When I entered Castlewood, I thought life would get steadily easier. What I soon realized was I was beginning to embark on a journey towards authentic feeling; not an easy task when I was numbed out from the world for so many years.
Emotionally frozen for some time when I came to Castlewood, I began to slowly, very slowly defrost. I moved further away from engaging in my eating disorder behaviors, and closer to recovery. The layers and walls I built up during the period of time I had my eating disorder were gradually beginning to be broken down. As I thawed out from all the emotional pain and chaos I experienced for years, I soon realized that there was light at the end of the tunnel, and that this light was not a train barreling towards me to run me over. Rather, this light was the hope I had desperately, and eagerly been searching for.
During my defrosting stage of treatment I received an enormous amount of empathy from staff and clients. Despite all the compassion, care, concern, patience, and understanding I received from all the Castlewood staff, I am learning that the giving nature of the professionals at Castlewood is simply an example of how I should treat myself. From direct care, to therapists, to Mark and Lori, I have received nothing but the kind, understanding, accepting presence of all the staff.
Melting has not been easy, quick, or painless. Rather, the process towards finding out my identity apart from my eating disorder has been excruciatingly difficult and trying. With the encouragement of clients, staff, my therapist, my dietitian, and my support team outside of Castlewood, I am beginning to see tangible change occur in my life.
I entered Castlewood not knowing who I was as a person. I have now grown a better understanding of my make-up, personality, and unique characteristic traits. I walked through the doors of Castlewood not able to tolerate any intense emotion without acting out on a behavior; I can now sit through a whole range of feelings. I came into Castlewood with little knowledge about why I have an eating disorder. I now understand that there are several factors that played into the development and progression of my eating disorder. When I came to Castlewood I wanted someone outside of myself to fix and cure me. Now I realize that I innately have the capacity to help myself.
As I sit here on this cool January evening and reflect on my time spent at Castlewood I am overwhelmed with hope. Today, while playing basketball at the local YMCA I found myself connected to my mind, body, and spirit. A year ago I would have never been able to work up the courage to go into the open gym and ask ten guys if they would let me play with them. I was the only female, and- I not only asked- but I played. During this time my mind was free of the self-destructive thoughts that have kept me in shackles for so many years. I felt the strength in my body and did not have a body image crisis. I felt my fast heart beat and did not wish that somehow it would suddenly stop.
I am thankful for the pain I experienced because it allows me to more fully experience the joy in life, and I can connect with a moment of joy when in it enters my day. I can now put my finger right on it, name it, and soak it in; this- knowing when I am experiencing true joy- is a gift.
Today I realized I am well into the defrosting stage of recovery, and- although I am far from where I want to be- I am in it. I am fighting, and fighting hard. I cherish these moments, the time when I see tangible results from the hard work I am putting in on a daily basis.
Yes, the early recovery is not a walk in the park. Yes, during my time at Castlewood I have been thrown several balls from left field that I was not expecting. Yes, walking into the doors of Castlewood I did not anticipate facing more pain than I had in my previous treatment experiences. But, if it is all working towards finally being freed from the ice that has held me captive for so many years, then- in my opinion- it is all worth it.
So today my wish for all those who suffer with an eating disorder is that you may find joy in the struggle, and beauty in the pain.
From Erin McGinty, LPC-
An eating disorder is like a fortress of impenetrable walls; it is designed with the ultimate task in mind to protect vulnerable emotions and experiences of the past, and to ward off the potential of further pain in the present and future. Somewhere during the construction of the intricate layers of protection an eating disorder offers- perhaps a bit at a time- a client’s true identity becomes locked away, hidden from the rest of the world. Most of our clients describe themselves as not knowing who they are without their eating disorders, as their intense self-hatred leads to all of the most authentic, genuine, and lovely facets of themselves being exiled to the depths of their strongholds.
When Kelley came into treatment, she was a series of walls and mazes. She was numb to both her external and internal experiences, and she used her eating disorder and self-harming behaviors to keep emotions at bay. When the emotions came on too quickly or too intensely, the eating disorder served as a means to reinstate numbness and safety. The extreme shame and loathing that she experienced toward herself caused her to consider suicide as a means of escaping the pain that engulfed her day-to-day.
Over time, Kelley began to do exactly as she described… she began to thaw. As she began to believe that life could be more than days spent binging, purging, and restricting, her walls slowly began to come down. As she came to trust others, she started to invite them in instead of turning them away. She began to see herself as worthwhile, reflected in the eyes of staff, peers, and her caring support system. She began to consider that the very barriers she had built between herself and others for the sake of protection were no longer necessary; in fact, the pain of loneliness far exceeded the possible risks of relating with others.
The process by which a person loses herself in an eating disorder is often long and painful; it would only make sense that- if recovery is a process of reconnecting with oneself- then this journey, too, can be lengthy and arduous given the amount of healing that needs to occur. There were days when the pain of recovery seemed unbearable to Kelley, and on some of those days the illusion of comfort that her eating disorder provided was a tempting offer. More often than not, Kelley had the strength and courage to resist eating disorder urges and forge ahead. Her resiliency, like that of the rest of our clients, was remarkable and inspirational to both her peers and to staff. Her start down the path of recovery was not an easy one, and she has overcome multiple roadblocks along the way.
What has since emerged from the frozen block that was once Kelley is a wise, caring, and strong young woman who is well-liked and well-respected in her community of peers. But the real pleasure of this therapeutic, de-thawing process, I think, is to have watched Kelley come to like- and maybe even love- herself.