This past Saturday marked the five-year anniversary of my admission to Center for Discovery, my last inpatient treatment facility. It still gives me pause sometimes when I realize how long ago that was. It’s a good reminder of how far I’ve come and that although I still struggle and have challenging days, it used to be so much worse.
I recently uploaded a post to my personal blog where I recalled my first night at my first Intensive Outpatient Program, Walden Behavioral Care. I was in eighth grade then, deeply entrenched in my eating disorder and convinced that my worth depended on a number on the scale. I had little idea of what to expect from treatment, but I certainly hadn’t anticipated how incredibly brutal and exposing it would end up being.
Walden, and the other programs that followed, repeatedly revealed how bad my disorder was while simultaneously chipping away bit by bit at the metaphoric walls I’d built around myself. From refusing to eat a snack-size bag of chocolate chip cookies at Walden to getting kicked out of my first residential program because I kept running away to almost being tubed in an ED ward at one of the hospitals, treatment was anything but easy.
Treatment, simply put, is terrifying. It’s vulnerable, exhausting, and you’re constantly being put in situations where you’re forced to face your fears. In the beginning, those fears were anything from eating a slice of cake to telling my parents about the scars on my arms. As my fear of food and my urges to hurt myself gradually decreased, a new challenge presented itself: committing to recovery.
Anyone who hasn’t experienced mental illness first-hand wouldn’t understand why choosing to get better is such a long and grueling process. I mean, it seems fairly obvious that you’d want to ditch the thing that’s basically destroying your life. But my disorder had become my identity. I didn’t know who I was without it, and for the longest time, I was scared I wouldn’t like that person; the Julia who wasn’t defined by her diet and weight.
But seven hospitalizations, two residential treatment facilities, countless medications, and more therapists than I could recall later, I finally decided I was ready to get better. In retrospect, it was a combination of mentally being in a headspace where I was genuinely fed up with the poor quality of my life and physically being at a facility, Center for Discovery, that, unlike some of the other places I’d been to, had the appropriate resources to help me kickstart my journey.
I’ll delve into more details in the future about this exact moment of clarity, but the tl;dr version is that once I knew I wanted to recover, nothing would stop me from obtaining that goal. At Center for Discovery, we based our meal plans around Exchanges: an approach to viewing food and nutrition that we use on Nourish. Exchanges provided me with a foundation to relearn how to feed myself properly and ultimately regain a healthier relationship with food. Like everything, it was a process and took a lot of trial and error, but I owe a lot to the Exchange System for helping me find balance in my diet and my life.
In fact, I owe a lot to treatment as a whole. Even the places that were utterly incompetent at helping me were a stepping stone to getting to the places that could. I’ve learned many lessons from my inpatient experiences but by far the most important one is that there’s nothing wrong with needing help. I used to be too ashamed to talk about my time in treatment, and while I don’t plan on sharing every little detail of what happened, simply acknowledging that, yes, I was in treatment, and, yes, it did help, is progress.
If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to seek it out. I may not have known it at the time, but looking back now, with a much healthier mindset, treatment greatly impacted my life for the better. The struggle was real, but it was also worth it.