Addiction and Eating Disorders

*Today’s post is buy another MP family member.  We’ve cried, we’ve laughed, and we’ve loved on Wrangler.  Amanda is a very strong person, and I am so glad that I have her in my life.*

I am an addict. I realized that pretty young. When other kids were sneaking a couple hits off a cigarette, I was smoking a pack a day. One drink at a weekend party turned into sneaking alcohol into water bottles at school. A little experimentation with drugs turned into drug rehab at seventeen. My eating disorder was just another thing I became addicted to. I remember being eleven and deciding that not eating would solve all of my problems. It would make trauma disappear, it would make me not care about being unpopular; all of my energy could be placed onto changing my body. For as long as I can remember I have had OCD, and my eating disorder fit perfectly with it. All of the rules I already had about numbers became rules about food. 

My days of fasting, stealing my dad’s diet pills and attempting to throw up turned into an eighteen year battle with anorexia and bulimia. I became so “Good” at purging, and forgot what it was like to eat as a normal person does. The majority of my teen years are a blur. I can remember the drugs I did, and where I purged. I dropped out of school sophomore year. I did get my GED, and after getting sober eventually went to college, but the eating disorder was still there. I had times where I would convince myself that purging every meal was ok, or that not eating for a couple days was acceptable. It wasn’t okay, and at 21 I lost my mind.  I was depressed, and lived off of wine (surprise, not sober anymore). Acting generally insane and crawling out of my skin I ended up on an acute psych ward. Four days later I was agreeing to go to treatment at the now closed, Research medical center eating disorder unit.

That round of treatment was spent with me avoiding talking about anything, gaining weight and leaving early. It was beneficial in some ways because it allowed my health to improve and gave me renewed strength that I could get better. A few months after treatment, I found out that I was pregnant. After a near miscarriage (a tear in his embryonic sack) I vowed that I would be the healthiest I had ever been for my son. I ate well and had a healthy pregnancy. Of course, eventually pregnancy ends and you are left with fragments of your former body. It didn’t take long for me to become obsessed with food and weight, and pretty soon I was back in full fledge relapse. I felt so guilty for putting so much energy into my weight, diet and exercise. The next two years were spent restricting, purging, exercising and attempting to recover on my own. Then my birth control failed and son number two came.

I wasn’t even sure I could get pregnant the second time. I was under weight and hadn’t had a period since my first son was born. I wanted to be healthy, I wanted my son to be born healthy and strong. I made rules to appease the eating disorder, but to also give my growing baby some nourishment. My son was born healthy and the race to lose the baby weight began. Once again my eating disorder was present, and dictated so much of my life. When I got pregnant for the third time with my daughter, I wanted for things to be different. I wanted my kids to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise. When I write this I feel so much guilt for not getting my eating disorder under control before I had kids. I love my children more than anything in the world, but the eating disorder steals so much joy that sometimes your focus clouds and you forget what is truly important.

When my daughter was six months old I went into outpatient treatment. I had went too far on losing the baby weight, and the constant purging had left my potassium levels dangerously low. Outpatient treatment wasn’t enough, I knew it wasn’t what I needed, but going to residential treatment means everyone knows. It meant leaving my kids. It meant missing my daughters first thanksgiving, It meant missing Christmas shopping and nighttime prayers. I went though. It uprooted my entire family and forced everyone to make sacrifices. I decided to go to residential treatment because I was driving one day and realized that I didn’t care if my eating disorder killed me. I had made peace with my death. Had it not been for the thought of “What will my kids say” I would never have gone to treatment.

Honestly I was never the ideal patient. Eating disorders are manipulative, and I did find ways to purge and exercise in treatment. As the days go by though, you realize “What’s the point?” Why not use the place to try and get better? Why not confess your secrets to strangers? You realize we’re all messed up, we just display our pain in different ways.

I am doing better now than I ever have. I can feel life back in me. I play tag with my kids and spin them in endless circles. I do the things I couldn’t do when I was dying.

Treatment is the easy part…

*Like I have mentioned before, I have friends that are contributing to the blog in hopes that we are able to impact peoples lives, and hopefully be able to help someone.  I think that when we have other peoples perspective on eating disorders and related mental illnesses, we are able to reach more people.  The people who have contributed to my blog are very special to me, and ultimately we want to be able to help others.  Today Kat is explaining her story a little bit more.  She is such a sweet person, and was always there to comfort me after meeting with the dietitian and receiving increases.  We conquered fear foods, going to restaurants, and just being overall support for each other when we were both at Billy G’s for dinner one night.  We joked around saying that we would just run into each other and it be like friends just running into each other at a restaurant. Not both of us freaking out while on pass with loved ones, just trying to do something normal like going out to eat.  As simple as that sounds to most people, it is paralyzing to those of us who have eating disorders.  I love you Kat, we don’t need our summer bodies!  Big shout out to Erin for providing todays image!*

*FYI there are numbers mentioned here, but it isn’t comparing pre-treatment weight vs. weight restored.*

Treatment is the easy part. It’s easy to be forced fed to weight restore. The hard part is going back home. I will always remember the day I went back to treatment for the second Time. My parents had to go to the courts and get medical guardianship over me because I refused to admit voluntarily to inpatient treatment. My mom had threatened that she was going to have me court ordered, but I didn’t believe her. I remember being at the gym on the stairs when my mom called and said if I didn’t come home immediately the sheriff was going to come and pick me up. I was admitted to Broadlawns on a Monday until my court date Friday. As expected, the judge sided with my parents and physician and had me ordered to enter immediately to McCallum. I think back to the movie Mean Girls because my intake date was October third. I was worse off this time than my first stay as I had 50lbs to get into my ideal body range. Most people might gain that much over a course of a few years, but in treatment it happens rapidly. Every week, usually twice a week, my dietician would increase my meal plan until I got into my range where my weight was finally stabilized. I can’t even begin to describe how hard it is to see your body change so much, so fast. Luckily, at least in treatment, you are surrounded by girls going through the same thing so you have a great support system. Now being back home, I’m surrounded by a society where the majority of people are trying to change their bodies. It makes it incredibly difficult to adhere to my current meal plan and exercise recommendations from my dietician and therapist. It’s especially hard for me because my work is in the health and fitness field. I have to constantly remind myself I have to take care of myself before I can help other people. I can look at my job one of two ways. I can either see it as a constant trigger or I can see it as motivation to stay on the right path. I choose the latter. Every day I have to give myself a pep talk to eat. Every day I have to refrain from over exercising. Every day I have to choose the right choices for my recovery. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

A day in the life at Kirkwood

Treatment for an eating disorder is not glamorous, and you definitely don’t go there just to rest and to take a break from life.  We bare our souls, constantly eat when we are told, and get a 30 minute walk if it isn’t too hot/cold.

Every morning we got a wake up call at 6 am for weights and vitals.  This involved us putting on our hospital gowns, and head to the nurses station.  When we got there we played pass the thermometer around and then we played pass the blood pressure cuff.  I had to have my blood pressure and heart rate done manually for the majority of the time, and lucky for me, the majority of the time, my vitals were more than 20 off so I got to down watered down gatorade. Before I went into treatment, I was in denial about how bad it really was.  Looks can be deceiving, but I was severely malnourished, and your heart rate and blood pressure don’t lie. After weights and vitals, we had around and hour and a half to get ready for the day.  I always got up and around, there were people who went back to bed until it was time to go to breakfast.   When I say that residential treatment isn’t glamorous, it truly isn’t.  With morning meds you would either get colace or miralax, and well we all know what those do…they move that poop train.  Anddddd, if you are on bathroom monitoring, you had the amazing opportunity to have a nurse or direct care look at your deposit before you got to flush.
Breakfast was at 8 and this was when we were allowed the only caffeine of the day.  We got our allotted 2 cups of coffee and that was it.  On Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sundays, we had cereal, and on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturdays, we had oatmeal.  I had learned to love oatmeal days, and I still do oatmeal at home.  After breakfast, at 9 am, we got to go outside for a walk. In the fall the leaves were constantly changing.  They were beautiful!  Sometimes on our walks we would come across Gerald.  He was a good guard dog!  Picture this, imagine the cartoon Madeline, that is what we looked like when we were out for our walks with direct care.  After our walk we had am snack and then home group.  This is where we just talked about how our day was going, if there were any issues with other patients, and essentially just a place to address what we were feeling with the rest of the community.  A lot of time direct care, or the day shift nurse would sit in, so that if there was an issue or a way that they could offer support.  We had yoga twice a week with the wonderful yoga Mary!  Her spirit is so sweet.  After yoga we had lunch (woooohoooo more food).  During our meals, if you couldn’t finish your meal, you had to supplement for what you didn’t eat.  If you refused 2 meals you got tubed.
During the week after lunch we had psychodrama (I hated that, but mainly because you had to get down to your core of your eating disorder), authentic movement (a.k.a. sleep and draw), body image group, life narratives, and family systems.  Of course after those groups we got our pm snack (I swear did we not just eat?), then to 2 more groups and then we were done with programming for the day.  At 5:30 we got the remote controls (woo! and if were on stage 2 or 3 you got your phones),  and then at 6:15 that’s right ladies and gentlemen, we got to go to dinner!  After dinner, about 7:30 we got our electronics, and then we were pretty much chilling.  I got to a point where my body was like “why are you putting so much food in me?”  So, I essentially had to take a pre hs snack nap.  This happened more often than not.  At 9pm, after an extremely long day we had hs snack, and then those of us who had to do vitals again, and then we were able to go to bed.  Trust me, it got really quiet after hs snack.

Yes, you might read this and be like, that really isn’t that much during the day, but it was a lot. It was emotionally draining, and by the end of the day, you were exhausted.  Dealing with the emotions that are surrounded by eating, being in individual therapy and typically getting and increase on your meal plan really just take a toll.  Think about it, neglecting your body for a long time and then all of a sudden giving your body what it needs comes as a shock, and then your body is like, ok I really am tired, it’s okay to be tired, right?  Treatment wasn’t a vacation from life, it was torturous, it was hard, difficult, I had to re-learn how to live, at when you are an adult, re-learning things it hard.

Always, always be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.

My First Day at McCallum

Even though its been almost 5 months since I was admitted into McCallum Place in Kirkwood, MO, I can still remember it like it was yesterday.  In the days that lead up to my admission at McCallum, there was a whirlwind of things that had to be done, from putting in my medical leave at my job, getting a physical, blood work, EKG, paperwork faxed, doing admission interview,  to letting my family know what was up and saying good-bye for a while, to getting my stuff packed for an unknown time.  My stomach was in knots because this was reality slapping me in my face, knowing that this was a life changing time, and just not knowing what was going on, or how long I was going to be there.  I went in this situation telling myself that I should just keep to myself, don’t develop relationships because I didn’t go there to make friends but to address my issues.  (Such lies.  With a small community, it was hard not to develop relationships.)
We left town really early on November 3rd, as in like 4 a.m. type early and headed to the St. Louis suburb.  Saying bye to my furkids was so hard.  I didn’t know when I was coming back to see them and I didn’t want them to think that I didn’t care about them.  On the way up there, I think that my body was just exhausted, and to be honest, I am really surprised that my body didn’t give out on me,  I slept for 2/3 of the way.  I felt bad for my husband, who was a trooper through this whole process, and he wasn’t really aware of how bad things were, until after he left me there.  As we pulled into the driveway at the Kirkwood house, I was extremely nervous because I think it hit me as we were walking up to the front door.  My head was screaming “You aren’t sick enough to be here” and “you don’t have a problem”.  As my husband and I start walking up the steps, the front door opens and one of my favorite direct care staff, Amy, walks out and says “I swear I’m not stalking you”.  Oh Amy, I loved her lack of facial filters!  As we walked into the house there were 2 patients sitting on the couch, and with every fear that someone with an eating disorder has about people starring, it was amazing, until they were addressed, they didn’t look up.  We walked through the kitchen into the nurses station where Amy told me to go ahead and sit down for vitals.  I had never done this, I didn’t really know what to think.  She prompted my husband to bring in my luggage while I was getting my weight and vitals done.
After seeing the intake process, all I have to say is thank God Amy was the direct care that did my admission.  She just made it smooth for me, and for my husband.  After he got my luggage in and we got it up to my room, we then took a little tour of the house.  I think this is when reality slapped my husband in the face.  He stopped Amy, and asked to talk to me outside and to say our good-byes.  I mean he didn’t stay long at all, but the locks on the bathroom, kitchen cabinets, and the chain and pad lock on the fridge did it for him.  We stepped outside, we both had tears in our eyes, and then he said something that made me feel bad for him.  He said, “I feel like I’m leaving you in jail”.  We continued to say our good-byes and I watched him drive away.   From that point on, it was non-stop telling my story to different people, a lot of paperwork, and what I considered a large amount of food.  My first day I met with my therapist, the psychiatrist, and the dietitian.  The first day is always a blur for people, constantly telling everyone the same story.
That afternoon, the other direct care staff, Mary, went over my patient manual, and just seemed really chill which helped.  I also attended my first art journaling group.  Caroline is a special lady, she reminded us of Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus, and she did a lot of our groups.  She invaded the private space, but she meant well.  I can tell you that my first meal there was lunch and it was sub meal A, Peanut butter and jelly with pretzels, yogurt, and fruit. I had to boost for my yogurt, because well I don’t do yogurt too much.  It’s a texture thing, and I didn’t finish my pretzels because I always feel like I’m choking on them when I eat them.  Dinner that night I had lentil taco, with the fixings.  My first night wasn’t too bad.  I remember watching “The Parent Trap” and the nurse, Linda.  She was hilarious, and just made me feel like I wasn’t where I was.  That is one thing I will say that was awesome, the night nursing staff, well most if not all staff would come sit with us, not just for support, but they made us feel like we weren’t patients in an eating disorder residential treatment center.  Essentially they wanted us to feel like we were just in a house with a bunch of room mates.  A lot of the staff shared stories of their families, to really just let us feel involved.  I will always be grateful for them and what they did for us, offering support, and acknowledging that we were real people.
At 9 those of us who were on stage 1 or on stabilization we able to go to our rooms for the night.  That night as I laid down, I cried, called my husband, cried on the phone with him, and then essentially cried myself to sleep.  The next morning, I got my lovely wake up call at 5:55 a.m. for weights and vitals, and to get ready for the day ahead.  I wasn’t looking forward to breakfast until Kat informed me that we were allowed to have 2 cups of coffee.  This made me super happy, but breakfast itself was psyching me out.  I hadn’t eaten breakfast in a very long time.  There were tears, and Amy and the other girls were offering support.  I finished it, was so unhappy about it, and after breakfast, we all tried to take our minds off of it.  I do have to say that I was envious of the other 2 girls because they were able to go for a walk and when you admit, you are on a 72 hour hold, and sometimes longer due to activity restriction.  I experienced my first home group, snack, meal planning, and then of course it was time to eat yet again.  That essentially became a running joke with my roommate and me.  “Did we not just eat?”  Anyways I just wanted to write about what my first day at McCallum was like.  I am thankful for Kirkwood staff, thankful for McCallum in general, and the relationships that I developed.  Thank God we are the Kirky Turkey’s!

What does an eating disorder look like?

Tonight I bring you a blog post that was written by a friend from treatment, Jess!  She was always quiet and I even serenaded her one afternoon after lunch!  She wrote what an eating disorder looks like to her!  Jess, this is simply amazing!  You are a wonderful person!   I am so glad that I got to know you and share life with you!

What does an eating disorder look like?

Hint: An eating disorder does not look like an emaciated body.

The suffering of an eating disorder goes far beneath the stereotypical skinny body.

An eating disorder looks like swollen cheeks, scraped knuckles, and bruised joints.

An eating disorder looks like a room full of people eating, while you sit awkwardly, not eating, because you simply can’t.

An eating disorder looks like trying to make up an awkward excuse to sneak away to the bathroom after a meal.

An eating disorder looks like tears streaming down the face of a girl sobbing in the corner of a public restroom after throwing up a three course meal.

An eating disorder looks like avoiding the kitchen at all costs, because you’re afraid you might be tempted to eat something.

An eating disorder looks like spending three and a half hours riding a stationary bicycle because you ate half of a sandwich at lunch.

An eating disorder looks like canceled plans with friends because they might want to go to a restaurant.

An eating disorder looks like requesting to work holidays so you won’t have the chance to attend family meals.

An eating disorder looks like judging your morality based upon the “good” and “bad” foods you eat.

An eating disorder looks like self hatred so intense that you can’t even stand to spend time with yourself.

Eating disorders are so much more than ribcages and thigh gaps. The emotional scarring is much worse than any physical symptom.

Empty. Worthless. Shame. Guilt.

*Tonight I bring you this harsh truth from Toots (her name has been changed at her request).  It brought tears to my eyes to read, to know that she is struggling and feels so alienated.  Toots, I am struggling at this very moment, I think I end up trying to convince myself that I’m okay.  And I’ve talked to a few others and they agree.  We have our ok days and we have our worse days.  It’s hard to live life outside of a protective bubble of treatment.  We leave treatment thinking that this is what life is supposed to be like only to be slapped in the face with reality.  This is where we have to just tell ourselves that things are okay, and continue on the grind.  You aren’t alone and you have us, whenever we say we are ok, more than likely we are struggling like hell.  We all love you and your love for chocolate.  And yes, you DO have something in your teeth.*

Empty. Worthless. Shame. Guilt. Those are just a few words that explain what I feel everyday – some days more than others. I would not be missed if that truck runs into my car. I hope it does and it hits me hard. I don’t know what I can add to this blog that an amazing woman started. The other friends that I made at Kirkwood have written and I am in awe at the way they seem to be excelling at recovery – even though i know it is an everyday battle. One thing for sure is that nobody but those who have an eating disorder will ever understand how you feel. One of the greatest things in my life has been the connection, though geographically distant now, with wonderful, strong women i met in Kirkwood.

But, now I fight my battle on my own with the help of intermittent visits to my therapist. I wonder if I will have a heart attack because of my imbalance of electrolytes from the constant abuse to my body. But, I honestly don’t care. I feel no worth and I feel nothing. I just want to be thin. The feeling of being “full” after eating is pure torture and leaves me in a panic until I can find a way of getting rid of this feeling. I am sure anyone who isn’t bulimic would gag (ironically) at the thought constant regurgitation that goes on in my life – sometimes 10 times a day.

When I was asked to write something for this blog, it took me a few weeks to begin to write. “What can I say that will help others?” I really don’t know, but I do know that what has been written on the blog so far has helped so much. I don’t feel so alone. One thing though is that I am bulimic and I believe most of the other women are not. It’s funny how, even in the eating disorder (ED) world, you feel less than the others (anorexic) who can restrict their intake. How weak am I that I indulge and then VOMIT??? How disgusting they must think. To me, it isn’t. It’s like breathing or any other body function that takes place everyday. However, if someone were to see me, I would die of embarrassment.

I went to Kirkwood to learn how to cope with these feelings and the urges I have every day. I failed. Except, that I met the greatest people on earth next to my family. They seem to be doing so well. ‘What am I doing wrong?” I guess I don’t want to get better. I just don’t know. I was afraid that by writing this I would make others sad. But, sometimes you just have to do things for yourself. Maybe this will help me. How selfish! Geez. I am typing and these are my thoughts that I have and that is what a blog is for i suppose. I find myself typing non-stop and I hope this helps someone else. I am not sure how it could other than it reaches someone who won’t feel alone in their fight.

 I have tried to end my “life” several times and I tell my family never to have a handgun in the house. I know i would drink until i was out of it and pull the trigger. The only thing is that I wouldn’t know where to aim it. Pills haven’t worked nor has closing the garage door with my car running. My husband has begged me not to commit suicide because how it would ruin everyone else’s life. So, for now, I am here and have no plans to hurt myself.

I love to make people laugh and make sure they are happy (strength or weakness? Who know?) I will continue my fight, though not seemingly as well as others. I will continue to live – not for me  – but so that I don’t make others feel bad. I am not worthy of this life. I sure hope my “Kirkwood Family” never gives up – they are my hope and strength that everyday battles can be won. As they say to me – don’t give up.