October 21 – 27, 2018
I talked to my therapist from Arkansas a lot before I was admitted. I’m not sure how she puts up with all my neediness sometimes. But I remember the text she sent me as my plane landed in Florida, “It will feel like trauma but walk through it. It will get safer and you will be ok! You won’t be dying. Tell yourself, I am not dying. I am not in danger. I’m okay.”
And those first few weeks at Renfrew, I understood what she meant. It felt like trauma. Every emotion that I have avoided for years came flooding in, full strength. The panic, the distress, the anxiety, the depression, the fear, and the self loathing. Every fiber of my being felt these emotions down to my core. Every thought was consumed with things I have always tried not to think about. And I couldn’t distract myself or numb them. I couldn’t run away or avoid like I have been. I have never felt this low in my entire life. It felt crippling, like I was in a deep hole. I constantly felt a weight on my chest, like I was breathing through a thin coffee straw. I was on the verge of a panic attack every moment of every day. I had so many panic attacks. So many. It only took the tiniest thing to send me over the edge.
This was the most difficult thing about the first two and a half weeks of treatment. I would just sit outside on the porch and stare off into the trees or the garden stuck in my head. Just staring into space. I was all consumed. The shaking would overwhelm me. I couldn’t journal. I couldn’t focus in groups. I couldn’t speak to anyone outside my sessions. I didn’t do any of my homework for the groups or my therapist. I had a hard time functioning. I hid in my room at any chance I had. I had to face it all. It all hurt so much. It felt like trauma. It felt like I was dying. I cannot even put it into words. I would not wish this on any other human being on this planet.
On Monday I had three sessions. The pace of the weekend was very slow and hard not to get stuck in my head. But in my sessions I at least talked a bit and made a small effort to find motivation. I made a few tiny connections. In the session with my primary therapist, I expanded a bit on the dynamics at home when I was growing up. I talked about my parent’s divorce and the constant conflict that it brought. I spoke about my brothers and my family and other stressors in my environment. She jotted down notes. My next session was with my nutritionist and she gave me my goals for the week which were pretty simple. 1) fill out my food emotion journals during meals. 2) Work on challenging my automatic thoughts about food with reappraisals. 3) Watch my water intake throughout the day to make sure I wasn’t trying to make myself feel full with water like I usually do.
My third session on Monday was with my aftercare coordinator who also led the art therapy groups. We began to plan for my discharge, which felt so odd considering it was my 4th full day there. But it made sense that we would need to start planning so that I had complete support once I left. I had to tell her my story and for the first time it really did feel a tiny bit easier. She was so calm, kind, and easy to talk to. She felt like the safest person I had spoken to since I got there. I told her more details than I had anyone else there so far. I felt a calmness around her.
This calm carried over to her art therapy groups. After that first art group, I felt the calmest I had been in weeks. We were working on clay sculptures and I got lost in it. I hadn’t worked with clay since 9th grade art class. The prompt she gave was to make a totem pole. Totem poles were believed to be protective in different cultures. So our prompt was to create our own totem pole of what we wanted to protect by seeking recovery.
I started my totem pole by making a tree with branches that reached out to the sides. They wrapped up and out to both sides, into a cross shape. This tree represented growth. I thought about how in recovery I wanted to protect my growth and be able to develop into the person I’m meant to be. I built off of this by adding clouds at the bottom to represent my dreams and my mind. At the top of the tree, I sat a sun with flower blossoms surrounding it. I want to protect my inner light and joy. I topped it with more flowers and a crown at the top. The crown represented my power and control. With recovery I want to take back power over my mind and body and my future. The entire totem pole was in a cross shape to represent my faith, which is really my ultimate protection. I added small swirls and flowers around each element to protect my creativity and personality. I loved this project. Working with the clay was therapeutic and I learned a lot about myself in the process. I found the things that I want to work towards and the things I want to protect. I put all of my feelings and pain and thoughts into a healthy coping mechanism. And I looked forward to going to art those three days a week.
This might be what got me through this first week of treatment. That and the other girls. Sitting in groups all day helped me to learn a lot about them and about myself. Girls from every age 14 – 60. Girls in high school, in college, married, working, lost, and broken. Girls with trauma and girls with addictions. Intelligent, kind, hilarious, crazy, strong girls that would eventually turn into my friends and community.
Towards the middle of the week I met my therapist’s practicum student. She is working to get her doctorate in psychology. I am so glad that I gave her a chance even though I was weary about working with two therapists, two strangers. I loved her from the beginning. I told her my story, and again it felt the tiniest bit easier. The constant practice of talking about my struggles were taking away their power over me, bit by bit. She said we could work on a few things that should help with trauma and PTSD in our sessions.
The week continued and I had my first family therapy session with my dad. I was very nervous about this because I’ve always just wanted to make my dad happy and proud of me. He is my favorite person on this planet. But I was also hopeful about family therapy. If there was only one person on this entire planet who I wanted to understand what I was going through it was my dad.
It went well, though I didn’t talk much. My therapist introduced him to the program and explained what I would be doing and working on. She asked him what he thought I need to work on and he told her, “I just want her to work through her trauma and be able to love herself.”
Friday came and my last session was with my psychiatrist. I woke up most mornings this week feeling worthless and hopeless. This week was overwhelming and I didn’t feel any better at all from when I was admitted. To be honest I felt worse, having to face all of the emotions and feelings I was feeling. I felt so low. My psychiatrist asked all the usual questions I would eventually grow accustomed to. About how I was doing, feeling, and how groups were going. She asked about medication symptoms, depression, anxiety, and eating disorder urges. I answered honestly. Then she asked if I had any thoughts about death or suicide. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t say anything. I started to cry.
She stopped typing and looked at me. Through my tears I said, “I would never do anything. I don’t know. I just really want to be done.” I would pray every night that I wouldn’t wake up. I was so sick of this.
She told me that most people who think that feel hopeless. “Why do you feel hopeless?” she asked. And I told her I don’t know. I have a great life with so many opportunities. I have people who love me and a sweet dog child and a job. I’m alive and breathing. I shouldn’t feel hopeless. This made me feel guilty. People around the world had it so much worse than me. What is wrong with me?
She reminded me that I’m always surrounded by staff if I ever need to talk or if I don’t feel safe. I thanked her and left her office.
I spent the weekend hiding in my room either skipping or sleeping through groups. I was so tired. I didn’t want to face the free time. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. When I wasn’t panicked or on edge, I was low and depressed. I don’t know how I kept getting up every day but I did. I kept eating the food they put in front of me. It was so hard. I don’t remember so much of the first couple weeks. And I honestly do not know how I lived through them. But I did. I didn’t die. I was okay. And eventually it got safer.