Going into treatment, I naively assumed I would get everything I needed to recover right away, then go home and apply it. Treatment is supposed to heal you, right? I can laugh at my false expectations now. A huge chunk of all I’ve taken away from my experience never came to me for days, weeks, and even months. I am continually learning more than I could have ever imagined. Although it feels like it sometimes, treatment doesn’t exist in a vacuum. 9 months out, here are some new takeaways from my experience at Forest View:
The goddess game. I was the only one who didn’t absolutely hate this activity. Maybe it was because I alone got my wishes granted, or that I knew/thought it had nothing to do with real life. The game went like this: Hannah, Liz, and Karen were the goddesses. We each got 5 wishes and had to rank them in order of importance. Next we took turns reading them off and the goddesses would determine if our wish would be granted. If yes, we kept the wish and otherwise would have to crumple it up.The first few girls had theirs denied, and then it was my turn. I still don’t know exactly why I chose it, but “recover from my eating disorder” was my first choice. They quickly accepted and granted my wish. As we continued through rounds, every single one of my wishes were granted while others were rejected. They seemed hurt because so many of theirs were beautiful dreams: start a large foster home, find a love like my sister’s, finally be content with life, move to the Florida Keys. Afterwards, Hannah explained the point of the activity. You have to choose to recover first or nothing else you dream of will ever happen. Just in this past week I’ve thought about what the game truly meant in regards to recovery and life. I found the meaning cheesy and not helpful at first. I can see now that isn’t the case. I’ve tried to go on living without putting my all into recovery. Sure, I finished this year of college and had some good accomplishments, but was I happy, healthy, at peace, faithful? Not at all. God isn’t exactly like the goddesses were. He doesn’t choose not to bless me because I am in Satan’s grasp with this eating disorder. However, every day I stay here being sick I am consequently choosing to miss out on whatever other blessings God has for me. I can still do my best to honor God and be his servant, but I can’t give Him my all. Until I put recovery first and push Satan away I’ll never be able to live the full life God has for me. I will instead be stuck, surviving but not at all thriving. I don’t want that fate. Instead I will choose recovery and reap the blessings.
Recover now, not later. Nearly every woman I met spent longer times being sick with their EDs, 5, 15, even 30 years. They all gave me the same advice: work towards recovery NOW so that I can be free in the future, not in and out of treatment for the rest of my would-be miserable life. I didn’t believe them. I felt I could gain some weight, enough to get out of treatment, then go and continue to be in quasi-recovery indefinitely. The past 9 months I have spent a majority of my time in this “recovered” state, a few months in relapse, and very little time in true recovery. I’ve found that every time I go back to disordered thoughts and behaviors it becomes easier to fall back into the ED ways and harder to bring myself out. Its like having a sort of disordered muscle memory. I constantly find new ways to sneak and prove to others I’m doing great when the opposite is true. In my moments of clarity, this is what scares me the most. I could very easily end up a repeat offender, spending my whole life in and out of treatment. I could be like the other women and put school, love, dreams, happiness, faith, and hope in order to pursue my eating disorder. I could lose everything. I could even die. I no longer see these warnings as misplaced or unnecessary. I need to remember that every day I don’t put my all into recovery I am digging myself a deeper hole that I may not get out of.
Looking sick. I remember the first day T switched to PHP. As she came that morning, the first words she heard were “You look so much better now.” A man who had been inpatient with her but switched out a week earlier said them, meaning it as a compliment.That comment was extremely triggering for her and I couldn’t exactly grasp why. Having now had those same words spoken to me I completely get it. People think they’re helping, and I get where they could assume that but it does the opposite. We arent healthy the second our bodies begin to look “normal.” You cannot tell if someone’s doing better/worse mentally because of weight lost or gained in recovery. The first time i heard the “you look healthy now” spiel I wanted to scream. I remained cool and collected on the outside but internally I was a mess. It ended up leading to my first lapse in recovery. I couldn’t comprehend the word healthy. Certainly what they really meant was fat. That’s what the ED took it as so it let to obsessive and self-depreciating thoughts of how huge I’d gotten and how terrible I looked. Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with these comments as often anymore, since I haven’t been “sick” looking in a long time. I still do get it sometimes though, and it tends to send me backwards and ignite the ED thoughts. I could go on and on about how important it is to NOT mention body size, shape, how sick someone looks, etc to someone who’s recovering from an eating disorder. Whether you mean it in the nicest way possible or not, it is most-likely going to hurt them in some way. Also, a reminder: just because someone with cancer grows back their hair doesn’t mean the disease isn’t wreaking havoc on their body anymore. Same goes for ED sufferers.
Resilience. My second day at Forest View Jared gave us a lesson on resilience. I was still in complete shock of even being there. It was afternoon group and I was mostly just happy I wouldn’t be asked to eat anything or talk about my feelings. I had so many thoughts racing through my head that I didn’t really listen to him. He handed out a thick packet of papers. I don’t know that I opened it while there, but the quote I wrote down, “Resilience doesn’t always mean you get back up and back to normal, it can mean keep being here during hard times,” and picture on the packet of a small plant growing through a crack in cement both made an impact on me. The image has become a symbol of resilience for me. Against all odds, even with a huge block of cement in its way the plant still managed to grow. I’ve learned so much more about resilience since FV, including much from the packet Jared made. Above all, I constantly remind myself to get back up and grow out of whatever situation I’m in, just as the plant did. (Fun fact: a few weeks after this I ended up photographing a very similar scene which remains my personal symbol of resiliency to this day)
I can get through hard things. I remember the wonderful sense of triumph after finishing the hardest meal I had at Forest View. I finally believed that maybe, just maybe, I could do this. I didn’t think anything could get much worse than that lunch. I was so very wrong. I have faced incredibly worse situations than that meal. I’ve fallen into relapse more than once, cried my eyes out over meals or how huge I’d gotten, dealt with refeeding symptoms (as if side effects of recovery wasn’t already enough), had suicidal thoughts and plans, felt like my whole world was being turned upside down, battled anxiety that kept me up for over 24 hours, felt emotional pain far worse than any physical. It hasn’t been an easy road at all. Doing these last 9 months with only outpatient therapy and the love of my support and savior and without dropping out of school or putting my life on hold has made me STRONG. I am strong. I wouldnt be here right now if I wasn’t. Going to FV in the first place was scary, hard, bold, but continuing to fight every single day is so much more than that. I may not have the greatest attitude or drive for recovery all the time but I am giving it one hell of a fight regardless.
Sometimes being close to someone who’s struggling is more harmful than good. The staff at Forest View always discouraged patients making contact out of treatment. I thought they were just being mean back then, but now I see why. Being close to someone who’s in a bad place with their eating disorder is draining, triggering, and detrimental. Its so hard to recover when the other person keeps you in that disordered place. The disorders tend to feed off each other, making both parties worse. Personally, I’ve found that there’s a very thin line between helpful and harmful when it comes to these relationships. I’ve had experience with both and I’ve learned I need to set boundaries and take it slow. I have never had an issue with the three women i still am friends with on Facebook. We message each other about once a month but never get into our struggles other than to ask for prayers. Its very healthy and nice. I had a completely different story dealing with my other friend who also had an eating disorder so I know I have to be careful if I meet another sufferer in the future.
You have to save yourself first. This goes along with not allowing unhealthy relationships to last. Hannah had the most perfect analogy for it. In an airplane, they always announce to put your own oxygen on first and THEN help your neighbor. Recovery and life in general are so like that too. You have to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you’ll go down. I’ve learned how true this is. I tried to deliver my friend and fellow ED sufferer from her demons for months. I was more invested in her recovery than my own and I began to spiral. I ended up being led back to those words Hannah spoke at FV. It was painful and one of the hardest decisions to make, given my tendency to fix people, but I ultimately had to sever the relationship. I can’t be a good friend if I’m not here because I let this disorder kill me. Instead of always serving others first, I have begun to heal my own wounds. (Note: I feel my relationships with people who may struggle now are not in any way inhibiting my recovery. They both push me to do better as I push them. It’s perfectly balanced and healthy! 🙂 )
You can’t choose recovery (long term) for anyone else. One of my first days I was asked why I had come. It was a valid question and one I couldn’t fully answer. My mom was the one who called and set everything up, so she was a good excuse even if I technically could have refused. Honestly at that point it was probably for my family and a few friends. I even stretched it to say I did it for Paul. I used basically any reason other than “for me” because it wasn’t for myself. I was in such a dark place that I would have been okay with dying a slow and miserable death from anorexia. Right away, Hannah called me out on my justification for being there. She was happy I came to treatment at all, but she warned me that doing this for others would quickly wear thin. That it did. Not at Forest View or even weeks after, but eventually I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to recover. I could care less about myself. I had so many other people and outside reasons that were completely valid but it still wasn’t enough. I didn’t want recovery for myself one bit. I hated myself. This threw me into relapse where I finally saw truth in Hannah’s warning. Even if I still have my bad days or weeks, I choose recovery each day because I want to get better. I have a thousand other reasons as well but my main propellant is recovering so God can use me in the future and so that I’ll be here for it. I have worth and I deserve to live. I may get discouraged but the only way to make it through is by saving myself.
Positive spin. Hannah was a stickler on this. My second day was preceded by a very hard night. I couldn’t come close to my meal plan and I thought I was a failure for that. During check-in for ED group I mentioned how I could only manage ¼ of my dinner. She immediately told me to stop and not say another word until I put a positive spin on it. I changed it to “I tried my best and had ¼ of my dinner.” I was annoyed and very skeptical. My dad already gave me the “think positive” speech about 2314 times so I had extreme doubt this could work. How would switching around a few words change a thing? Regardless of how I felt, I quickly learned to say the positive side of things, no matter how bad it was. I dropped this habit after FV, only picking it back up after my most recent relapse. I’ve realized how a small positive spin can change my thinking and ultimately the outcome of my day. If I’m stuck in the “I’m a failure” mindset I often give up on recovery. Believing I’ve done my best and that I’m a work in progress leads to more success and energy to fight. It sounds silly but it helps me!
No “good” or “bad” foods. ALL foods fit into a healthy meal plan. I was so angry at Ludie when she explained this concept. Not only did I not believe her, but I was truly upset by it. How could pizza or ice cream or white bread be HEALTHY?!?!?!?! My eating disorder convinced me she was a liar. I completely agree with her now though. The best days I’ve experienced are not where I only have fruits and vegetables. I enjoy life so much more when I venture into the forbidden food options. I remind myself often that plenty of healthy, balanced people have a cookie every once in a while and aren’t focused on eating “clean.” It’s still hard on most days but I am beginning to see past the eating disorder’s lies in this area. I never would have gotten here without all of the unwanted “there are no bad foods” talks at Forest View.
Refeeding. I’ve mentioned refeeding and my experience with it some, but I don’t believe I ever spoke of what I was warned of at FV. Everyone there, most specifically Ludie and the doctors, warned us of refeeding. I watched T go through various symptoms like bloating and edema. II even had a little phosphorus scare my first week. You’d think I would have listened and prepared myself for the refeeding that was sure to come. Instead I lived in denial for months. I truly wanted to die the first time I experienced it. I felt I was being punished for choosing recovery and became discouraged. Ludie’s words rang through and were the only thing that helped: be gentle, keep eating, don’t be discouraged, treat yourself with love. Refeeding is not a myth. Don’t ever believe you’re invincible to it as I did.
Get off the scale. The Forest View staff were very adamant in having every patient stay away from numbers, specifically or weights. They weighed us backwards each morning and never gave out numbers (except to S who somehow found out she only gained a pound in her first week). All I knew during my time in treatment is that my weight stabilized after I lost five days in a row. My parents kept me off the scale for about a week after FV, then lost interest in monitoring me. I don’t get how that was ever a good idea, but the second they stopped watching I stepped back on. My addiction to the scale escalated even more after treatment. I went on it first thing each morning and up to 10 times more through the rest of the day. My mood, eating patterns, and self worth all depended on that number. I wouldn’t allow myself to gain more than X pounds during a day. If I didn’t lose weight I felt like a failure. If I gained I would restrict heavily and exercise. I spent a huge majority of the last 9 months being trapped by that scale. In my moments of real recovery I saw how damaging it was. I still didn’t want to give it up, however. Only since I smashed my scale last week have I seen how right everyone at FV was. I no longer have to start my days with that terrible habit. I thought it would be scary not to know what I weigh constantly, but instead I’ve found a freedom that I never want to go away.
Recovery is still so hard a lot of day and I’m nowhere near recovered, but I am finally at a point where I know the truth and see through the lies this disorder has fed me. I thank God for my time at Forest View and all I’ve learned. Recovery is a long road but one I am going to continue on thanks to the staff at FV, Jenny, my support, and mostly, my wonderful Savior, and mostly, my own strength.