I originally wrote this story for my “Learning to Tell Your Stories” class at college. Since it is part of my treatment story, I thought that I would share it with y’all.
After a six-hour long car ride, we pulled into the gravel parking lot as the rain started to beat against the car window. I remember in that moment thinking that the dreary weather outside mirrored the emotions that I felt behind my tear-stained face—fear, sadness, hopelessness. My dad heaved my heavy suitcase out of the car as I turned to face what would be my home for the next two months. We walked up to the yellow house, in a weird, awkward silence that only exists when what you are facing is too weighty to handle. We rang the doorbell. After a few moments, a face that I did not recognize but would soon become one that I saw everyday answered the door. “Welcome to Carolina House! You must be Sarah, right?” she asked. I nodded. This was it. I was at Carolina House, a residential treatment center for eating disorders in Durham, North Carolina.
My first week at Carolina House was one of the worst weeks of my life. All of my freedom was stripped from me—I could no longer go to the bathroom alone, stand without being told to sit down, or choose what or how much I ate. I cried before, during, and after almost every meal and snack. I had been extremely restricting my food intake for the last five years, and now I was being expected to eat six times a day. Instead of enjoying all of the end of senior year festivities at home, every night during phone time I called my family, begging them to come get me. I told them I did not have a problem. That I did not need to be there. That I was not “sick enough”. I felt as if my family had betrayed me by dropping me off at literal hell on earth.
Three weeks after being admitted into Carolina House, I woke up on the morning of my high school graduation. Instead of putting on my graduation robe that morning, I changed into my weigh-in gown for morning check-ins, and instead of having my graduation party that night, I had lights out at 10:30. My graduation day went nothing like what I had been dreaming it would be. I spent the majority of the day crying, even though the staff and residents tried to make my day special. We put on temporary tattoos, went bowling, and had a fake graduation ceremony complete with a diploma made during art therapy group. Even though treatment was saving my life, I felt like everything was ruined and worthless because the one thing I had been living for—my high school graduation—was taken from me.
The worst part of treatment was gaining weight. When I went into Carolina House, I knew that I was extremely underweight, but my eating disorder made me believe that my treatment team would only make me gain 10 pounds at most. My body was in such distress that my dietitian had to continually increase my meal plan because my body was burning all the food so quickly that I was not gaining weight. It was absolute torture. It took over two months for me to reach my maintenance weight. Even though I hated it, I began to appreciate the things that the weight gain did for my body. I could stand without getting dizzy; I could walk without blacking out. My calcium levels began improving, which made my team hopeful that my osteopenia was beginning to reverse. My weight gain took away the possibility of organ failure. Even though I hated it, gaining back my lost weight literally saved my life.
I turned 19 three days before my discharge from Carolina House, but I was not just celebrating another year older. I was celebrating that I received another year of life—a year that would not be dictated by my eating disorder, a year that would be healthy, a year that my life would not be at risk. I was celebrating all that Carolina House and recovery had given me—friends that I still talk to everyday, countless hilarious memories that I will never forget, and a life that I love. That little yellow house in the woods—more lovingly known as “the yellow bubble”—saved my life. Every hard day was worth it because of the life I live now.
While at Carolina House, I ate approximately 336 meals. Since my discharge, I have eaten 576 meals. Not every one of those meals have been easy. I have cried through a lot of them and have even denied some—but only to change my mind 30 minutes later because I have learned that recovery is a choice and even when I do not want recovery, I have to choose it anyways. Recovery is hard and eating is still not my favorite thing to do, but I know that those things are worth more than anything my eating disorder ever offered me.