I’ve thought about writing this article for a while now. I was very unsure if I wanted to share this experience with others, partly because I didn’t think people would understand and partly because I just didn’t like thinking about it that much. When I hear the word “rehab” the first words that come to my mind associating with it are “failure, loser, and weak” (side note: I really don’t want to offend anyone at any point in this article, these are just 100% my true feelings and obviously now I’ve learned otherwise). I mean, you can’t really blame me for thinking these things. The way social media portrays teens or individuals in rehab isn’t pretty or flattering in anyway. People that are in rehab are at the lowest of the low points in their lives and I always thought that I would never be a part of that group. I just didn’t. Obviously that all changed.
It took me two years to wake up from my daydream. Two years to come to a full realization that I was in some serious shit. Up until that moment I was in complete denial about my mental state. No way did I have an eating disorder. I didn’t throw up my food and I was certainly not anorexic, because I perceived myself on the heavier side of “running girls”, I wasn’t incredibly skinny. I just really liked food but I also really wanted to be skinny; to the point where that’s all I ever thought about, being skinny, eating, and losing weight. Even when I was having a conversation with someone or hanging out with my friends my body was there but my mind wasn’t. I’d be thinking about the last meal I ate, how many calories it had in it, how many calories I had to burn off to subtract that difference, and then what I was going to eat next; always making sure that what I was eating was healthy and would help me lose weight. These thoughts consumed me 24 hours a day. For a long period of time I would not let myself consume more than 800-900 calories per day while also running 7+ miles each day. I would hold this pattern throughout the school week, distracting myself with homework, but on the weekends when I had more time on my hands I’d completely fall apart. My mind would lose control of my body and I’d just eat everything that was in sight. No matter if it tasted good, if I wanted it or not. I was so hungry by this point that I would eat until it hurt. Until the point where I’d want to cry. During these binging episodes it was like I was no longer me anymore. Similar to being drunk, or high, anytime in which all your intuitions just drop. I literally would become a monster. Some people witnessed the beginnings of these episodes, but the majority of the time I would do it in private. I would wait until I was alone and then have a free for all. Then I’d feel so utterly ashamed of myself that I’d not allow myself to have any food the next day or severely restrict and start the whole process over again. I’d even run outside of practice, convincing myself it was for the athlete in me rather than the “ED” eating me.
So cut back to March of 2016 when I finally came to terms with my demons. I realized what I was doing wasn’t right and I didn’t want to be living in this personal hell I created for myself. I wanted to actually enjoy being with my friends without thinking about my weight, I wanted to be able to go through a single meal without thinking about how many damn calories I was consuming, and I wanted to see running as something other than weightless. I lost who I was through my eating disorder. It literally ate away the person I once was. I wanted her back. So in my lowest of lows I admitted myself to rehab. I requested full 24 hour stay because I wanted to get better as soon as possible and I just didn’t trust myself with less hourly care. I didn’t want to live with the devil inside of me anymore. But boy oh boy, did I not know what I was in for.
The first day was honestly one of the worst days of my life. I’m sitting in the lobby waiting to be shown to my room and am just stunned to see the amount of sick girls that are there- like really sick, like you can see their bones and everything sick- and immediately I was like “oh god I’m in the wrong place, I’m not sick enough to be here”. Within 5 minutes of sitting there I see one girl in a fetal position lying on the ground with her head tucked between her knees, but the most shocking part is everyone just walks on passed her, like this is nothing new and she obviously doesn’t need any help. A minute later a girl sits next to me wrapped in a blanket, looking not older than 15 (I later find out she’s 24) asks me about myself. I think, “finally someone is here to make me feel better”, but then she goes on talking about how she’s been in 5 different hospitals, telling me in-depth about her horrible experiences at each one and how horrible the staff treated her there, but she assured me this place was top of the line. Then before I can even process what she just said, another girl comes and sits across from us and just starts sobbing hysterically. At that moment, not even 15 minutes into my stay, I was ready to leave. Lol girl, you still have 30 more days of this to go.
The next couple of hours were filled with nonstop tears and discomfort. I had to watch as they went through all my bags taking away anything sharp that I could use to harm myself or others. I was only allowed to get my shaver, tweezers, etc twice a week at 6am-7:15am. They took away my laptop, my cell phone, anything I could use to communicate with the outside world. They even freaking took away my pimple medication because it contained alcohol as an ingredient and people could use that to do I don’t know what, get drunk or something, I don’t know, have a blast. Meal times were just as bad. I was given a tray with my food wrapped up. I had to raise my hand for a counselor to come watch me unwrap my food, hand her my garbage before I could eat. They then watched us like hawks throughout the whole meal making sure we weren’t hiding food in our pockets or throwing it on the ground or I don’t even know what. They repeated the same process when we were leaving; picking up our plates, shaking our cups, unraveling our napkins to make sure we finished 100% of our meal and weren’t hiding it anywhere. Multiple times, I was instructed to lick my knife clean of the smudge of peanut butter or eat the one remaining piece of lettuce on my plate because that was seen as an incompletion. A freaking piece of lettuce people. If we didn’t finish, you were forced to drink an ENSURE supplement, and if you refused even that you would eventually be put on a feeding tube. The tube was inserted through your naval cavity and stretched to your stomach. It was attached to a long pole that you had to carry around with you everywhere, similar to what you see with people in the hospital who have an IV. I also was stripped of my privileges to exercise, at all, period, none whatsoever. They watched how much I walked each day and if I went over the normal amount it was deemed as “over-exercising” and I could get even more privileges taken away from me.
A basic day at rehab was similar to taking classes at school. I attended multiple seminars discussing our emotional and physical discomforts. They were designed to help us overcome the demons living inside of us. I was assigned a therapist, psychologist, and nutritionist, who were all a part of my team and were focused to getting me better. I saw each of them roughly 1-2 times per week depending on need.
As with everything else they closely monitored our weights and vitals. Every morning they would make us get up at 4AM to get weighed, get our vitals checked, and occasionally receive a blood test. If our pulse or blood pressure was deemed too low they would force us to drink a full Gatorade, wait 10 minutes and then repeat the process. This happened to me every morning, because being an athlete my pulse has always been low, but what I was unaware of until now is that is also a side effect of eating disorders. So every morning I would get up at 4, down a miracle 16oz Gatorade as they referred it, and then get back to sleep roughly around 4:45 if I was lucky, only to be woken again at 8am for breakfast and repeat the whole cycle over again.
We were only granted phone privileges at certain hours of the day, in which we had to use a phone card to make any outgoing calls. We had to be in our rooms by 11pm. People that were diagnosed with bulimia weren’t even allowed bathroom privileges. The bathroom in their room was locked and the only way they could access it was if a counselor kept their foot in the door while they were doing their business.
Rehab was draining. I was so emotionally tired that even my body began to feel physical effects. They wanted us to find the root of the disorder which was inside of us. We were constantly asked to dig into the deepest and darkest parts of ourselves revealing our worst demons. Bringing to life the things that brought us the most pain. Exactly the opposite of what any of us wanted to think about let alone share with others. They wanted us to come face to face with our monsters and fight them every single damn hour of every single damn day. Can you understand why this was exhausting? On top of it all, it would bring many of us to tears multiple times a day because the pain was too strong and we didn’t feel like we could put up a fight anymore. It broke so many of us. I watched my friends as they suffered within themselves, feeling so incredibly hopeless because I could not help them win this fight. This was something they had to overcome on their own.
The things I witnessed in there are things that will stick with me my entire life. I won’t even mention half the things that I experienced just out of common courtesy of people’s privacy. They’re just not my stories to share. All I can share with you is what I went through in there. Every single day I was forced to face my worst demons. I struggled through every meal, every session, every hour. It was hell. I didn’t tell anybody where I was. I was too embarrassed. I didn’t think anyone would understand. I didn’t want people to think of me this way, as in “weak” or a “failure”. People always told me I was strong. Even there, the girls all told me how strong I was because they never saw me cry and that was because I saved all my tears for moments when I knew I was alone. I did not feel strong. I felt so incredibly weak, I didn’t feel that I could ever overcome this. Even weeks after I was released, I still felt the same feelings of despair and hopelessness. And if I’m going to be totally honest with you, I still experience some of those same feelings even today, months after my release. It will always be an uphill battle. It’s never going to be easy, but I sure as hell am not giving up anytime soon.