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What I Wish I Knew About Eating Disorder Treatment

Allison Richards

Yes, eating disorder treatment involves all the wonderful things that are delicately spelled out in pastel pamphlets. Yes, there can be yoga mats and Rumi and more gentle nodding than the normal neck could take. 

There are a few things that are left out of the brochures, however, and this troubles me. It was these things that made the difference—that took the time I spent in treatment from an experience, to the turning point of my life. For you, dear reader, I will try to do them justice, as I feel these things should be not only advertised, but italicized, underlined, and spelled out in obnoxious all-caps.

FLATULENCE: WE ALL FART (AND IT'S FUNNY).

On the morning of my second day in treatment, in the middle of contemplating poetry, I let out a loud (but completely unintentional) "poooof." Horrified, I turned my red face to the person on my right. To my complete surprise she let out a single belly laugh, and said, "Ah, bodies being bodies."

I would soon learn that everybody did it, and nobody minded. 

This understanding didn't end with flatulence, but extended into all other areas of life in treatment. There was an unspoken, intuitive compassion between us that I can only attempt to explain. The toot had rendered me vulnerable enough to see that shared struggles meant understand, and more than that, kindness.

BRINGING SNAIL-MAIL BACK

Before treatment, the last letter I sent was a thank you card for a high school graduation gift. Writing letters was the last thing on my mind when I arrived at treatment, so when I found an envelope on my pillow addressed to me, I was surprised but spectacularly happy. It was from my grandmother. I opened it slowly and braced myself for emotional impact. I was ready for a wordy tear-jerker, but instead I got something even better. The card read:

Got my nails done today, a bold red. You would like it. Hang in there.

Love you, 

Grandma

She was at home, living her life as she always had, but with me in her thoughts (and in the color of her toenails). This gave me a new kind of strength. I didn't have a single stamp, but I decided that day that I would start writing letters. I wrote to everyone I missed, everyone I loved—anyone who crossed my mind during the course of an afternoon. I sent almost none of them, but it didn't matter; each letter brought me closer to myself, closer to the heart of it all.

Not only is letter writing cathartic, but it's retro, and that's cool, right? (Another thing about treatment? It's okay to be a massive dork. I definitely was.)

DREAMING 

Treatment gave me everything, but perhaps the most important thing it offered was time. I finally had time to read, to write, and to draw bouquets of flowers. I dedicated an entire evening to drawing, and in doing so, I realized how much I loved it. I had assumed until that point, that I lacked the creative gene that separated me from the artistically inclined. That evening, however, I realized that the only thing that was "separating me" from drawing was an old belief that I couldn't. 

This brought me to an excitingly terrifying question: What else could I do?

Treatment can be the time and space to revisit dreams. This gift is a priceless one, and it demands nothing other than a bit of patience. 

I decided halfway through my stay, that when I went back to school in the fall I would pursue my lifelong passion. Treatment gave me the time to figure out that what I wanted more than anything was to forgo the degree I was almost finished with, but completely uninspired by, in favor of something completely new and incredibly exciting. I was able to throw out the old belief that I couldn't hack it as a writer, and opened myself up to the possibility that, yeah, why the hell not? 

ROOMMATES 

To call the woman I lived with during my time in treatment "my roommate" would do our relationship a disservice. We bore witness to each other's greatest struggles, and to each other's most life-altering experiences.

Knowing someone in this context is unique, and I found myself feeling more authentic than I ever had. She introduced me to Swedish folk music (better than it sounds, trust me on this) and I introduced her to my favorite band, The 1975. She fell in love with their sound in the same way I had, and we spent hours laying on our floor with them on repeat. The 1975 were the soundtrack to our recovery, so when the opportunity arose to see them live, we had to take it. 

A few months after I was discharged, I found myself driving down the highway beside her on the way to OUR favorite band's concert. We were half yelling/half sobbing the lyrics to the album that had seen us through our darkest moments, and I felt invincible. With her in the seat next to me, I felt more authentic than I ever had. The pressure of our shared struggles fell away; we just WERE. 

IT'S SO MUCH MORE THAN THE BROCHURE

My dear reader, if you take anything away from my anecdotal ramblings, I hope that it's a new idea of what treatment can give you. Though experiences vary vastly and every place is different, a universal truth of treatment is that the website can’t do it justice.

Much love, always.

-Allison