How To Face The 10 Fears Of Seeking Treatment For An Eating Disorder
I can remember the panic all too well when I decided to go into treatment for my eating disorder and face my fears about recovery.
People are at different stages in their journeys. Some of you may have already had treatment in various forms and levels of care, while some of you may just be worried about the possibility.
I am going to address some of the biggest fears I, personally, have encountered over the past years while struggling with severe anorexia, binge eating disorder and bulimia. Hopefully, I can shed some light based on my experiences.
1. “I’m going to be the biggest one there!”
This was a huge concern of mine every time I entered treatment, no matter what level of care it was. I can tell you now, looking back, it was completely irrelevant, even though it didn’t appear that way at the moment.
When I went to treatment in early 2009, I was oblivious to the severity of my condition and my appearance. I was in such bad shape with anorexia, I was literally dying and my funeral was being planned. Yet, in my mind, I was pondering how ridiculous it was I was not being discharged and allowed back into college.
I was actually the thinnest patient during this admission and the only “prize” I received for this sick accomplishment was almost losing my life.
I never was able to see I was so dangerously thin.
Just one year later, I was faced with going back to treatment again. This time, though, I was 130 pounds heavier than I was at my 2009 admission. And you know what? My fear about being “the biggest one there” was still just as strong.
I agreed to go, though, because I was desperate and in need of help. So, I arrived, met all the other patients and staff, and you know what? I was the biggest one there! And guess what? Nobody cared! I was not treated differently, except in my own mind.
I felt just as uncomfortable in my body as I did the year before.
The third scenario occurred during a 2011 admission. Once again, I feared being the biggest patient there. (Why do we even convince ourselves this possibility makes us less worthy or undeserving of help?)
Anyway, I arrived, and I soon found I was not the biggest patient there; although, I certainly was not the thinnest, either. I was average, in the middle of the bunch.
And, once again, I’m going to tell you it meant nothing. I was not treated any bit differently from the other patients.
So, if you are contemplating going to treatment, whether it be outpatient, residential or inpatient care, remember everyone there most likely shares your same fears and will accept you and support you no matter what. In fact, you might meet some of the most understanding and compassionate people of your entire life.
The same holds true for the staff, therapists and doctors. They are there because they are educated about eating disorders and understand a person’s suffering is not a result of his or her outward appearance.
Please do not let this fear of “standing out from the crowd” prevent you from seeking help.
2. “Compared to others, I’m not sick enough to be in treatment.”
This is a fear and lie most people with eating disorders constantly replay in their minds. Again, I am going to tell you until I’m blue in the face that you are always sick enough.
When you enter treatment, you have to remember you are there for you and your own unique struggle; it is a quest for a happier and healthier life, completely independent of whoever else may be present.
When in treatment, your one job is you and you only. The only prize for being the sickest is a six-foot deep grave.
3. “I don’t want recovery,” or “I’m not ready for it!”
If you are not ready for recovery, I’m here to tell you it's okay. For the majority of my eating disorder (over a decade, to give perspective), I did not want recovery.
I’m smart, I will admit that, and I knew my eating disorder was destroying me, my life and my future. The problem was it was still serving a purpose, albeit a negative one. Basically, I was still getting some sort of benefit from it.
It was my identity. It was my way to self-medicate and numb the more painful and deeper feelings. It was my excuse for failure. It was my way to avoid social situations that provoked anxiety. It was my role in the family.
It was something I could depend on that was predictable. It was an abusive friend I knew wouldn’t reject me. It was a way to punish myself for the false negative beliefs I held about myself.
It was something I was good at. It made life simpler, and it satisfied my OCD.
In short, my eating disorder was hell, but it was also this partial list of “beneficial gains” it provided me. Can you relate?
So, you don’t want recovery, I get that. Who is to say there is something better waiting for you if you do recover? I mean, it’s so much work! You have to feel again; you have to rewire your brain, and you have to challenge and change your thinking.
You have to admit your sense of worthlessness is wrong; you have to participate in life, and you have to show up without hiding behind the excuse and safety of being “sick.” You have to take responsibility for your actions; you have to grow up, and you have to think about and make tough, real-life decisions.
You have to form relationships, which all come with ups and downs, and you have to look at all that pain hiding beneath your Band-Aid.
Damn! Who wants to do any of that?
We always hear it’s worth it, but until you go through the process yourself, you won’t understand. It takes a lot of courage and a leap of faith.
I can promise you, it will be the hardest thing you will ever do. I can promise you can go through the motions of “recovery” without wanting or believing in it. I can promise you may discover you do want recovery as the process unfolds.
I promise that when you look back, you, too, will be able to say with Kate Le Page, “My worst days in recovery are better than my best days in relapse.”
4. “My health isn’t that bad. Can’t I live a normal life and keep my eating disorder?”
No! Of course, you knew I would say that. But, in my mind, this is important to address.
I often convinced myself and spent countless hours obsessing over how to convince my treatment team and parents I could be healthy and keep my eating disorder. I thought I could have the best of both worlds.
I believed I could maintain a low weight and be a great tennis player, student, horseback rider and friend. The truth is your eating disorder is manipulating and lying to you.
This is still a form of denial. When it comes to recovery, it is truly all or nothing; there is no halfway point.
5. “What am I supposed to tell my friends if I go away to treatment for months?”
It can be really hard to focus on treatment when it also means leaving your friends. It’s not easy, but in this case, you have to be selfish and just do it. There are several ways to go about this. One way is to simply say nothing and just go. You really owe no one an explanation for seeking help to save your life and getting well.
Another option is to tell your close friends, if they don’t already know. Explain to them, whether they understand eating disorders or not, that you need to go get some extra support in order to live a better life.
Sometimes, depending on the treatment center, you will be able to access some forms of communication, such as limited phone and computer use where you can periodically check in with your friends. I think you would be surprised by how much support you’ll receive when you are honest with people about your struggles.
You never lose friends; you only find out who your real ones are. If you can put yourself first and be honest with the people around you, I promise you will have many more true friends in the future.
6.“What if the weight gain is too fast?” “What if the weight loss is too slow?”
Of course you fear this! Honestly, if you are happy with how fast you are gaining weight (if that is needed), or if you are happy with how fast your are losing weight (if that is needed), you are probably either at a poorly-run treatment center or manipulating the system.
The weight gain will always seem too fast. The weight loss will always seem too slow. The rules will always seem unnecessary.
Recovery is about change, and all great change is incredibly uncomfortable and difficult. But the greater the discomfort, the greater the reward. When it comes to recovery, one of the hardest components is accepting your lack of control. This is vital. You have to surrender your control.
You believe you are the expert and, on one hand, you are the expert of yourself. But when it comes to recovery, I hate to break it to you, but you are one uncoordinated beginner.
Accept this! Embrace the challenge! Don’t view recovery as starting over, but rather, as a blank slate at creating your best life.
Remember that eating disorders are rarely, if ever, about weight, food or appearance. Nothing that comes easily is usually sustainable or worthwhile, and things that are difficult and take patience usually last.
7. “I can’t go to treatment; I’m in school and/or have a job. I’m going to be so behind!”
When it comes to this dilemma, it is all about priorities. As for me, I’ve always been a perfectionist, and I always wanted to be the best in all of my classes and the best at every job I ever had.
The thought of possibly “losing” my lead or becoming average was non-negotiable. But, I learned the hard way that school will always be there. The right job will always be there.
But, your health and life will not always be there if you don’t address and take care of it.
8. “I’m afraid I will be forced to do things I don’t want to do.”
Part of recovery involves a give and take. You are going to have to give up certain things in your mind that may seem impossible. But in exchange, you are going to see, sometimes only in hindsight, how much more freedom you truly gain.
Any time you avoid something for long enough and mentally label it as “bad,” such as a fear of food, there is going to be anxiety around having to face it. Likewise, if you struggle with exercise addiction, going to treatment where activity is severely limited can seem like prison.
But, you are going to have to reframe how you look at the situation. It is your “sick” mind that tells you you have to exercise. It is your OCD and anxiety that builds up so high that you feel exercise is the only way to lessen the overwhelming feelings.
This is the point of getting better, though. By stripping yourself of your harmful coping behaviors in a safe environment, you can learn to replace your harmful behaviors with something more positive over time.
9. “I don’t look sick, so I must be fine, and no one will take me seriously.”
I touched on this subject briefly before, but I want to nail it on the head.
In many ways, I was just as sick when I looked “normal” as I was at my highest or lowest weight. Sadly, I will tell you I have lost many friends and acquaintances to eating disorders. Most of them died when they were not at their lowest or highest weights. And, often, their family and friends weren’t aware they were struggling.
I don’t like talking on this darker note, but this is the ugly truth. Eating disorders kill, and they kill no matter one’s age, weight, gender or length of struggle.
10. “I’ve been to treatment many times before, and it’s never worked. Why try again?”
When all other attempts have seemingly led you right back to the same spot, it can be very frustrating to seek out help for the umpteenth time. For me, I could tell you, “This is the story of my life.”
But the truth is you are always a little different each time. You may think the last treatment center did nothing, but I think you’d be surprised.
I felt this way, and I got really mentally tired of going in and out of treatment, only to come back home to struggle. But, you never know when you are going to meet that certain therapist, that certain inspirational person or enter a treatment center that provides you with that “aha” moment.
People are interesting creatures, and I know many of my greatest changes took place when I least expected it. I even surprised myself.
I’ll tell you over and over to try again! Keep going until it clicks. For some, it clicks the first time. Great! For others, it clicks the 20th time. Great!
Now, put your fighting face back on, and give it your best shot!