8 things I wish I knew when I went to eating disorder rehab
By Shannon Kopp, Author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life
Are you suffering from poor self-image? I did, too…
What I needed wasn’t a new body but a new set of eyes. I needed to come to regard my own self with the same kind of tolerance and love I naturally extended toward all animals.
So that when I looked at my arms, I saw how many people and animals they’d held, rather than a need to tone them at the gym.
And when I looked at my legs, I didn’t see fat thighs, but how far they’d carried me in this life.
And when I looked at my throat, I saw a gateway to speaking my truth, rather than a vessel for getting empty.
And when I looked at the big mistakes my mind said should never have happened, like landing in rehab, I could see how my suffering was the birthplace of something beautiful. Compassion.
Continue reading this article to read more of the personal testimony and lessons learned by author, Shannon Kopp. Then, if you have any questions or feedback in the end, we invite you to post them in the designated section below. We try to provide a personal and prompt answer to all legitimate inquiries.
Things to remember when recovering from an eating disorder
1. You are not a bad sister. Or a bad daughter. Or a bad friend. Or a bad anything.
You are sick. You are suffering from a disease that has to do with genetics and brain chemistry and environmental factors and probably something much deeper than what our human minds can comprehend.
Bring curiosity, rather than blame, into this moment.
2. The point is not to look like you are changing so that the people you love are happy.
It is to actually change within yourself. And sometimes that requires dropping the act of “perfect patient” and letting your frightened, tender self be seen. Healing does not happen in comfortable places.
3. The night conversations with the other patients will stay with you longer than the therapy sessions.
Cherish the wisdom of your sisters, and pray for their recovery in addition to your own. You’re a family now.
4. Some people are going to want you to stay the same.
They are not going to understand why you can’t take shots with them. Why you have to get some sleep. Why you need to go to meetings. Why you can’t have just a smoothie for lunch.
Don’t get angry with them. It has taken you so long to accept that you have a disease, and this acceptance is a precious and personal thing. You can’t expect everyone to share it. Remember your recovery is more important than their approval.
5. Just as important as eating the meal, recording the feeling, going to the meeting, calling your sponsor…is awareness.
Don’t turn recovery into a to-do list. One beautiful flower carries the same sacredness as an entire field. The more you turn your attention to this one, singular moment, the more healing and peace you will absorb.
6. Forgive yourself.
As frequently and as authentically as possible.
7. Don’t take things personally.
When you let someone see your inner-light, and they shut their eyes and turn their heads – it doesn’t make the light any less beautiful.
8. Invest in the full recovery.
Recovery happens on a cellular level, deeper than thought and mental concepts. So forget about going in head-first. Go in soul-first. And then let go.
We hope the story told by Shannon can help you learn what you can expect from the rehabilitation process and protocols for eating disorders. If you still have any questions that you’d like to learn the answers to, feel free to post them in the designated section below. We’ll try to provide a personal answer as soon as possible, or refer you to someone who can help.
Excerpt from Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life – Courtesy of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
My first night at Rosewood Center for Eating Disorders, I slept (or attempted to sleep) in a room with six cots next to the nursing unit. I was exhausted but a ghostlike woman in her sixties with long gray hair in the cot beside me kept getting up throughout the night. She got in and out of bed, roaming around the room as if sleepwalking. Her eyes seemed so lost and unsettled, reminding me of an abandoned German shepherd looking for its owner, desperate for a smell that was long gone. Sometimes she just sat on the edge of her cot with her spindly legs dangling in the air, staring at the white wall. Nurses were constantly coming back in to put her back to bed, and I was constantly cursing her in my mind, thinking that she loved the attention.
Even without the shepherd woman, though, I would have had a hard time sleeping. While I had done well eating the meals required, now that the lights were out and I was alone with my body, I retreated into familiar patterns. I pinched the skin around my stomach and thighs, feeling like I’d gained twenty pounds in twelve hours.
I told my body that I hated it. I had conversations with my perceived love handles and fat ass and round face all the time. Alone at night or in front of bathroom mirrors, I spit out words of disgust. (If only I had learned to have some conversations with my heart then . . . What makes you feel alive? I’d ask. What hurts? What feels right?)
The last thing I remember before falling asleep was thinking about how fat I was, squeezing the flesh on my arms, trying to gauge how much weight I had actually gained that day. I told myself that I would learn what I needed to learn here, but I would never eat the way they were telling me to eat when I got out of this place. Not this much food. Not this often.
First morning, assessment and evaluation
At 7 a.m., my name was called for “Morning Vitals.” Light poured in through the windows and I begrudgingly changed out of my boyfriends T-shirt into a white paper gown. I wanted to sleep more. I wanted coffee. I wanted to kiss Danny. I wanted to kill the shepherd-eyes woman, who was now sleeping peacefully. Apparently, it wasn’t her turn yet for vitals.
I followed a nurse across the hall to a freezing cold, windowless room. The nurse wasn’t a pretty woman, but her teeth were straight and white enough to make me wonder if they were bleached. She had pale green eyes and bright purple scrubs on, looking far too colorful for this place.
After closing my eyes and stepping on the scale (we weren’t allowed to know our own weight), I sat down on a table padded with the butcher paper. An air conditioner hummed somewhere in the background. The nurse took my temperature and looked inside my eyes, ears, and mouth. I was self-conscious of my breath, as I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet.
She asked me questions about how I felt physically. I listened and responded politely, even though hate crawled in my blood. All I could think about was how I didn’t want to be weighed every day in this stupid paper gown, how I didn’t want to be around these women moving peas around their plate like children and tottering on bony legs and weeping in wheelchairs.
“I need to take your blood now,” the nurse said, asking for my arm.
My irritation melted into fear. I bit my lip and anxiously told the nurse how much I hated giving blood. “Is it really necessary?” I pressed.
“It will just take a minute. I promise I’m very good at this.”
I don’t care if you’re good at this. I don’t want to do it.
She tightened an elastic band around my arm and tried to distract me. “So, where are you from?” she asked.
“California,” I said. I stared at the white wall in the opposite direction.
“Oh, I’ve been there once. I love the ocean, so peaceful.”
I took a deep breath and braced myself for the prick of the needle, telling myself not to be a wuss, but still the knee-jerk reaction happened anyway. Just before she inserted the syringe, I pulled my arm away and hissed, “No!”
The nurse gave me a gentle smile, seeming a little entertained by my response. I held my arm near my chest, feeling stupid.
“You weren’t kidding, huh?” she said. “It’s okay, dear. Let’s just talk for a minute. Okay?”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” she asked.
“Brother or sister?”
“Sister. Her name is Julie.”
I thought of Julie then as a child. At our doctor’s appointments, I always made her go first whenever we needed shots. She’d stick her skinny arm out and say, “See, Shan, it’s not scary.” Then when the needle was inserted, she’d smile in an effort to show me it wasn’t so bad, the right side of her lip curling up more than her left.
For the past twenty-four hours, I hadn’t talked much and kept to myself. I walked around quietly nodding my head and doing what I was told. But now I found myself telling the nurse how much I missed my sister. How in my eyes, she’d always been the stronger one of the two of us.
“Maybe, when your time gets hard here, you can think of Julie,” the nurse said. “Think of how it will be to spend time with her with this awful disease off your back. Think of how much more present you’ll be.”
Even though she was trying to help me, what I heard was that I had not been present for Julie, the little girl with watery blue eyes who was now battling her own demons as an adult. Her story is not mine to tell, but suffice it to say that she’d recently needed me in a big way, and I hadn’t been there. She needed someone now to make her less afraid, to hold out their arm and take a shot for her first. But I was busy in California puking my brains out.
To be there for Julie without the background noise of food obsession — I’d never let myself imagine it before. Perhaps because I couldn’t imagine it. And at that thought, a bomb of tears went off in the center of my chest. There was no way to redirect the emotion, nothing I could stuff into my mouth or force out of my body to make me forget how ashamed I was.
All I could do was sit in the arms of a nurse I never learned the name of, sobbing into her warm shoulders for five minutes, maybe ten. I cried so hard that tears fell down my face and made my paper gown translucent in some places, the material ripping.
She held me tight as the waves of grief passed through me. I felt like if I needed to sit there and cry for another hour in her arms, she would have let me.
But I didn’t cry for another hour. I finally lifted my head and wiped my eyes and extended my arm. For the first time in my life, I stared directly at the syringe.
I watched the dark blood seep out of me.