this is a lengthy post with a lot to take in. i promise you this.
i mentioned in a previous post that i have been struggling with eating disorders for quite some time; it’ll be six years in june.
i also mentioned in a previous post that i checked myself into a treatment facility; it was out west and the program was a minimum 45 days long.
when i say “eating disorders” i mean to say that it’s been an amalgamation of anorexia nervosa, binging and purging and restricting and when i say “out west,” i mean to say out in california, my dream land.
i knew i needed help. i hadn’t shown any signs of self-improvement. in fact, the problems had only worsened and the disorders just kind of took over my life.
“the first step is admitting you have a problem..” i can hear it now, as a monotone, unified choral chamber reciting with zero enthusiasm. but that’s okay, i admitted it to myself and to my family and i found a treatment facility that i felt was best for my needs (homeopathic, all females ages 18- 55, on the beach, flexible, loving, encouraging, etc) and i was excited for the next step.
i pressed pause on my education, my job and every other aspect of my life. this was very difficult for me. i have never stopped earning credits or working a job simultaneously all the while dealing with eating disorders and living a life. the process of pulling my head above water for a second and realizing that recovery was the only thing i could focus on was the most difficult part for me.
skipping a few steps forward to spare derailing my train of thought completely, there i was, at the front door of the facility and i need to let you know that i was nervous. heart pounding. yes, i was brave to admit myself but my palms were sweating just a little bit. to make things worse, although we had been planning my arrival for three weeks, the clinic “wasn’t expecting me today.” a few nurses scrambled to look organized and prepared, and although they failed miserably, i remained calm and continued through the initiation process. blood work. electrocardiogram. pee in a cup with the door open. tuberculosis test. hour-long health assessment. and i sat there confidently. i didn’t let the karli-confidence wither. i promise you this.
after that, i was transported to the building which was nowhere near the beach, for the girls, like me, who were partaking in php (partial hospitalization program). to clarify, there are four levels of care; residential (most intense), php, intensive outpatient and outpatient (least intense). php keeps you in a building 9 hours out of the day and you take care of yourself overnight. so, there i was, the upper-middle-class of care and once more, my arrival was not expected at the php center. i was frustrated, uncomfortable and unsteady but the head nurse said “just head to the back and start filling out your progression sheet.”
as if i knew what any of the jibber-jabber meant, i moved my way back into the big community room where i would find my new sisters, my new friends, my new support system for the next month and a half. they all looked up at me. and i surveyed all of them too.
they all broke my heart. especially the tiny girls. i remember being like this. i remember my elbows protruding from my arms. i remember my collar bones being prevalent and sharp. and how my eyes sunk into my skull that looked like a bobble-head on the rest of my emaciated body. i shivered. but more so than the appearances of my 14 fellow php’s, their demeanors demolished my heart the most. they didn’t smile, or say hello, or offer to scoot over on the couch so i could sit too and get to know them. they just surveyed my seemingly-healthy body (eyes on my thighs, i’m not kidding you) and my big, bewildered eyes. they returned to journaling and smoking cigarettes as if i didn’t exist. but i stood my ground and stayed positive. i promise you this.
before going forward, i want to ensure that you all know that i am an upbeat person. i believe that life is inherently good and we are loved by a divine creator and that humor is my go-to and i love my friends and that there are more sunny days than there are gloomy ones.
but this place created clouds in my soul. darkness in my demeanor. heaviness in my heart.
during our first group session, i realized that this wasn’t the place for me. out of the 15 girls, 14 talked about wanting to kill themselves (i was the only one who had no interest in taking my own life), or overdose so they could just die already, or purge and purge and restrict and binge and cut and burn their arms and use drugs again because life meant nothing anymore, nothing matters anymore. nobody smiled or said anything positive and nobody touched each other on the back and said “we are here for you, we love you, we support you.” they had known each other for over 30 days and they didn’t care much about each other. this made me sad. what also made me sad was that these were peoples daughters and sisters, how could you live like this? it’s sunny out today, did you know that? you made it another day, can you believe it? life is inherently good, don’t you see this? towards the end of the group session, a 47-year old woman cried because she ate a bag of chips over the weekend and as the tears ran down her saggy cheeks, my heart broke for her, but i said to myself, “that will absolutely not be me in 26 years.” i promise you this.
right after group session was lunch hour. in php, they provide you two meals and two snacks. everyone lined up with such hesitation, but it was taco salad, so you best believe my hungry ass hopped into line, asap. this is when i also realized that i didn’t really belong there. i didn’t fear food like they do anymore. lunch was silent and heavily monitored. two nurses at each table. nobody talked or looked up from their plates and nobody began until every spoke about how stressed they were to be eating this meal. when the nurses said “you may begin,” i began but nobody else did. the other girls examined the food. disunited the salad into individual parts; cheese, lettuce, beans, turkey, tomatoes, and began eating each part separately. one bean at a time. one shred of lettuce at a time. and i began losing any shred of sanity i had left. i looked down at my half-eaten plate and started to separate my food. started eating one bean at a time. sip of water between every single bite. i consciously went into recovery-retrograde to be more like the girls at the table. i felt internally stupid and this is when i finally realized that i hadn’t given myself much credit for the amount of recovery i had done on my own before coming to program.
nobody could leave the table until everyone was done. i finished in twenty minutes but i had to sit at that table for an hour and a half. one girl even cried and opted to drink a “supplement smoothie” instead of eating the cheese on her plate. no bathroom breaks for thirty minutes afterwards and then after the thirty minutes, you must go with your assigned bathroom-buddy. leave the stall door open. be back in five minutes, no longer. the girls were downcast and unhappy and stressed and they were all journaling and not speaking to each other and most went outside on the porch to smoke a cigarette. and i was alone but i was not scared and i was not dejected and even though all we did was sit in this room for nine hours and journal and eat and listen to how much everyone hated themselves in group sessions, i began to love myself again for the first time in a long time. i promise you this.
i snuck my phone. booked a hotel on the beach. requested an uber. grabbed my suitcase and never looked back. and guys, i’m doing really well. i’m back at my job, starting school back up in the fall and i wake up every day with more determination than the night before. hear me out, i’m not “fixed” and i think it’s something i will be working on for a long time, but that treatment facility and those girls changed my perception about myself. i left out a ton of details about my time in treatment that were honestly too gruesome to let you in on but with just those surface details, i was able to reflect on myself. i realized that i gave more power to the disorders than necessary. i’m so much stronger than i gave myself credit for. it’s a scary, dark place but i’m blessed to see the light while so many others haven’t yet. i’m going to do this. i can do this. i will manage a balance between food, body image and loving myself back to whole. and i’m a daughter and a sister and a friend and it’s sunny out today so i’m going to soak that up. i promise you this.
pictured below: an important piece of my support system. i’m in texas and you’re in west virginia but you make it seem like we are roomies and i love you and thank you for lifting me up when i need it the most.