Woman Sitting By the Water and Writing in a Journal

My Eating Disorder Story: First Days Living In a 12-Step Recovery Home (Part 5)

If you missed Part 4 click here

Hitting complete rock bottom in my eating disorder, I realized I had a serious problem that required an extreme solution. I had lost the ability to function in life or to eat normally, so I decided on long-term inpatient treatment.

I gave up my apartment and put my belongings into storage. On a sunny Tuesday morning, I drove to the recovery home where I would live for the next year.

My first day

The morning group therapy session had just started when I arrived, so they had me come in and join the group. There were about 10 other women of various ages, sitting in a circle in the living room. After a warm welcome and introductions, the therapy session proceeded.

I remember feeling a sense of relief for being there because I was finally going to get help. But another part of me felt so angry and disgusted with myself, that this is where I had ended up. This was not what I wanted, or had planned for my life, but I had no other choice but to accept the reality of my situation.

Getting settled in

After the group was done, it was time for me to bring my personal things in from the car. I had been told at my intake appointment that the bedrooms were full, so I knew that I would be sleeping on the sofa until a bed opened up. Until then, there was a dresser in the living room where I could put my clothes and other items.

I was assigned a “buddy”, a fellow resident who would help me get acquainted with how everything worked around the house. There were a lot of rules, and the daily schedule was very structured (including the food).

Each person was assigned daily chores for each week, and I found out my schedule and what was expected of me. After the group session, it was time to do chores, so I got busy with mine, which was cleaning the bathroom.

After chores were done, it was time for lunch.


Woman Walking along the Seaside Wearing a White Flowing Dress

The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference


First meals

Lunch

Sitting down to have lunch was an emotional experience for me. It was such a feeling of relief, to be able to sit at a table and eat with a group of other women who also had serious issues with food. I wasn’t the only one who was afraid of food, and couldn’t be trusted to be alone with it!

Before we started eating, we held hands around the table and said the Serenity Prayer. I didn’t grow up in a religious family, so prayer was something new to me. I liked it, though, because it gave me a sense that I didn’t have to go through this struggle by myself anymore.

30 years later, I can still remember exactly what I ate for lunch that day, because it was such a momentous event!

During that first meal, I found out that we had 30 minutes to finish eating. Those of us with eating disorders tend to have rituals in the way that we eat, which can make meals drag on for way longer than they should. It was explained to me that putting a time limit on meals helps to break this habit.

Another rule I learned was that we had to finish all the food on our plates. There wasn’t an option to leave anything behind, and there also were no second helpings. The food was measured out and served in moderate portions, and I found this comforting. I liked the idea of “moderation”. Wow, what a concept! My ED had me living in extremes, but now I was learning a new way.

Dinner

After another group therapy session that afternoon, and some free time to take a shower and do some reading, it was time for dinner.

The dinner group was a little bigger than lunch had been, because we had a few visitors from the 12-Step community join us. It was a little overwhelming having so many people at the table, but at the same time, I kind of liked it. I had been isolated for so long in my illness that I had forgotten what it was like to sit and talk to others while enjoying a meal.

I was surprised at how deep the conversations were at the table. It wasn’t just idle chit-chat! People shared what was really going on with them; life in general, and also struggles and triumphs with food. I was blown away by how open they were in sharing their “food thoughts”. I had always kept these things to myself, never discussing my obsessions and fears with anyone.

After dinner, we had free time to do some writing, read, watch TV, or just sit and talk with the other residents. Bedtime was at 10:00 PM, and wake-up time was 6:00 AM.

Bedtime

Woman sleeping on light brown sofa, covered by red blanket

I got settled into my bed on the sofa, and I lay there thinking about how much had happened in the past week. I had given up my home to come and live with people I didn’t know, in a strange house. I had no personal space to call my own, and all of my time would be accounted for and planned out for me.

Part of me rebelled against it: I was a 29-year-old woman, surely someone my age should have been grown up enough to run her own life? What was I doing, handing over control to someone else? But I knew the answer to that question. I had a very serious illness which had made it impossible for me to take care of my own affairs. I needed help!

As I drifted off to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings that night, my rebellious thoughts turned to relief and gratitude. I didn’t know what experiences were ahead of me in this recovery home, but I trusted that I was in the right hands.

I had always had to do everything by myself in life, and always somehow managed to figure things out. But now I was facing a problem that I couldn’t solve on my own. I had been guided to this place, and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.

The next morning

I slept fairly well that night, but I woke up well before my alarm went off at 6:00, my mind racing. With only one bathroom available for 10 women living there, would I have enough time for my morning routine?

We weren’t allowed to get up before 6, but as soon as it was 6:00 I got up and went straight to the bathroom. Unfortunately, there was already a line outside the bathroom door. Oh no, I thought, what have I gotten myself into?

I joked with the other women that it was like being at summer camp, standing in line for the bathroom! I tried to be lighthearted, but inside my thoughts turned again to my anger at myself for ending up in this situation.

I tried to hurry up in the bathroom, because I knew others were waiting for their turn. So I quickly used the toilet, washed my face, and brushed my teeth. After living by myself for so long, I wasn’t used to sharing a bathroom with anyone, much less a whole group of women.

The first week

I realized that fear had always had a strong hold on me. I worried constantly about everything. What if…what if…what if?

So many emotions

I remember that first week as one of the hardest experiences of my life, and I cried a lot the first few days. I was going through so many emotions, I couldn’t even keep track of them all.

Anger at myself, for having this eating problem. Why couldn’t I just eat like a normal person? And why was I so obsessed with food and exercise that I couldn’t focus on anything else? I had gotten myself into such a mess that I couldn’t even handle daily life activities by myself anymore.

Fear about what was going to happen to me in the future. What if I couldn’t recover from this eating disorder? What if I went through treatment and nothing changed? What if I’m just a big loser, and there’s no hope for me? What if…what if…what if?

I realized that fear had always had a strong hold on me. I worried constantly about everything, and most of the things I worried about were completely out of my control. And that was the thing that scared me the most! I wanted to be in control of what happened to me, with nothing left to chance. I craved safety more than anything!

Getting more comfortable

As the week went on, I began to feel a little more comfortable. I had my little area tucked away in the corner of the living room, where I kept my clothes and personal belongings. I found a few favorite places in the house where I liked to do my reading and writing. And I began to connect on a deeper level with a few of the other residents.

Each day was planned out, and everything at the house ran on a schedule. This appealed to me because I had always been a creature of habit. It gave me a sense of safety, knowing what was going to happen on any given day, and when.

Something that pleasantly surprised me was finding out there were several outings scheduled for the week. I had kind of imagined that being in a recovery home would mean no interaction with the outside world.

It was true that the majority of our time was spent at the house engaged in individual and group therapy, doing writing assignments, and attending 12-Step meetings. But we also had opportunities to do fun things together as a group.

My 30th birthday

Pink square gift boxes with ribbon bows
A bittersweet day

When I walked through the doors of the treatment center, I was 29 years old. My second week there coincided with my 30th birthday, which was a bittersweet day for me. I was happy that my ED hadn’t killed me yet. Another year had gone by and thankfully I was still alive!

But I was also overcome by familiar feelings of remorse, guilt, and shame. Here I am, my thoughts taunted me, turning 30 and living in a recovery home. This wasn’t how I ever imagined spending my 30th birthday.

To top it off, dinner that night didn’t make me feel any better. When we sat down to eat, I was horrified to see that we were having one of my most feared foods. Oh no! It felt like the end of the world, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. I felt like I was living in a nightmare!

Fortunately, I wasn’t the first person who had ever cried at a meal, and I had a lot of support. I was encouraged to talk about why I was afraid to eat, and I got suggestions on recovery thoughts to replace the ED thoughts.

I made it through that difficult meal, and I ended up feeling very supported. Sharing my struggle helped me to get the eating disorder thoughts out of my head, and into the light of day. I learned something important that night: thoughts and feelings are not facts!

This was the beginning of learning how to distinguish between the voice of the eating disorder and reality. I was slowly becoming aware that not all the thoughts spinning around in my head were true, and I could learn how to choose different thoughts.

That realization didn’t “cure” me overnight, and I still had a long battle ahead of me. But it was a huge turning point for me in my early recovery.

Click here to read Part 6

Please feel free to leave comments or questions below. Have you ever lived in a treatment center? If so, what were the first days and weeks like for you?

Assorted Colorful Vegetables Arranged on Round Stainless Steel Plate

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