I remember pulling in the driveway at the brown house…there were so many thoughts running through my head. I was questioning if I was really sick enough to even be in residential treatment. I stared at this front door. It was a red door, and as I was staring at this door, it opened up, and the first staff member that I came in contact with was Amy. She was direct care, and my first impression of her was that she was very welcoming. As we followed her into the house, panic started to set in. The house was really warm and inviting, but reality hit me when we started walking back towards the nurses station. We walked through the t.v. room and there were 2 girls sitting on the couches, and then we walked through the kitchen, and there was a chain and padlock on the fridge, locks on all doors and drawers of the cabinet. I just accepted where I was, but it really hit my husband hard to see that. As I sat back at the nurses station doing my vitals, and waited for them to get my weight, my husband was bringing in my bags, and we took them up to my room. After we got my stuff up to my room, my husband decided that it was time for him to leave. A lot of times when we are in our eating disorder we don’t see the impact that our illness puts on our loved ones and friends, but I saw it that day. He had tears in his eyes, he said that he felt like he was leaving me in jail, but I told him that this is exactly where I needed to be.
Here is the thing about residential treatment. You are observed 24 hours a day 7 days a week. There is programming 7 days a week. There are 3 meals and 3 snacks. There are outings. There are no off days, no matter what day it is. It could be thanksgiving, christmas, new years, you name it, and you had programming. You shared your story with every staff member you come in contact with, which is really overwhelming, but everyone is just trying to be on the same page. Mealtimes are super tough, groups are tough, individual sessions are tough, meeting with the dietitian is tough, especially on a weight gain plan. I say all of that to say this. Residential treatment isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. You have nurses doing rounds every 30 minutes at night, you sometimes have direct care monitoring you while you shower, or go to the bathroom. If you have a tube, you have staff listening to your stomach after they flush your tube. You get frustrated with staff because you might be having a hard day, you shut down, dissociate from reality at mealtimes, you sometimes end up hating staff because you feel like they are pushing you, but it’s out of care, and they are doing their jobs. Some direct care staff let you have a 30 second dance party, but made sure at the end of that 30 seconds, you stopped. Some nurses were a little abrasive, some were more like the parents who cared. Some of the kitchen staff would stay and chat music, or life with you, some staff sat down and knitting, crocheted, colored with you. Some staff would come to your room after HS snack and just have a conversation with you, to make you feel “normal”. You talk about BM’s, urine, and other bodily functions. You address all staff by their first names, they included you in their lives.
There were mornings when we would really be staring at the weather apps on our phones, hoping and praying that the temp and wind chill were over 32 degrees, just so we could get out of the house, be lined up like the kids from the Madeline books, and go for our walks with music streaming into our ears while we got to enjoy 30 minutes out of the brown house, the yellow house, and the cottage. Outings to target with certain direct care made the short time away from the house on Sunday afternoons, the cooler ones took us to the brentwood target vs. the kirkwood target. Sometimes you have meal outings with the dietitian that cause such high anxiety that you almost become paralyzed, but you survive it. You are in a very restrictive environment all day, everyday. You dig up all the skeletons in your closet, in hopes that you can re-evaluate what happened, figure out how to process it in a healthy way, and maybe be to a point that when things happen later on in life, you can utilize healthier coping skills vs. the ones that got you there in the first place. There are days when you want to cry, scream, and run away, but then you remember that is what got you there in the first place. A thing to remember is that this isn’t a place to relax, to sleep in, eat gourmet food. This is a place for healing, to get you out of danger, to get life started for you. It’s weird being in treatment because people think that life just gets put on hold, but here is the sad part…your life in the real world gets put on hold, but the world moves on. People who were in your life before treatment might not be able to handle the treatment process, or the person that comes out of treatment, but remember, that is okay. If you have people that fall by the wayside during this process, that doesn’t mean that you did something wrong, it just means that the friendship is just for that season, and it’s not there for a lifetime. Don’t beat yourself up over this. The real world is super hard, and sometimes when we come home, we can’t handle what life throws at us. Sometimes we end up in a relapse after treatment, and that’s ok. Sometimes the relapse isn’t bad, you can pull yourself out of it, sometimes the relapse is hard, and you have to reach out for help again,and that’s ok. The positive thing about being in a relapse after treatment is that we can often see when we are in one, sometimes we can notice really quickly, sometimes it sneaks up on us, but when we see it, it becomes empowering because we can often admit a relapse vs. denying it as we did before treatment. There is something super empowering about that. I say all of that to say this. That brown house has a lot of memories attached to it for a lot of people. A lot of the memories involve tears, laughter, frustration, hope, fear and many more in between. May we all remember the memories that we have, cling to them and think of them often. Not to keep us in a place where we have a distorted sense of what reality should be but to encourage us when we have a bad day, to comfort us when we feel alone, and to remind ourselves of the people who have entered into our lives at a really strange time in life.