“I do not need treatment; I can figure this out on my own. I am a mental health professional. I am probably smarter than the therapists there anyway.”
That statement came out of my mouth just days before I admitted myself into a local outpatient program for individuals living with eating disorders. I was in a bad space: I was counting calories, taking diet pills and laxatives; obsessing over every detail of the food I was consuming and even, at times, completely restricting my food intake. I knew I was spinning out of control because this was not my first rodeo; I had been here before.
When I was a teenager, my eating disorder made an entrance into my life. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, along with dealing with the recent loss of both of my parents, and I felt like my world was caving in. I felt out of control and I felt like I had no one who I could talk to, because what other 13 year old girl was feeling this way?
Instead of being open about how I was feeling, or turning to anyone for help, I decided to take the world on, alone. That depression, anxiety, and loss quickly turned into me feeling like I needed to figure out how to control something in my life. That is when my eating disorder (ED) stepped in. I began using my ED as a way to escape, as a way to find control, and as a way I could connect to other girls who “got me.” This nightmare lasted for over a year before I entered treatment for the first time. I went through the motions, did what I was supposed to do, and appeased every person in my path just so I could complete the program and be done. In my mind, I thought that being done treatment meant being done with my ED. I must be “cured” I thought.
Fast forward to college. Stress, trying to figure out your life, new relationships, finding your sexuality, all kinds of fun stuff, right? Negative. I was finding that I was experiencing my eating disorder symptoms at times and that when I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed, ED loved to make an appearance and make me feel like she was all I had to get me through. I spent all of my college years combatting her and telling her to “get lost” and my recovery was pretty solid. I decided to study social work and focus a ton of my work on serving people living with eating disorders and other mental health challenges.
After graduation, I moved out and lived alone for the very first time! I had my own space, a job, my own money, and I was in complete control! I felt on top of the world. I decided to take on graduate school and entered into a masters of social work program. This time in my life was so freeing, but at the same time I was slowly becoming a prisoner yet again.
Having no one to tell me what to do or how to spend my money, living with no one watching my every move, ED slowly became my new roommate. I was getting to a place where I knew that I know longer had control over my recovery and that my eating disorder was going to win. I was a mental health professional at this time, and I was working a steady job and providing services to those in recovery from other mental health challenges. I told myself, “I’ve got this, I can figure this stuff out, I am going to be just fine, I know what to do.” I said that to myself every day for a year before I was completely powerless over my ED.
Even though I knew all the answers, could beautifully understand the symptomatology of my eating disorder and could tell anyone of my clients that if they were in the space I was, they needed to consider seeking treatment. I would always say, “I am not like them, I am a mental health professional, I don’t need treatment!” Where did that land me?
That landed me in treatment. I was on the other side of the couch this time and it was terrifying. I was ambivalent, resistant, and on top of those feelings, I was completely narcissistic. “These therapists are all idiots.” “They are using the wrong approach.” “This therapist obviously didn’t have any formal group therapy training.” Those were all thoughts that went through my head during this round of treatment. The participant who dominates the conversation and thinks they know everything about everything, the one we learned about in our education as being one of your “toughest clients”…yeah that was me. No one could tell me anything!
This attitude caused me to put a wall up and not receive help at all. I was still using symptoms, still manipulating my loved ones into thinking I was getting well, and still fully immersed in my eating disorder, until one day. One day where my stress and anxiety was SO strong that I crumbled into a pile of tears and realized that I was not well. I realized that no matter what my education level was, no matter what my title was, no matter what my status was, I was not well and I needed to surrender.
I entered treatment the following day with a different attitude and an open heart to get well. Instead of dominating groups and trying to run them, I participated. Instead of comparing my recovery to other girls in my program, I supported the other girls in my program. Instead of lying to my loved ones when I was having a hard day, I was honest and told them I was struggling so that I could get the support I needed. Instead of telling myself, “I am better than everyone else here in this program,” I said, “These girls get me, these girls are my people. They understand what it feels like to live with this monster.”
I found some of my greatest friends during my treatment at The Renfrew Center and I also found my greatest self. I found that recovery is a journey and that there is no magic pill or standard to make it easy. I found that no matter what your story is, you can be affected by an eating disorder. But most importantly, I found that no matter what your story is, you can receive help! Saying yes to help changed my life, and today I can say without shame, that, “I am a person in recovery.”