At the end of their time at Center for Change, everyone writes a letter to the women they are leaving behind. It is meant to embody their journey, share their story, and leave behind nuggets of wisdom. This is the letter I read to “my” girls when I left the Center on August 8, 2012.
The week that I checked in to CFC was the same week that I was supposed to sit down with a group of women and have a discussion about food, sex, and God, things that all of us had struggled with – taboo topics in the church. We were going to be video taped, both as a group and as individuals, sharing our testimonies. I was supposed to share my testimony of faith, how God had helped me work through my eating disorder, while at the same time struggling to hang on by a thread. I was honest about where I was to the coordinator of all this, and she wanted me to do it anyway. Here’s how I was going to start it:
You know that clip from the Ellen show where she’s talking to this ninety year old woman and all of a sudden, the woman says, “I’ll be honest, Ellen, I love Jesus, but I drink a little.”? I want to begin with that same sort of honesty. So my name is Jess and I love Jesus, but I starve a little.
Looking back, it seems a bit of an insensitive way to begin talking about a struggle with a life-threatening eating disorder. I completely believed the statistic that eating disorders are the deadliest of all psychiatric illnesses — for other people. But for me? No, I could just love Jesus and starve a little and it would be okay. An eating disorder wouldn’t kill me, and besides, my behaviours weren’t serious enough to be a REAL eating disorder and I was getting by on my own.
Except I wasn’t getting by. Three weeks before I arrived at CFC, I was in hospital room in the psychiatric wing, waiting for an inpatient placement because I had arrived a week earlier after threatening suicide and coming up with a plan and the intent to do it. But if you asked me when I arrived here, I was doing just FINE, thankyouverymuch. It was five weeks into my stay before I would even admit that I have an eating disorder (I was always comparing to my past self, when the disorder was worse) — much less begin to make changes that would lead me on the path to recovery.
I lost count how many times I’ve been on Caution. I self-harmed the day I arrived and the day after as well, but was never found out until day three. I was on the tube twice for refusing to eat or drink. The third time, I refused the tube, which lined up just perfectly with the self-harm that almost got me kicked out of CFC. I was determined to die, but I sure as hell didn’t have an eating disorder.
But when I was faced with the possibility of having to leave CFC, and receive only outpatient care, I felt my stomach drop as I realized it: If I didn’t stick it out here, if I couldn’t stay and get this intensive treatment, I would die. Maybe sooner, maybe later, but I would definitely be dead before my 30th birthday. And there is always some small bit of me, even in the worst of it, that remains tethered to reality, to hope, to the knowledge that I am a daughter of God and this is NOT the abundant life Jesus died to give me, but it was certainly possible — if I was willing to put in the work.
So I started working. Hard. I joked with my friends before I left to come here that I was going to put my all in. “If you didn’t half-ass your eating disorder,” I’d say, “You can’t half-ass your recovery.” This is not to say that in my previous treatment centers, I didn’t work hard, only that they had differing views on recovery.
The thing that has set CFC apart for me is the fact that the treatment team here actually believes we can be recovered. Period. There is no hopeless case, not even me, not even though I was treated that way at my previous treatment center. There is something better out there than just managing symptoms.
There is real, true, solid recovery. The kind of recovery where you get excited, not scared or anxious, when your favourite dish is on the Thanksgiving table. The kind of recovery where you connect with friends in ways you didn’t think possible because you had been so absent emotionally and mentally before. The kind of recovery where you are self-confident, assertive, and respect yourself and your physical body.
It’s a hard road – we all know that by now. We have all had the days where we cried inconsolably, or looked at a plate of food and thought, “You have GOT to be kidding me!”, or bitched and whined about the fact that we’re not even allowed to flush our own toilets. If we came in here thinking it would be easy, we learned within the first 24 hours that we were sorely delusional. There are going to be speed bumps and roadblocks and things that make you wonder if this entire thing is utterly impossible. It’s not. There is NO ONE who can’t recover – not any one of you, not me.
It’s a long road. It’s a hard road. But to quote from one of my favourite musicians – it has a good, good end. Don’t give up. You just have to stick it out through all the crooked bends and tree roots in the pathway and the times when you lose sight of the road because of something alluring in the trees and veer off ever so slightly before returning to it. Your good, good end is at the end of this road.
Thank you all for traveling what has been a long, hard portion of this road with me. Thank you for your love and your support and your kind words and hugs and for distractions (NERTZ!) and for picking me up every time I fell. You ladies have a place in my heart that is beyond special – you have seen the best and worst of me; the ups and downs, yet you still love me. That kind of love can’t be bought, and we can’t travel this road without it. Thank you. I love you all.