What Eating Disorder Therapy was like

What my therapy was like and why you can’t find it anymore

In 2014 I attempted suicide. I was a Special Education teacher at the time and going to school to get my credential. My eating disorder was in full swing, but it had stopped working. My coping mechanism of binging and purging was no longer making me feel empty anymore. I was filled up and could not handle it. I taught five periods and then got a substitute for the last period. I calmly explained the lesson plan and then left to go swallow all my pills in my car. I almost instantly regretted my decision and tried to contact my therapist, but she was unavailable. I drove to the hospital, but it was too late to pump my stomach, so I had to ride out whatever I had taken. It would put me out for awhile but was not a high enough dosage to have killed me. It wasn’t meant to be, but I still had to face the fact that I went forward with the act. I was placed in a facility for two weeks and I became quiet. I had nothing to say. My family, bless them, visited as much as they could and all I wanted to do was sit. When I was released it was deemed best that I go with my sister. She took me to Kaiser and at the time they had no eating disorder program. They authorized my treatment at the Eating Disorder Center of Fresno in Fresno, California under director Steve Schaefer, LCSW. I would be there from 9am-4:30pm 7 days a week for the next two years.

Steve had white hair, glasses and a penchant for Hawaiian print shirts. He was a recovering alcoholic that had the ability to see your pains. What I mean is he usually knew what was buried deep down. He may not have always known the details, but he got the jist of it. You see eating disorders rarely, if ever, manifest on their own. They are the tips of icebergs, underneath the water can be mental illness, abuse, rape, incest, bullying or a host of other things. And Steve always pulled out that iceberg like it was a rotting tooth and he a skilled dentist. My iceberg took about two years to come out. My first day I was a mess. As was standard we went into the group therapy room and stood up one by one to go over food logs with the staff which included a therapist, a dietician, Steven and residential staff. Part of the staff resided in San Diego, so they participated through telemedicine. It was a jolt to stand up and talk to a tv screen and be surrounded by a group of people who didn’t want to eat. Eventually I just started crying. No Steve I didn’t know what my goals for therapy were. No Steve I don’t know when the last time was I purged. Actually, I did but I don’t share that kind of information, come on Steve. So, I cried out of frustration. And then we had snack time (we ate two snacks and one meal there) and it was cupcakes for someone’s birthday. All of the anorexics were refusing, freaking out at the idea of a dessert item. I wanted all of the cupcakes and then a chance to be in the bathroom alone. We could not use the restroom with the door closed fully, oh and all mirrors were covered. It was to ensure we did not engage in any eating disordered behaviors and prevented any body checking. So, every morning at 9am we came in and met in the group therapy room to go over our food logs. That is where we were to come out with any issues that came out the night before. Sometimes we were honest, sometimes we were not. Afterwards we would journal. So much journaling throughout the day. Then we would have group or individual therapy and heck they threw in some more journaling just for fun. That is usually where shit got real. I could write how much I hated therapy, or myself, draw my IMG_0115middle finger or eventually settle down and write about why I started my eating disorder. That took awhile. I was stubborn and angry. I hated myself so much and I couldn’t get past it. The idea of digging deep into my childhood sounded painful and my mind knew better, it was in protection mode, so it sent out a petulant little teenager to therapy. The staff was used to it and handled everything I threw at them. Literally threw. And that is why I made it out as recovering woman with an eating disorder. Because people stuck it out with me. I called Steve a lot of names, I pushed him out of my way to escape and I refused to talk to him. He kept working with me. I wasn’t special. He did this with every patient. He understood how difficult it is to battle something you still have to put in your body 3-6 times a day.

Therapy wasn’t all work and no play. We got to play some games or do a puzzle or just sit and talk for a few minutes here and there. Now I was unusual in that I stayed for so long. Insurance usually does not cover such a long stay, so patients were constantly changing. But I became a well-known part of the program at EDCF. I can be quite a hoot, I can throw quite a fit and I can have quite an epiphany when I want to. I will forever be grateful that I found EDCF. I learned to open up and share. I have relapsed since, several times but I don’t consider them failures. I know how to get back on the rails and it takes me less time each relapse. Unfortunately, EDCF is no longer operating and the Central Valley is lesser for it.