My Journey, Part 9
By Michele Herenstein
I’ve sufficiently recovered from my niece’s wedding, though I was more exhausted this past week than I’ve been since leaving ERC (the Eating Recovery Center in Denver). As I’ve been told by my doctors, recovery is three steps forward, two steps back. The wedding took me three steps forward, something I never thought I’d be able to do, and this past week was the two steps back. But I can’t let the post-wedding letdown linger. I must fight it, or else I have no chance of recovery.
When it was finally time to leave ERC and go back to New York, I was excited about leaving. Although I didn’t think I’d miss the rules very much, I knew I would miss some things about ERC, as well as some people, both staff and patients. As I continue my journey, I especially miss the stability and sameness of each day, with very little responsibility and easy access to my doctors.
The day I was to leave, I woke up at 4 a.m., finished packing, and went in a car service with my dad to the airport. Walking out the doors for the last time, I thought I’d feel fear and severe anxiety, but I truly didn’t. I felt somewhat hopeful about what was to come.
On the plane, I decided to read some passages that people wrote to me in my “Goodbye Book,” a small blank notebook that outgoing patients put on the main desk for other patients and staff to write their goodbyes in. Some of mine were inspiring and emotional, for example, “Congratulations on your ‘graduation’ from ERC! It’s been amazing to watch you grow and get to know you over the past few weeks. You are such a warm, kind-hearted person and I wish you all the best as you return to life beyond these fifth-floor walls. You are going to do so well, I just know it. Always remember that you are worth it, always be kind to yourself, and always remember that the work you’ve done here is more than just recovering your health but discovering your soul. Stay strong and keep up the good fight!”
One of the male patients wrote to me: “I’ll miss your sweet smile, friendliness, and extroverted nature! I appreciate you for reaching out to us, playing foosball, and for being in such a good mood most of the time! Best wishes!”
I had kept to myself so much at the very beginning of my stay at ERC, but developed relationships with various patients as the time passed. My old nature began peeking out at times and the patients saw that and helped me out of my shell. I feel that being among other people with issues like my own made me want to be a better person.
One of my doctors wrote something that has stuck with me: “I have so enjoyed getting to know the you that lives inside your worry and doubt. Thank you for sharing your journey with me. I have a quote to share with you: ‘Promise me you’ll always remember you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’ (Christopher Robin’s words to Winnie-the-Pooh, in the works of A.A. Milne). Please keep us updated and send us your articles. Kindest regards.”
So I left with the confidence of both patients and staff, and their belief that I could do the hard work it would take to “recover.”
Each patient is supposed to leave with a Wellness Plan. The ERC handbook states that a wellness plan is “a part of the management of any lifestyle-related disease. It is unrealistic to expect perfection as an outcome standard. It is realistic, however, for patients to make a plan for how to handle the stresses, triggers, and thoughts that can trigger the return of an eating disorder. Coming to understand that recovery from an eating disorder will include dedication to wellness and help from others is crucial.”
I learned how true this was when I was first back in New York, staying at my parents’ house before moving into my new apartment. The support my parents gave me was critical and extremely helpful. I was having meals delivered, to make sure that I was eating the correct amount at the correct times. The process of refeeding and gaining weight is slow. It isn’t as if leaving the recovery facility made me ready to go out and have a steak and fries! I would probably get sick from the portion size and perhaps the meal itself, as I’m not used to eating the amount of food generally served in restaurants.
I had also started taking yoga at ERC, so my mom drove me to yoga classes in Cedarhurst so I could continue with this stage of my recovery. Yoga allowed me to relax to some degree, as I worked on letting my worries disappear for at least the duration of the class. This was only mildly successful at first, but I’ve gotten better at letting my thoughts go as I’ve taken more classes.
There were many other aspects of the wellness plan that were crucial as well. Some of those included getting the proper amount of sleep, being mindful of the way one thinks, using coping tools to manage one’s moods, leaving space for “play,” using exercise in a healthy way, using medication as needed, managing struggles about body image, providing oneself with healthy environments and positive social interactions, continued work with a therapist, and trying to find ways to cope with stress.
People might have the mistaken thought that one gets better at a recovery facility like ERC. The process of eliminating the eating disorder and the thoughts and behaviors that go along with an eating disorder may begin when one leaves, but one is far from fully recovered when leaving a facility. The hardest work often starts when one gets home.
This was true for me. At first, with my parents’ support, I felt pretty good, knowing I was eating an amount of food that wouldn’t cause me to gain weight and looking for a team of doctors to work with. At the same time, Pesach was just a week away and I was looking forward to getting away to a sunny climate, hopefully having no responsibilities, and seeing some of my family that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.
The idea of being with people in Florida was scary, but I thoroughly related to what was written in the handbook about communication: “I have learned that communication about thoughts and feelings takes time and attention. I often take communication too personally, or I withhold saying what I need for fear of how others will feel. I now know that speaking with integrity and honesty is my job, and managing other people’s feelings is not my job. However, learning to communicate well is a life process.”
How true that is. And writing in the most open and honest way for all my readers is critical. I crave understanding, but I know I can’t beat myself up if someone doesn’t “get it.” I can only try to be in control of myself, my feelings, and my actions–never in control of the responses of others. This is so much more difficult than anyone can imagine, but I believe it can lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
If we do our best, are kind to and thoughtful of others, and stay true to ourselves, then what others think or say negatively shouldn’t matter so much. People often speak from a lack of knowledge, not necessarily out of malice. Hopefully I’m providing you with an education and insight about eating disorders, so in your dealings with someone with an eating disorder you will be helpful and supportive, which in turn will assist the “patient” in recovering.
I, along with others with an eating disorder, appreciate your interest, caring, and ongoing education about an illness that ruins lives and even kills so many. With knowledge can come support and love. I hope to share with you more of the everyday challenges that arose over Pesach in Florida, and subsequently in my new apartment in Lawrence.
To be continued .Â .Â .
Note: I’m writing these articles because I hope my story will provide encouragement, hope, and information that will be helpful to others. Please understand, however, that I am in the early stages of recovering from anorexia. I cannot offer medical advice or referrals to treatment.
Michele Herenstein is a freelance journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.