Taking the leap to residential treatment
Author: Cathy Demaria
I have been dealing with an eating disorder since I was around 13. It wasn’t until I turned 28 that I started seeking help for it. For years, I went on convincing myself that it was a temporary diet, a chosen way of life, and could not imagine relinquishing the sense of control my rule-based behaviours gave me. As time went by, I grew increasingly fearful of more and more foods. The depression and anxiety that often accompany EDs became my normal, and I was experiencing frequent and intense panic attacks and breakdowns. I kept myself extremely busy with various work endeavours, a committed relationship; and countless projects. The impossibly high perfectionist standards I had for myself drove me further into restricting, prioritizing exercise above all else in my life, and using how small my body was getting as a reassuring measure of my achievements.
For as long as I can remember, I have been ashamed of my emotions and the way I naturally express them. Unlearning the guilt that pervades every single one of an ED sufferer’s reactions and decisions is a very long process, which is why so much time can pass between the moment one admits to themselves they have an eating disorder and actually getting help. It takes self-compassion to allow for support with an issue and stop trying to figure it out alone.
For me, it wasn’t until I realized needing guidance did not make me less of a person that I was able to begin my recovery journey. I am human, with my strengths and my difficulties, and I deserve treatment for my illness the same way someone with an exclusively physical ailment would receive it no questions asked. Of course, there is no denying that recovery requires a hefty dose of pushing through and commitment to getting better, but having slip ups only teaches us to stop applying moral judgments on signs of our humanity and practice empathy towards ourselves.
I entered recovery gradually, like a skittish animal testing the waters, full of envy and hope for what lies on the other side, but still afraid of really jumping in. I would go for it, challenge myself to have that meal out I had been obsessing about for months, only to have it be a one time thing. I knew that to fully surrender would shake me to my core, rendering me unable to perform my life duties for a while; and that scared me tremendously.
It took me a while to go from the overall sense that I needed help with this eating thing to “I need to go away for a bit and focus on recovery outside of my home environment”. At first, it was the emotional toll my reactions and obsessive behaviours were having on my relationship that made me seek treatment.
The questions I wanted answered were like : Why am I ruining everything good in my life? How can I make sure I stop being insecure? Is this pain going to be there forever? Am I condemned to a life of feeling too much and pushing people away? Can I learn to cope without hurting myself and my loved ones?
Reflecting on this now, I know my main motivation was people pleasing. I wanted to fix myself to be better for my partner, my family, and my friends. I did not believe in full recovery, and certainly did not think that I would ever accept or love myself; just learn to co-exist with my flawed body and my damaged mind.
The feeling that it was wrong of me to take time to focus on myself and let others figure out real life without me was incredibly strong. Following through with my decision to come to Westwind meant getting over my self-doubt on a daily basis; pushing away the little voice that said it was not the right time. The truth is, there is no right time. Life will go on, things will keep happening, and people will think things and judge. What matters is that if you are struggling, hurting, and surviving alongside an eating disorder now, then now is as good a time as any to take that helping hand, lay the foundation of a lasting recovery, and take your power back. Don’t wait, your pain is valid, and you deserve to set yourself free.