Not convinced that our Health Care System is in shambles? It took me three days to check into a residential treatment center. A three day period, during which, I probably binged and purged another 10 times.
I wake up at 6:30am, grab two slices of bread and a yogurt, and shuffle off to the car. Dad is driving me to Waltham, Massachusetts, where we will meet my mom and I will check myself into a residential care facility. The two hour drive is brutal. Normally, considering my long-term relationship with long-term driving, this would be nothing. However, checking yourself into a mental care facility isn’t something you can trivialize and blast away with the musical stylings of ELO. I passed the time wondering what life was going to be like for the next couple of… days? weeks? months? I know they will not let me run. No exercise of any kind. This alone puts me on edge; running is probably the only healthy thing I have been doing the past several months. What will they make me eat? I hope they don’t make me feel stuffed… When can I have visitors? How many other girls will be there? I bet they’ll all be skinnier than I am… I’ve never done group therapy. Do we HAVE to do yoga? I really hope we don’t all sit in a circle and mutter “ohm” for an hour.
We arrive at 9am. Paperwork commences. Mounds and mounds of paperwork. It feels like every time the assistant takes my completed forms, she gives me a new stack. So many release forms… my wrist hurts. And to make things worse, there’s a bowl of snacks sitting on an end table in the waiting room. Really? I spend more time resisting the bowl than writing my information down. How cruel. I hate this place already.
The paperwork is finished. Now: blood work. Finally, something I am good at! The nurse tells me “just a little pinch” and upon rolling up my sleeve to reveal my antecubital area, she marvels at my glorious veins. “I donate blood all the time,” I boast. Or at least, I used to, before a) I screwed up the chemical balance of my body, b) developed anemia (as a result of the former point), and c) got a tattoo. She takes five vials and sends me on my way.
This is where I wish I had “The Hard part 1-2” already written out. It would have been so much easier to hand that to the case worker than to verbally ramble through everything Ed and I had been through together, while keeping chronological order and not skipping any of the juicy parts. She asks questions, I answer them. Once she’s satisfied, she applauds me for seeking help and then proceeds to explain why I will most likely be waiting for at least another hour: she has to present my case to the insurance company and convince them that I screwed up enough (these were not her words, I have taken some artistic liberty here for your reading pleasure) to warrant coverage. She sends me back to the waiting room. I have spent more time here than anywhere else today.
The wait lasts longer than an hour.
Apparently, “Memorial Day” is “Memorial Days” for insurance companies. With no luck reaching an agent by 4:30pm, I am told to go home and expect an update tomorrow. Ed feels my dismay. My walls are down and he gladly steps in.
: “All that for nothing?”
: “You might as well give up, this is never going to happen. These people clearly don’t care about helping you.”
: “It’s not their fault. Yesterday was a holiday, I’m sure the insurance people are just backed up.”
: “They just know that you really don’t have a problem. You’re not skinny enough to need rehab.”
: “That doesn’t mean I should keep living like this.”
: “I will never make you go to rehab. I will take care of you. Now, let’s go home and numb these feelings with a nice binge.”
: “That does sound comforting… alright.”
Ed won. Ed won three times that day.
Around 2:00pm, I get the call. “You’ve been approved for seven days in residential. You can check in as early as 8:00am tomorrow.”
Allie is thrilled. Ed is afraid. When Ed is afraid, he gets nasty.
: “Well congratulations, tomorrow you’re throwing away everything we have built together.”
: “You mean the misery you have caused me?”
: “You were never miserable. I give you control. You could finally have an absolute effect on something with me.”
: “No, you took away my control.”
: “Let’s not fight. If you’re determined to do this, it’s our last day together. Let’s make it a good one. For old time’s sake. Then you can tell me if you still want to leave me.”
: “Fine. But only because I will miss you, and I feel badly for you.”
Ed is incredibly tricky. Sometimes he pretends to be on your side to make you feel like you still have power, but then he guilts you into crawling right back to him. That day Ed convinced me it was okay to binge and purge because starting tomorrow, I would never do it again. But Ed is a master strategist. He knows I will do it again. He may have to concede a few battles, but when I am least expecting it, he will ambush me and win the war. You know the feeling you get when someone you love is leaving for an extended absence, and you want to spend every last second with them, as if you could absorb enough of their presence to keep them there with you always? Ed and I spend a lot of time together that night.
Another 6:30am, bread and yogurt, long drive morning. Since last night, Ed has made a peaceful departure. It’s just Allie this morning. I’m relieved that this day has finally come. Today I kick Ed’s sorry bum to the curb, once and for all. I already feel like I’ve won.
There is more paperwork upon arriving, but only briefly. They check my bags, make sure I’m not hiding food or drugs, and take away anything I could possibly use to hurt myself. Then they take my phone. I knew this would happen, and took care to record all the numbers I would need in an address book. With no Facebook, no texting, and rarely any time with visitors or the sunlight, this address book was my only link to the outside world. I said goodbye to my parents; it was just like summer camp all those years ago… minus the “fun in the sun” part, and I don’t think s’mores would have been considered much fun either.
It’s snack time. I am surrounded by girls like me yet I feel so alone. I know no one. I mosy over to the kitchen counter and ask the nearest MHC (mental health counselor) what I should do. She hands me a meal plan and politely points out the list of exchanges (food types and portion sizes), which I am to use to build my snack. I am browsing through what seems to be an encyclopedia of options, overwhelmed. A petite girl, smiling and very pretty, introduces herself and asks me humorously “what I’m in for.” “Bulimia,” I respond. “Me too, I think I was the only one here before,” she says. Thank God. Someone who gets it. Immediately I feel welcome. Each and every one of these girls is bright, bubbly, kind, and funny. As I look around the table at each of these beautiful women, I ask myself how we could have all ended up here, feeling hopeless, worthless, and ugly, when clearly we all have so much to offer?
I guess that’s what we’re here to find out.
I love residential. I love the structure. I love having therapy groups where we just COLOR (when was the last time you used a coloring book? Get on that, it’s a beautiful thing. I don’t know why we ever stop). And even though I DON’T love having to ask a MHC to unlock the bathroom for me, and I love even LESS having to show her the contents of the toilet before I flush (talk about embarrassing), I DO love being free of Ed. Would I rather have more than three 15-minute breaks outside? Yes. Would I rather have more than two hours with my loved ones? Definitely. Would I rather keep my bodily functions private? Good God, yes. Would I temporarily sacrifice these things to ensure a lifetime of unlimited access to them? There is not a doubt in my mind.
And I love the girls. They are some of the sweetest, most fun-loving, crazy (in a good way) people I have ever met. And they are inspiring. They make residential actually seem like summer camp.
But, like summer camp, Resi (as we so fondly refer to her) also has rules. We are not allowed to talk about food during meals or snacks. We are not allowed to exercise. No push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, and when you walk as fast as I do, even that is frowned upon. We are not allowed to wear inappropriately tight or short clothing. We are not allowed access to mirrors other than when we are in the bathroom. But these rules allow us to live in an environment that is as trigger-free as possible, which isn’t saying much, because when Ed sits on your shoulder, it seems everything is a trigger. But it’s a start.
I spent a total of 10 days in Resi. I watched girls I had bonded with “fly the nest” and spread their wings in the outside world. I watched new girls come in and observed as they began the same excruciatingly slow but exponentially rewarding process of recovery, as I was doing. When it came my time to go, I was sad to leave. Sad and scared. I wanted to stay and support these women as much as I could. And I was afraid of what would happen when I returned home. Would Ed be there waiting for me? Would I be able to maintain everything Resi had taught me?
One thing I learned at Resi is that life is unpredictable. Even in the most structured of environments, things rarely ever went as I planned. We are creatures of habit, but so is Ed. He thrives on routine, because the moment you break it, which you inevitably will at some point, he cuts in on your dance and steps all over your feet. We crave consistency, and it is not a bad thing. Patience, trust, reliability, and perseverance are all valuable traits that rely on repeated practice. It is when life becomes rigid and inflexible that we welcome chaos into our lives. As my mom has often told me, “be like the willow and bend with the wind: the oak’s branches will crack during a storm.”
Resi, with the help of IOP, gave me over a month of “sobriety.” And although I’ve experienced relapses since then, the experience was not wasted. By anyone else’s standards, my stint at Resi could be classified a failure. But I don’t use anyone else’s standards. I
define what success is. Not Ed, not you, and not society. I
And today, I define my life as a success.