Notes on an outpatient eating disorder program: Day 1
Posted August 3, 2010on:
*Possible trigger warning: pretty explicit descriptions of my eating disorder, treatment, and the subject in general*
Bulimic. It’s what I am these days. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options outside of the medical establishment for treatment for such a condition, so I had to give in. Admitting myself to this outpatient program was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do but I figured it was worth a try, since my disease was only getting worse and I couldn’t find any other routes for intensive treatment.
To make the best of the situation however, I decided to take this opportunity to see how women with eating disorders are treated inside bleak hospital walls. I could kill two birds with one stone: hopefully recover and exercise my anthropological, specifically ethnographic I suppose, tendencies.
A little background:
To me, bulimia has been about finding control in my life for the past year. It’s been an on and off struggle, as at some points my life seemed utterly chaotic and others I seemed to have a better grip. My triggers have been mostly school pressures and interpersonal relationships. My suspicion is that my role in society as a woman also played a big part in me feeling like I had absolutely no control. I’ve always struggled with my body image, ever since I can remember, and that’s hard for me to admit. I feel like my feminist values should include an impervious-ness to society’s pressures on women to look a certain way. It’s quite the opposite and I can’t shed this notion that I need to weigh 115 pounds standing 5′ 7” tall. I’ve recently questioned why I still feel this way and I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s due to a desire to blend in and appease the other half of humanity- fitting in is much easier than being the token, outspoken, man-hating, annoyingly opinionated woman that I have become over the past two years. Do I feel like I’m a fraud then in the radical community? Absolutely.
I also feel that a lot of these concerns are unique to my radical beliefs, which are not necessarily shared by the majority of society, specifically the staff and other women in the eating disorder program. Will anyone be able to understand where I’m coming from, then?
Today was my first day and it was a fairly traumatic experience. Being thrown into the recovery process, when I’m not even sure that I’m ready to confront the issues underlying my disease, was hard!
First thing’s first: I got a “recovery packet”. I now am the owner of a big blue binder with rules of the program, examples of positive affirmations, tips for journaling (none for blogging, so this should be interesting!), and other handouts to help me in the process of my recovery.
Rules that were included addressed women’s magazines and women’s clothing: magazines and revealing clothing are not allowed on “the unit” because they are objectifying for women.
Information about eating disorders is included in the binder, which included an admission of social factors that can contribute to the onset of the disease. This is where I wish the binder would have been more explicit. I think it’s important for women to understand that the pressure to feel thin comes from a very identifiable source: men. I am not saying ALL men have an investment in keeping women pegged in a certain body shape but the consequences of an eating disorder are very real. Women can become debilitated by the disease, which results in an inability to concentrate on anything but recovering from a real sickness. I want to be able instead, to recover from my oppression. My ability to participate in organizing has diminished for the time being because I am stuck recovering in a Mon-Fri program, out of which I will be kicked if I miss more than three days! My health has been waning and towards the end of this past school year I could hardly concentrate on anything more than the headaches I got after purging. Did that lack of concentration affect my grades, which in turn affects my future? Absolutely. Did it affect my organizing and my dedication to smashing sexism and sexual assault on my campus? For sure! I was too busy trying to look the part of a perfect womam. I feel in a way that this disease is my double burden; I had school work to attend to and organizing to try doubly hard in to succeed as much as my fellow man and then I went back to my room and contemplated what I had eaten that day and whether I would allow myself to have lunch, dinner or whether I should throw up once returning from a lunch or dinner that I might let myself eat. A good day, for me, consisted of stepping on my scale and seeing a lower number than the day before, which took place in the morning, which meant that anything that happened after my weigh-in was pretty much inconsequential. Celebrating success took on a whole different meaning for me.
The program consists primarily of group sessions and it broke my heart to see that the women in my group were women that I might see every day walking around in public. I suddenly woke up and realized that there are potentially many, many women who suffer just like me from the same menacing disease, or some variation of it. These are women whose bodies I am jealous of and seeing the price that some of them pay to achieve such an aesthetic made me sick to my stomach. I kicked myself for knowing that I would look at these girls in public and beg the heavens for a chance to look like they do. But they’re starving themselves and purging just the same! Statistics are not lying when they say that eating disorders are an epidemic.
But wouldn’t you know it, the head doctor is the only male that I encountered all day. He runs the place and seems to know it. I had the esteemed privilege of meeting with him for all of 5 minutes to talk about what? Nothing. I couldn’t tell you what our conversation was because I’m pretty sure one wouldn’t use the word conversation when describing our interaction. He was the doctor that did my intake when I first entered the program and I probably wouldn’t use any word but “cold” to describe how our interaction was. It was no different today and that’s fucked up. He facilitates no feeling for me of being in a restorative place and part of a healing process. Instead, I step into his office and know that I am damaged goods. I need his help to recover from the terrorism of his gender. What a mindfuck.
So now begins my journey to recovery. I’ll hopefully be doing a post per day, if you all don’t mind me taking over the blog for a month or so. I feel like a public recovery will be an interesting experience. Admitting such a huge weakness is really scary, especially on the internet where anyone could pass through this blog and scoff at me for indeed being so weak. I want however, to feel a sisterhood as I recover, which I don’t think I’ll get in my group sessions. I know that this is the place to be, then.
In a few words, my first day was: scary, intimidating, sickening, maddening.
I hope tomorrow will be: encouraging, less intimidating, less sickening, less maddening.
Until then, with love,