I have always kept a journal.
I found this entry from when I was admitted into the Toronto General Program back in the late 90’s.
I remember being admitted to the hospital. When I arrived, the first thing they did was check my bags. They found a couple packages of sweeteners and immediately threw them away. You would have thought I was carrying marijuana the way they interrogated me. The counselor asked me if I had taken laxatives the night before. I was caught off guard and wasn’t sure what the right thing to say was. “Um, yes.” She told me that everyone does that the night before being admitted. You take as many pills as possible and get it out of your system once and for all. I thought that was hilarious, because that wasn’t my once and for all, that was just my last dose for now. I was than taken into an examination room where I was measured and weighed. They made sure your back was facing the scale so you don’t see the numbers. But of course, I managed to see the chart when she turned around to grab something out of the cupboard. I than went back to my room to say my good-byes. I realized at that point what was happening. I was stuck here. Stranded. I was basically being locked up and punished. It was almost embarrassing. It wasn’t fun anymore, the attention and all of the lying just seemed different. The only person who could make this better was me. I had complete control over it now. I could do what I wanted; either get better or lie through this whole thing and probably end up back here in a few months. I vowed at that moment to take this serious and get better, and I meant it.
The program I was in was called symptoms interruption. It is one bed devoted to someone in my situation. Their main goal was to get me to stop taking laxatives cold turkey and have me go to the washroom all on my own. I wasn’t permitted access to the washroom, it was always locked. If I needed it, I had to ask a nurse who would stand outside the whole time, than check the toilet to make sure I wasn’t up to my old habits. Humiliating? You bet. I was 21 years old and wasn’t able to go to the washroom freely or even leave the floor for some fresh air. It sure gave me plenty of time to think about things. I worried. Was this what I was destined for? Was my life ever going to be the same? It was really scary to think that I had put myself here. There were other girls on the floor with eating disorders but they were all anorexic and/or bulimic. The strange thing, was that, although in the same program we were completely segregated from each other. They were constantly monitored, they had to eat in groups, and they were in therapy sessions all day. Than there was me. I wasn’t allowed to use the washroom alone, I could eat wherever I wanted and during the day I could use the stationary bike if I wanted or have visitors come and go as I pleased. It got me thinking. Why was I being treated differently than them. I almost felt like a joke compared to these girls. I actually felt that they would look at me and think that I wasn’t skinny enough to have an eating disorder. They weighed next to nothing and were all complaining about how fat they were. I felt like a burden and that nobody there wanted to have anything to do with me.
I finally went to the washroom on my own after about 6 days, and as a reward I was allowed to leave the building for an hour to do whatever I wanted. It was definitely the best feeling to walk outside into the bright sunshine and breathe in the fresh air. I could have done anything I wanted at that moment and gone anywhere I pleased. Do you know that the drugstore wasn’t even a thought. It was strange. All of a sudden it hit me that I wasn’t dying to run out and buy myself a box of laxatives. I couldn’t quite figure out how after only 6 days I was so confident. It was weird, but more than that it was a great feeling. It gave me a lot of courage to know that it was possible to live my life without them. So I spent the next 60 minutes walking around downtown Toronto enjoying the freedom, not only from the hospital, but from my personal prison.
After being in the hospital for 10 days one of the therapists took me into the hospital drugstore. It was time for them to offer me some therapy. I was instructed to go pick up a package of laxatives, hold them, look at them, think about them, quite frankly I was afraid they would want me to put a leash around it and take them for a stroll. It was my opportunity to see what it would be like to have to walk away from a situation that normally I had complete control over. It was pretty simple actually. I saw it more as a joke. This was the only real interaction I had with any staff member there in terms of therapy. So I laughed under my breath, did the exercise and passed with flying colors.
I was than allowed to go out on a supervised day trip to the Eaton Center with my mom. I was so excited, finally the real world. I felt as though I had been cooped up for years and couldn’t wait to get out. When my mom picked me up, I was really looking forward to our afternoon. We decided to get some lunch and than walk around the mall to do a bit of shopping. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to eat and stood in the middle of the food court suddenly feeling confused and very anxious. I found myself standing there sweating, lightheaded and eventually I broke down and started to cry. I was so afraid. I was back in familiar surroundings and I would have to eat something without having the luxury of doing what I wanted to afterwards. As upsetting as it was, it was such a terrific feeling. I was human and I was scared. I was sure that I wanted to get better, because otherwise I wouldn’t have really cared. I knew that I could go into the drugstore on my way back to the hospital but I just didn’t want to. So my mom and I sat and talked for a bit about how I felt and I realized that I had come too far to head back down that road again. I knew that I could beat it this time. We went to get a sandwich and enjoyed the rest of our afternoon. On my way back, I smiled as I walked by the drugstore and headed right for the elevator.
After two weeks it appeared to the doctors that I was ready to go home and face the world on my own. With a lot of motivation and determination I packed up and left the memories of the hospital far behind. I don’t give them any credit for my recovery. Yes, it was them who kept close eyes on me for the past 14 days, but it was me and only me who figured out what I wanted and how to get it. My favorite part of this whole experience was that I felt better than I had ever in the past. I was ready to brave the world as the new and improved Lisa.
It was a lot easier than I thought to get back into my old life, minus the eating disorder. I didn’t crave them; I didn’t want them and was quite happy living life this way. It was great to know that I would no longer be a prisoner to my old habits.
About a month later I had an appointment to have a cold sore examined. I knew that my doctor; who also helped me get admitted into the program would be proud of my accomplishments, so I was really looking forward to updating him on my progress. We spoke for a couple of minutes about work and school and than he said to me, “Why don’t you get on the scale, it looks like you put on a few pounds.” I don’t remember anything else about that visit. What I do remember is leaving his office and walking right to the drugstore. My life picked up right where I left it 6 weeks ago.
I am sad to think this was 21 years ago. And here I still am.