By: Kristin Canan
Your alarm goes off and the sun peaks in through the blinds welcoming you to start your day. As you open your eyes and stare out the window, you see the geese and their goslings taking a morning swim in the pond. You and your friends named them the day before, so it brings a smile to your face. You stretch your arms over your head as you slowly crawl out of bed. You know the day ahead of you is going to be trying, yet there is a part of you that is looking forward to the challenge.
You get dressed and leave your room to find the nurses who assess your overall health daily to ensure your body is okay. For you, it may be the first time someone has cared enough to check. You are proud to say that your fear around standing on the scale has started dissipating and the number has become less important as treatment has progressed. That feels good, and it is also something you never expected to happen.
You finish getting ready for the day and walk to the kitchen to portion for breakfast. You remember the first time you ever had to portion a meal and think about how far you have come. That first time, your anxiety was through the roof. You struggled to see everything in front of you, but the perfectionist in you wanted to make staff proud, so you ate what you thought they expected. You later learned that the goal for you was less about the food and more about nourishing and eventually starting to trust your body. You were more focused on the food than they were. Today, however, you actually feel a little enjoyment about the foods you chose for breakfast.
Following breakfast, you relax on the patio for a little bit and then make your way out to the hammock by the water. This is where you spend each morning, collecting yourself and setting an intention for the day. It helps clear your mind to feel the sun on your skin and sway as the wind gently pushes the hammock back and forth.
Now it is group time. You start your day with a process group, talking about where you are at in your recovery journey and significant events that have happened in the last 24 hours. You also provide your peers with feedback and support as they each navigate their personal recovery journeys. This has become one of the most effective ways to connect with your peers. For you, it has been a significant part of your recovery through challenging the shame you carry. For the first time ever, you have realized you are not alone.
Snack time follows. Apple slices and peanut butter have become your favorite; although strawberries and Nutella are a close second. The transition has been tough, but realizing that your body’s metabolism functions more efficiently when regularly nourished has allowed you to enjoy the food more. You remember thinking your dietitian was crazy when she assured you that you were not going to be overweight on this meal plan you both created. When your weight balanced out even though you were consistently eating more than you consumed before treatment, you were shocked. You learned that maybe you actually can trust your body if you nourish it regularly.
After snack, you’re on your way into an individual therapy session. Your therapy sessions are what you’ve grown to look forward to the most throughout your week outside of your hammock time in the mornings. You have to acknowledge that you were less than excited about therapy when you came to treatment. In your first session, you answered almost every question with “I don’t know.” With arms crossed, you were guarded and waiting for your therapist to ask how something made you feel. What could this therapist know about your struggle anyway? She was probably just going to tell you to color or meditate your eating disorder away. How pointless.
But in that first session, you did not know how to respond when your therapist validated that your eating disorder had served a purpose and helped you survive. You spent years shaming and criticizing yourself for your self-perceived “weakness” for being unable to stop engaging in your eating disordered behaviors. When your therapist sat in front of you and told you that your eating disorder helped you survive, it was the first time you thought someone actually understood what you were experiencing.
It did not matter how many letters she had behind her name, she affirmed you were the expert on your own experience. She taught you skills to help you navigate your experience and process through contributing factors to what makes you feel like you have to engage in these behaviors, but emphasized that you would have to partner together to regain control of your life. Finally, someone was listening.
The walls you had built up to protect yourself started to fall. It was scary. But continuing to live how you had been was scarier. You finally found someone to walk with you. Therapy sessions have not been easy, but you have gained an understanding of what purposes your behaviors have served and have started to find other ways to meet those needs. You also have established feelings of safety and trust. You have begun processing through experiences that have created emotional distress and a need to numb your feelings. And you have started to believe that those harmful experiences were not your fault.
The processing you have participated in has decreased your emotional distress level, and the skills you have gained have improved your ability to influence your emotions. You have learned how to keep yourself emotionally regulated and safe, and you have begun to believe that maybe you are worth as much love and compassion as you show those around you.
This work is applied in your group therapy each day. And the skills and content you learn in your trauma and recovery, body image, DBT skills, addictive behaviors, art therapy, healthy relationships, and equine therapy groups throughout the week support the work you are doing in individual and family therapy sessions.
After a day filled with groups, learning how to nourish yourself, and an individual therapy session, you slow down by becoming more in touch with the thing you have spent so much time and energy trying to disconnect from: your body. As the yoga instructor enters the room, turns down the lights, and starts the relaxing music, you inhale. You have spent most of your time trying to get away from your body, but for many reasons, it has started feeling safer to pay attention to it.
As the evening winds down, you go outside to sit in the swing under the gazebo. You look up to the stars and softly stare at their reflection on the water. Your mind runs through all the events of the day. Even though you are exhausted, you are hopeful. And as long as you have hope, you will continue to push yourself forward.
Your journey is far from over, but you are well on your way. And if no one has told you recently, you have a lot to be proud of.
Magnolia Creek offers support to people who struggle with various eating disorders and specializes in treating co-occurring eating disorders and substance use disorders. Please call us at 205-409-4220 or completing our contact form for more information.