X.XX.MMIX: part 2
Thank you so much for tuning in for part 2. This is a long story, but I want all details included.
My mother gave me the most serious ultimatum I have been faced with: my life or treatment. I felt limp with the idea that I was stuck in a mental prison of shame and self-destruction. I remember crying and crying asking whatever higher power- why? Why did I come out this way? What did I do so wrong to be in a position where I am killing myself and putting my family in agony?
I was at my absolute worst when I boarded the plane to Argentina. I was 5 foot 6, and no more than 60lbs. My mother held my hand tight as we walked through the airport with people staring at me. Although my body was fully covered to try to mask my skeleton-like appearance, you could see in my face that I was dying. My mother had been warned how dangerous it was for me to get on an airplane since my heart was so weak- I was a walking heart attack waiting to happen. That is usually how most anorexics die: when your body eats all the fat you hold, it attacks muscle, and your heart is a muscular organ.
I have to be honest in saying that tears are rushing to my eyes and I am trying to contain them, I have such a hard time reliving the first time my family saw me this sick. I will never be able to unsee the tears strolling down my grandparents faces when they picked my family up from the airport. I had never seen my grandpa cry, and just the look on his face showed that his heart dropped. I had a couple days before we went out and explored treatment centers, so we had time to see all our family. We arrived to my grandparents, and the ambience was so heavy with my presence. My grandpa- a very type A personality- sat me down and handed me a banana he wanted me to eat. The only way I can describe to you how terrified I was to eat this banana is as follows: I felt as though my grandpa handed me a cyanide pill. They didn't believe my mom was trying hard enough to make me eat, but they finally understood the severity of my disease when I had a massive blackout panic attack while choking down this banana. Afterwords I went to our bedroom bathroom to lift up my shirt, look at my stomach to see if it got bigger, measured my limbs, and stared at myself while weak tears spurted out of my eyes- I have never experienced anything more agonizing than the feeling of dying and being trapped in my body and mind.
As we visited my family, it was all the same reactions- it does not feel good to make everybody cry at the pure sight of your lifeless body. My uncles were in shock, my great-grandparents horrified and scared at what I had become. I was no longer the little girl that used to beg for ice cream and run around playing. I was too weak to shower on my own, so my mom had my grandma and best friend all help me. The bathroom seemed to be ice cold, and my mother helped strip me down and hold me upright in the shower and wash what was left of my hair. My mothers best friend tried to stay strong, but she broke down in despair seeing my emaciated body- the bones, the bruises along my spine and tail-bone, my purple fingertips, and my frail attempts to even speak. My anxiety was at a sky high, the next day I would be getting medical tests done and visiting my treatment center.
The treatment center I would be exploring required that I have extensive blood work done to see just how emaciated I was- but that experience went south very fast. I sat in the little booth trying to pump a stress ball so the nurse could find a vein, but no veins came up in order for them to take blood. We tried over and over again for an hour until the nurse was able to get a small amount of blood using one of those butterfly needles- I was sucked dry internally, which made sense to why my fingertips were going purple.
We toured a couple centers, but we immediatly chose a center called ABINT. ABINT, is the very foundation that saved my life. My amazing family made it financially possible for me to be rehabilitated at this center. This center was in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, and had extensive experience in treating eating disorders. It was extremely upscale in the fact that it was a group approach to healing, small groups of patients, meals provided and served by the facility based on your nutritional needs, one on one therapy, group therapy, art therapy, and family integration, and daily monitoring. I felt so welcomed when I came in through their doors and I was greeted with hellos from girls just like me- I was no longer the freak in the room. Although this location would mean over 3 hours in commute per day, my amazing grandparents would soon escort me every single day for over 5 months to make sure I received treatment.
MY FIRST DAY
My first day was nothing short of traumatizing at ABINT. I entered the building, and kissed my family goodbye at the steps, and had to go into what I call a withdrawal. Like a drug addict, I was addicted to my disorder and the control I had over my self mutilation. The minute I entered that building, my control was taken away. I was rushed to a room where I was promptly stripped to the undies (to ensure I didn't have weights in my pockets) while two doctors weighed me backwards (so I couldn't see my weight). If that wasn't bad enough, I so conveniently came just in time for lunch- and I hadn't eaten in days. In a room full of girls I didn't know, I was the youngest patient they had ever seen. I was shaking violently in anxiety when the chef put put down a plate of chicken breast and mashed potatoes in front of me- the rule was you had to eat it all before you could be dismissed. I cried in pain the whole meal since my stomach was being stretched for the first time in months, and the doctors could see it. A therapist came over and put a couple drops of a tincture in my water, what I later found out was a sedative I would take daily in order to not have panic attacks while eating. The girls who were surrounding me coached me into eating every bite of food on my plate, and let me know that I was safe here.
The therapists prompted us up a flight of stairs to a group room, and I attended my first group therapy. I introduced myself to all the women surrounding me, ages ranged from 18-55... This disease was serious and it did not discriminate. Sharing stories, some had been sick for years, some had bulimia, some started with bulimia and then turned to anorexia, many had been sexually abused, and almost all of them, including me, came from a family that had some sort of abandonment issue. When it came my turn to speak, all I really had to say was that I felt fat, and I feared being fat. I got called out on my bullshit that day, and everyday for the next 5 months, because the girls, therapists, and doctors were right- my eating disorder had nothing to do with the food or my body, but as a tool to channel my deep rooted childhood issues. I had so much hidden inside me that I didn't even recognize it, and the girls around me helped me feel a sense of union. We vowed to help each other, and this came in forms of phone calls, talking, and yes- going to the bathroom together so no one had the opportunity to vomit or take laxatives.
At first, I was very resistant to treatment, even though deep down inside I wanted to get better. The first couple months I found new ways to avoid food, even in treatment, such as eating a toast with jelly, but scraping it with my teeth so I could wipe the jelly off on a napkin. I was made to drink two "Ensure" weight gainer shakes per day, and I would sip slowly so I could also try and have my napkin absorb that. Clearly, my extreme attempts were noticed by the older girls, and they told me to stop fucking around if I wanted to get better. I would do little exercises like leg lifts or simply flexing my abs as hard as possible, or even fast walking, which sabotaged my treatment. The first two months I didn't gain any weight, and my doctors told my grandparents I was not allowed to walk more than a couple blocks a day-once I abided and put some serious mental effort, I slowly started getting better. Although I was mentally 100% and putting all my focus, power, and effort into healing, some of the girls I was with seemed hopeless. There had been girls that have attended treatment for years, and didn't really seem like they cared to advance. One girl in particular shocked me, and for the sake of the story I will call her Andrea (not her real name). Andrea was so sick and out of control, that many times she wasn't allowed around the other girls since she would manipulate, lie, taunt, and even be violent towards the people around her. My first week there, she scared the living shit out of me- during one meal time, she got up screaming and tried to lunge herself off the balcony, and the other meal time looked me in the eye, waved her stomach, and vomited in front of me on command (apparently she did this often). As horrible as this sounds, she became my motivation to get better, and we became friends so we could help each other.
(Pic: entering 3rd month in treatment, some weight gain)
I gave 110% in therapy, and did things that made me extremely uncomfortable such as emailing my dad to tell him how I felt, and sharing my life story over and over again to a room full of people I had never met before treatment, and the hardest- respecting myself. The healthier I got physically, the better I started to operate mentally. I can clearly remember the day that I went just 5 minutes without listening to that stupid voice in my head telling me I was worthless and fat, I started telling it to fuck off. Once I proved that I wasn't trying to cheat the system, I also gained more freedoms. My grandparents enrolled me in a studio painting club that I went to once a week with all amazing elderly women who guided me in art and life lessons. I started to enjoy my time with family, and was allowed to make more of my own food choices. My mother and sisters had to go back to the U.S. during my treatment, and they would call me daily and send me mail so I never felt alone- they were my motivation through some of my most hopeless days in treatment. Finally after 5 months, I had hit a stable enough weight to come home and start outpatient treatment. Miraculously, I was the only patient they had seen who recovered fast enough to leave the treatment. When I say 110% effort, I fucking mean it.
My recovery could not have been possible without the help of my mother, grandparents, and families emotional and financial help. Even in Argentina, my treatment in whole cost about $70,000. When I came home, I continued seeing a therapist and nutritionist weekly, while visiting a doctor biweekly to check my blood and health. I caught up in school, and practically became 100% recovered once I made friends and had a social life, since my friends were great rode models of a healthy and normal life. Eventually, I even started going to the gym again under close supervision, but I knew I was strong enough to not relapse.
I am almost certain that my treatment was fast and effective because I was a child. As a child, I barely had any freedom and didn't make any choices for myself, which made my disorder much easier to lock down and treat. As an adult this can be hard since you don't have anybody to tell you what to do or force you into treatment. If my story resonates with any feelings you are having, PLEASE SEEK TREATMENT. Eating disorders cannot be cured by following recovery blogs on Instagram and Tumblr, or worse, buying "self love" bracelets and merch from sick people capitalizing on women with eating disorders. These people are not trained professionals, and fuck I wish it was that easy to just "snap out of it".
I am now a certified personal trainer, wife, college student, traveler, and most importantly- recovered and healthy.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for reading. I look forward to sharing more of my life stories and lessons with you.