In November 2007, I pretty much came to the conclusion that I was done. Done living. Done trying. Done pretending. Done. Done. Done. That translated to an eating disorder: Starving myself and over-exercising was a way to end my life in the most painful and slow way possible. I didn't even deserve a quick and painless death...
I had gone to treatment in 1997, and I saw how the women treated each other: Competing for who could be the "sickest", berating those that ate, being fed via tube up the nose was a "badge of honor". I didn't want to be in that environment again, but in January 2008, I started to wonder if that was my best choice.
On the one hand, I knew how to eat. I knew what to eat. I just didn't want to. I had done it before: Forced myself to eat because it was what I had to do, because it made other people happy, because there was no other choice... but I didn't want that life anymore. I felt like my choices were either to die, or to somehow find a way to want to live. I wasn't sure if anyone could really help ME... but... I chose to give it a shot.
On February 18, 2008, I checked myself into Center for Change.
Going inpatient to CFC meant turning my WHOLE LIFE over to other people. They tell you when to eat (and what to eat, and what happens if you don't eat everything they tell you to eat), sleep, go to the bathroom, everything. Your whole day is scheduled out to the minute. They tell you what you can talk about, what you can't talk about, what you HAVE to talk about. They ask you to share your deepest, darkest, hardest parts to share, about yourself. There is no such thing as a private life in treatment. (You even get people standing outside the bathroom door with it cracked open.) It sucks. Even if it is totally necessary, it SUCKS!
I knew it was going to be hard work. I knew there was a lot of things I had to face and changes I'd need to make, but at the same time I had no fucking clue. I feel pretty lucky that I had the opportunity to go to a safe place to do the work that had to be done. They took care of the business of keeping me alive, so that I could put everything I had into healing myself. I know how RARE that opportunity is. (Only 1 in 10 people who have eating disorders get to go to treatment. Most are sent home LONG before they have had the chance to face the problems that caused the eating disorder in the first place.)
There are so many powerful experiences I could share. Here are just a few:
The women I met there
I was afraid I'd have another experience like the one in 1997, but I had nothing to be worried about. I went at the exact right moment: With the most intensely beautiful, strong, amazing women on the planet. Fighters with huge loving hearts. The fact that most of them had survived their lives was a miracle to me. Every single one of those women have been through hell, and not just a little bit of hell: HELL!!! Every single person I met there had faced life experiences that "normal" people can't even begin to fathom. Before CFC, I had sat in church, and listening to the women there, I felt jealous at what they called "trials". Sitting with the women at CFC, I felt understood. Finally, not alone.
Petey, the wheelchair
Chronic low blood pressure, combined with random drops in blood pressure, combined with anxiety and dissociation, combined with trying to gain a lot of weight in a short amount of time, combined with blood sugar issues, combined with emotional exhaustion, combined with who knows what else - all those things made me so dizzy, I had a hard time walking. I was a "fall risk", so I had to sit in a wheelchair.
I spent months sitting in that wheelchair. I learned to rest. I learned that I didn't always have to push through and push my body past it's breaking point. I learned to take safe risks, and to avoid unsafe risks. I learned to let others help me..
One of the reasons I hated the chair was how much space it took up, but in that chair, I had my own space. For so long, I'd convinced myself that my mere existence was somehow infringing upon other people's space. I'd tried to make myself as small as possible... Since it was my chair, and no one was going to sit in the thing with me, it was okay to take up the whole wheelchair. I relaxed and began to let myself take space.
The assignment to "Stop doing all the things you do to prove to others that you are loveable"
For me, at that moment those things were: Smiling, talking to other people about their problems (not talking about myself), and following all of the rules.
At first, I wanted to please everyone by doing that assignment perfectly... and then I decided that was silliness, because I would still be doing the same damn thing I'd always done: Trying to get other people to love me by doing what they wanted. For the first time, I started thinking about what I wanted. I WANTED to smile, so I did. I WANTED to break the rule of getting out of that stupid wheelchair and walk to the dining room, so I did. Before that day, it had never even occurred to me that I had choices, that I could want something. It was also the first time I ever said "no" to someone in authority. (I was such a rebel. I wouldn't give her my watch when she asked. She didn't know what to do. I felt bad for saying no, and I felt SO GOOD that I could.) It was an eye-opening day for me.
Beating the hell out of a couch cushion in "Care Bear's" group
In group therapy, a friend was sharing an experience she had had with her husband. He had said things to her that were just... awful... and I remembered Larry saying the same kinds of things to me. I told the group that I was angry, but I didn't know what to do with that feeling... Care Bear (therapist) got a tennis racket and a pile of couch cushions and had me hit them. With every hit, I was supposed to say, "I am angry!" like I meant it. That was not an easy thing for me to do. It took me a long time, and a lot of trying before I could say "I am ANGRY!" (It's funny, looking back now, I can see that I was still very restrained, even when I thought I was "out of control" angry. It was just the start of learning to be present with my own emotions.) It was incredibly intense for me, and for others in the group. They still talk about that day in group when Jen finally let go of the some of the anger.
Ceremonial Group: Standing before a jury of my peers, I had to convince them that I was bad
I had believed my whole life that I was worthless and unlovable and "no-good", but I couldn't tell you WHY I thought that. In a court, there has to be evidence, so the assignment was to lay out my evidence to the women there. I shared the most painful things that had happened to me. I shared the worst things I had ever thought. I KNEW that they would hate me, but they didn't. To this day, only BJ and that group have heard some of those thoughts... Because of the way those select few responded, I'm not afraid of myself anymore. Those women gave me the courage to face the "worst" parts about myself, and let me know it was okay to love me. Pretty much changed my life.
RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) training
I wasn't allowed to do the training, which was okay by me, because just watching OTHER people do it caused panic attacks, dissociation, flashbacks, and generally awful days. As awful as it was, watching my friends go through the training, helped me face my own past. Going through flashbacks and panic is AWFUL, but it was necessary for me to heal. By facing my past, it stopped having the control over me.
I still have the plan to take a RAD class sometime. The final day includes a simulation: Men "attack" you. You use your voice, your body, everything you've learned to get them off and to get away. I'd like to be able to do that. (Still don't think I'm ready for it. I'm shaking just thinking about it.)
DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) "Non-judgmental stance"
I learned that things aren't "good" and "bad". Things just are. There aren't good people and bad people. There aren't good emotions and bad emotions. There isn't a right or a wrong. There isn't a should or a should not. Everything just is. Very powerful lesson that helped me to stop being crazy. (I've sat here trying to think of how to say it, but honestly... I was crazy. Trying to put everything into it's little box of "good" or "bad" or some derivative of that, made me insane.) Life is a lot more gentle, peaceful, and happy. There are still times when I get caught up in judging things (mostly myself or my emotions) as "good" or "bad". Then I remember Espra and getting pillows thrown at me. (I know that last sentence won't make sense to most people. But in group, if you said anything that was a judgment: good, bad, right, wrong, should, shouldn't, etc., you got a pillow thrown at you. It was a good way to make me aware of what I was doing. Now I use phrases like, "I prefer" or "I don't like", because that is more effective.)
The "pinky promise prayer"
This one still brings tears of love and joy to my eyes. I'm not sure how long I'd been at CFC at this point. A couple of weeks, maybe? "Bubbles" was a teenager who was a new patient. Her body was failing her, and the group of us sat and watched helpless as the nurses worked to take care of her. Together, we prayed for her and then made a pinky promise that none of us were going to give up the fight with the eating disorder. Eating disorders claim so many lives, but not ours. That night I wrote in my journal: "CFC. At this moment. With these women. Is EXACTLY where I need to be". We've all kept that promise thus far. 1 in 5 people diagnosed with an eating disorder will die. The fact that I don't know anyone who has died from an eating disorder is astounding to me. I know of people who have died: Friends of friends, but no one I know personally. And no one from that group. They're all still fighting like hell, and I love them for it.
There were many times after I left CFC that I just wanted to throw in the towel, and be done. I didn't want to fight for my life anymore. I was so tired. In those moments, I thought of the women in the group, and there was no way I was breaking that promise. There was no way I was going to give them any excuse to give up their fight. That promise I made to them, and that we made to each other has saved my life more than once.
Since we couldn't leave to go to church, they arranged to have the young men bring the sacrament to us. A small group of women gathered in one of the group rooms. We sang a hymn a'capella. A prayer (and the prayers offered by the women there were the most sincere and beautiful prayers I've ever heard). No talks, but sometimes we'd share thoughts with each other. So much love in that room. If church had felt like that, I probably would have never left.
Your definition of recovery
We were all asked to define what recovery looked like to each of us individually. Mine was, "When I love myself more than I hate myself."
According to that definition, I am recovered, but I think recovery is just life. I keep learning and growing and changing and living. According to that definition, I'm still working for recovery and always will be.
I know that most people won't understand the rest of this list, but to myself and the few that will:
"Love you to pieces"
J and C dancing to "Beat it"
ripping up phonebooks, throwing ice, throwing pillows
"Let it be okay"
Fedder and Le Freak
arguments about the fireplace or walks
that nasty bean salad
singing and peeing
"hit snap clap hit hit snap clap"
table manners? what table manners
"Goals change lives"
"How is that like your life?"
the big white van
the race to get out and the race to check back in
the vitals machine
games at the dining room tables
the "f word" wasn't fuck - it was fat
"The voice is no longer hidden in me. I've let go, Now I am free!"
I'll never hear this song and not think of the dining room, saying goodbye to beautiful women, not knowing where life would take me...it turns out... I like where life has taken me.
And the best part: I REALLY like the girl that I've become.