Jun 23, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
It’s Wednesday morning and the phone rings. “Are you sitting down?” it’s the voice of my Case Manager from the eating disorders program. No need for her to know that I’m still in bed, depressed. “We have a bed for you.” Bed? As in, going in to the hospital and sleeping there bed? “Can you come in today to meet with me?”
The rules of the program were strict and clear. No binging, no purging, no restricting food, no laxatives, no self harm, no drugs, no alcohol, no exercise. They were explained to me verbally, given to me on paper and I had to sign a contract. I signed it, but how the hell was I going to go from binging and purging pretty much all day, every day, to a complete stop? I had been trying to reduce my number of daily purges for months in out patient therapy without any success and I didn’t believe I could do it. I was so anxious and scared after that appointment I went on a binge / purge spree that lasted until the end of weekend, the likes of which I had never been on before.
I was positive that I would not fit in. I didn’t think that I was the stereotypical eating disordered patient and I was fearful that I would walk in to a room full of teenage girls that would shun me. I was having flashbacks to my high school years and it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t think that I was “sick enough.” Surely there were people on death’s door that needed that bed more than I. I was certainly doomed to fail at treatment. I felt like I was a failure at everything at that point in my life and I sure as hell didn’t think that I deserved help.
I met eleven women – strangers that I felt I knew instantly.
On Monday morning I entered treatment. It was a four bedroom unit with a fully equipped kitchen, two bathrooms, a small TV lounge and a nursing office. My bedroom door had to be open at all times unless I was changing my clothes. The kitchen had a table to accommodate 14 people (4 in-patients, 8 day patients and 2 staff). Every cabinet had a lock on it and the fridge had a padlocked chain through the handles. The bathroom doors were locked and had Plexiglas cut outs in the bottom of the doors so that staff could see which way our feet were pointing. Meals were eaten at that huge table supervised by 2 staff members. We were watched carefully to make sure we were eating “normally.” Cell phones were not allowed on the unit and privileges off the unit had to be earned. All harmful things were taken away, sharp things, laundry soap, plastic bags, my identity.
On my first day of treatment I met eleven women, strangers that I felt I knew instantly. I walked into a room full of people that knew exactly how I felt, what I had been going through and how hard my journey out of it was going to be. They told me that they would be there to stand beside me.
On that first day I made some realizations, decisions and promises to myself. First and foremost, I deserved to be in treatment. I had been given a tremendous gift being offered one of those 4 precious bedsâ€¦I would not waste it. I faced the code of silence that had reigned supreme in my family when it came to illness, in particular mental illness, and I vowed that I would break that code. I promised myself that I would work hard every single day and that when I faltered I would pick myself up, care for myself and try again.
To seal that deal with myself, on the first day, in my first group session, in front of those eleven beautiful strangers I opened my mouth and spoke about my early childhood memories. The constant seeking of approval and attention from my father that never came, the standards set so high they were unachievable, being forced to sit at the kitchen table until late into the evening because I could not eat my dinner, and generally feeling unloved by him, not good enough, just not enough. These things burned forever into my memory and that surely started me down this chaotic path to a lifelong destructive relationship with food, men, perfectionism, anxiety, depression, low self esteem.
I surprised myself and did well in those first few days of treatment. Of course, the locked cupboards, no access to unauthorized food, and locked bathrooms helped. On my first earned outing to the hospital lobby to use my phone, the smell of the food from the vendors there almost brought me to my knees and I all but ran to the farthest corner of the lobby to “surf my urges” to binge. That reaction to the smell of food caught me completely off guard that day and I think about it every time I come around that corner to the lobby.
I’m still working hard every day.
Now three months into treatment, long ago transferred into the day program and now attending only half days, I am well into my journey. It’s a difficult one. This eating disorder has many faces and many forms and as one gets smaller another sometimes grows larger. Last week my depression overcame me so quickly and so completely and I almost found myself lining up my pill bottles again. I was having paranoid thoughts and could only whisper at times because I thought people were listening to me. My treatment team is fantastic and were on it immediately.
The Holy Grail is “normalized eating.” It seems simple and yet when you’d rather face a pit full of lions than a bowl of pasta, it can be monumental. I’m still working hard every day. I’ve learned that the identity that was stripped away from me back on that first day was the Bulimia.
I’m still me. Darlene.