I came to The Renfrew Center of Atlanta in March 2018 depressed, ashamed, and in tears. I was a 38-year-old married, mother of four young children embarrassed for being admitted into an eating disorder treatment program. I was informed I would start off in PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program).
I was shocked. I thought, how can I be “that bad?”. My physical showed I was healthy, and my weight was within normal ranges to not require offsite treatment. However, I also knew that if the Intake Coordinator suggested I needed to enter treatment, then she knew better than I. She conducted a thorough assessment with me, learning my history of eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, postpartum depression, and my traumas. I remember her eyes growing wide when she asked, “You never received professional help for these when you were younger?”
The answer was no. I had work to do. I knew that. Not just for me, but for my children. Generations of dysfunctional family patterns of not handling life in an emotionally healthy way had to stop with me. I was not happy about this task one bit. I knew much suffering and changes to my life were about to occur and there was nowhere else to escape.
I had to receive treatment do what the staff told me to do in order to get well. See, while on the outside I looked and felt pretty healthy, my thinking was not. My insides, my spirit, was not well nor at peace. I was consumed with self-loathing, insecure about my worth on so many levels, and now embarrassed to be tasked with missing out on day-to-day activities with my beloved children to get help for my eating disorder.
I remember a sense of relief and nervousness entering the group therapy room for the first time. There was a sign outside that said not to enter between a certain 15-minute period when the participants were having their mindfulness session. I thought “Cool! I can have 15 minutes of peace and quiet in guided mindfulness!” I was relieved that I was finally going to receive focused professional help from therapists who were experienced in working with eating disorders. However, I was also nervous because I was the “new one” and figured all the other ladies had been there longer and knew “everything” better than I ever could.
Within a few days, I learned how to do an ARC, write intentions before and after meals, and practice mindfulness. While I was one of the oldest patients during at my time at Renfrew, the young ladies (who could have been my own children) welcomed me and made me feel ok for being there. We all had the same type of “stuff” and were all trudging through treatment together. I still have the sticky note on my closet door that a young lady wrote me my first week at Renfrew: “Thoughts aren’t Truths and Feelings aren’t Facts.”
After a few weeks, I was starting to be grateful, not embarrassed, to have a team that included a registered dietician, therapist, psychiatrist, and family therapist all dedicated to helping me conquer my fears of ED behaviors. They counseled me in how to face life, in all its ups and downs, without using or restricting food. They truly got to know me on a deeper level than anyone had before, and I trusted them with the therapeutic methods they used to get me on the path to wholeness, and loving myself and my body again. By the end of treatment, I felt less shame. I realized the ED thoughts may still arise due to life circumstances, but that does not mean I have to act out on them.
Today, I celebrate three years without bulimia. My children are thriving, and I have started to share a little bit about my background as they approach their middle school years. I continue to see a therapist regularly and attend EDA and OA meetings. I look forward to learning how I can help those suffering with eating disorders and other challenges as I pursue a path in mental health counseling.
-Julie G. • Alumna, The Renfrew Center of Atlanta