Ahh Joanna, I recognise all of those stages...In response to your questions -
The biggest surprises were:
1.) That my ED reached far beyond my inner self - that it emcompassed my childhood, my current relationships, my choices and preferences...it was there in 'everything' I did or didn't do.
2.) That my therapist believed me and believed I was telling the truth - from my perspective at least (I'd been gas-lighted for so long, I was terrified but expecting that she was going to tell me I was very mentally ill and delusional and just making up all the things I believed had happened - which is what my mother (and sister) always said).
3.) How strong I am, in fact I'm still kind of surprised and proud of how strong I am, but ED therapy makes you face up to and deal with so much, stuff you never imagined you could tackle, but I did it.
4.) How physically ill the levels of emotional stuff made me feel at times.
5.) That I finally have some self-esteem, I like myself, I like being me, I have learned to listen to what my body and inner energy are trying to tell me, and trust those feelings.
6.) Transference, some of it a little bit erotic, but other types too and the strength of those reactions and feelings.
7.) My ED just resolved itself without me even thinking about food whilst I was in therapy.
The biggest challenges:
1.) Acting out, knowing I was acting out and feeling embarrassed by my behaviour, yet not being able to stop myself from doing ridiculous things like bolting out of the door when triggered in a particular way, and then feeling upset that my therapist didn't come after me to see if I was okay, and then feeling ashamed partly for getting triggered, and partly for being so needy.
2.) Dealing with relationships....my dad died, I cut contact with my mother and sister for over a year (I still don't have contact with my sister, and I see my mum about once a month now), telling my husband to get his things and go after an aggressive outburst/rage incident and know it was forever not a threat or falling out, seeing my husband become a woman and trying to help my children deal with that....if anyone told me beforehand that I'd be dealing with all that at the beginning then I would've probably been too scared to embrace therapy.
3.) Transference - feeling stupid because I knew it "wasn't real", but I couldn't make it go away, and keep fighting and fighting it and keeping it a secret. I eventually realised that I had to go with it - let myself feel the feelings full on and stop fighting them, and to explore it in therapy sessions. It was scary, letting myself fall in love with someone when I knew it was a one way street to heartache....but at some point realising that I had to just go with the flow, it was part of my healing, and through it I learned to love myself and understand what loving someone actually means.
4.) The one thing that caught me by surprise and that I find most challenging though, is relapse. I suppose I thought I'd know if I was heading towards relapse, that there would be signs - losing self-esteem, relapsing into old ways of thinking - something that would be a signal, but actually it has been possible to maintain good self-esteem, and self-regard/perception, and stay in touch with my inner self and inner energy, and still relapse into old eating habits. It's not obvious or easy to remember when you feel like a different person, like a person with a new life, that ED behaviours will always be a natural response during stressful times.