert: I did well for several years, but unfortunately I did end up falling into a very long 10-year relapse). It is a very important part of my story! I will share with you exactly what happened, in hopes you can avoid the mistakes I made.

Part 7 will be coming soon!

Please feel free to comment below. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about going into ED treatment, or anything else you might be wondering about ED recovery in general. I would also love to hear your story, and how you are doing in your recovery.

Assorted Colorful Vegetables Arranged on Round Stainless Steel Plate

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