When I first entered treatment and started to read about the Eating Disorder recovery process, I noticed that everyone had a “team.” It seamed like every person had a doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, dietician, mentor and sometimes a few others in the mix. I don’t know why, but when I read this, my Eating Disorder would say things like, “See, you are not that bad, you don’t have a team.” “These girls are TRULY anorexic. They need all these people. You don’t even have a doctor, so there isn’t a problem.” I felt like since I didn’t have a team, I didn’t need help. Since I hadn’t collapsed on the ground yet and had all these people caring for me, there must not be a real problem. It’s so backwards the way that my Eating Disorder brain would twist every little thing in order to keep me from believing I had a problem and trying to seek help.
I don’t know what I was thinking. Did a team just up and POOF! start being there? I found myself jealous of all these people that had a team because that meant they were sick enough to be noticed and helped. It meant people believed them and there was a real problem. Meanwhile, I was back to a normal weight. Starving. Exercising to the point of heart pain. Denying I had a problem. Convincing myself that because I didn’t have a “team” I didn’t have a problem.
Whelp, here I am, almost two years in and not only do I have a team, but I would say I have one of the best teams a gal could have! My team grew over time and according to necessity. If you are currently suffering from an Eating Disorder and wondering how the heck people have and get these teams that they talk about, it’s your lucky day! I want to share how my team came about. Who is on it and why. What happens when the team changes. How each member came to be on my team and how some got cut from the team along the way. I’ll also share some tips about how to find your team members and things that helped me be successful.
My team has been CRUCIAL to my success in recovery. Without them I 100,000,000% believe I would not have made it this far in my recovery. I would still be starving, exercising myself into my grave, and living a dead life. I truly believe that God placed each and every one of these professionals in my path to help me journey to freedom.
I’ll start from the beginning. A little over two years ago I went to a therapist who I thought would help me with my problems. I knew I was suffering with an eating disorder, but I was in denial about how bad it was. This therapist suggested I join a class at a nearby church called NEW I.D. (1) and also suggested I go to a doctor that specializes in eating disorders to have my blood work done and see where I was at health-wise. Although I came to realize that this therapist was off her rocker and not a good fit for me at all, I did join the NEW I.D class and I did end up going to the doctor.
Tip #1 - If you don’t click with a therapist, do not suffer and keep telling yourself it might get better. Find a new one. There are a LOT of therapists out there, so there is truly no need to stay with one that you don’t mesh with. Yes, it’s annoying and little expensive, but it’s better to find one that will actually help you and that you feel comfortable with. The first therapist I went to would sit there and smack her gum, adjust furniture and answer phone calls during our sessions. Bye boo!
Ok, back to the story...
The New ID course, “is a six-week course being used by churches all over the world for those struggling with eating disorders.” (2) It was actually super informative and helped me to realize I truly had a major problem and needed further help. After the course was over I booked an appointment with the Doctor that the therapist recommended. She is a pretty well known doctor in the Arlington Virginia area who works with eating disorders. I was VERY scared to go to this appointment. It ends up my fears were justified. I walked out of that appointment with orders for heart tests, bone density tests, more blood tests, a list of meds and supplements I needed to get on immediately and another list of eating disorder treatment programs that I needed to choose from and begin a.s.a.p.
Hello team member #1! Dr. G.! My doctor has been with me since the beginning of my treatment. She understands eating disorders and what the recovery process looks like both mentally and physically. Although I hate 90% of what she says, (that this will take 3 years for instance) she has almost always been right and has helped me get my health back. In the beginning of my recovery I would see her almost once a week and then it tapered down to twice a month, then once a month and now I am at once every two months.
Tip #2 - It is CRUCIAL to find a doctor that understands eating disorders. Sadly, many doctors do not understand them and because of that they will give terrible advice and wrong diagnosis. When I was severely underweight, constipated, having migraines and feeling sick, the doctor I went to explained it away as IBS and sent me on my way with meds. Had this doctor known anything about anorexia he would have seen that all the signs were there and I was suffering severely from an eating disorder and didn't know it. This happened only two years into my struggle with anorexia. Had that doctor known what he was looking at I could have saved myself from five more years of anorexia. I had another experience where I went to one of the BEST doctors in North America for eating disorder recovery at John Hopkins. I was having some complications during my re-feeding and I wasn't sure what was going on. After a four hour assessment and $800.00, she proceeded to tell my team that I didn't have anorexia (because I was no longer underweight at the time of our appointment) and she thinks I secretly binge. My team was mortified and apologized to me for even considering her as a person to seek out for help. Honestly, it was so insane I had to laugh! This couldn't be any further from the truth. I was still having a hard time even eating a freaking bagel! This was just a doctor that was stuck in one mindset and had NO idea what she was doing. John Hopkins or not. If a doctor says your fine, sometimes it leads us to doubt we have a real issue. Dr. G new immediately that I had an eating disorder based on the questionnaire I filled out. Her thoughts were then confirmed with my honestly and my test results. Doctors that understand E.D.’s are hard to come by, but it is necessary to find one that does.
After my doctor ordered me into treatment I made the decision to do intensive outpatient treatment. Honestly, I should have done inpatient, but I’m stubborn and was still in a bit of denial about how bad my eating disorder really was. So, I started treatment at Potomac Behavioral Solutions. The first step of this was to start meeting with a therapist. This became team member #2! I’ll call her Dr. Al. She was the first person to really get me to understand I had a problem. I’ll never forget how many arguments her and I would have because I just COULD NOT SEE I HAD A PROBLEM. (3) It was like she was saying the sky was purple and I just couldn’t see it! After two weeks of collecting information (I kept a food diary, received my medical results, and had mental assessments) about me and helping me to realize the severity of my eating disorder, Dr. Al decided it was crucial I begin to see one of their dietitians to start the re-feeding process.
Enter team member #3! Sam! My dietician. Thank God for Sam. Sam has held my hand through re-feeding, major weight gain, health issues and my mind and bodies rejection of food. She has taught me literally how to eat again. It is thanks for Sam that I now enjoy pizza and don’t run 3 miles after. In a fat-phobic world, Sam has stood by my side as I have gained recovery weight and every week helped me to understand food, nutrition, health and freedom.
Tip #3 - Work with a dietician that not only understands eating disorders but practices intuitive eating, all foods fit and health at every size. The goal here is to recover from an eating disorder and have FREEDOM! We cannot be free if in the end we are still calling foods good and bad, eating for numbers instead of listening to our bodies and maintaining a perspective that our weight MUST be a certain BMI. It is important to have a dietician that is not concentrating on your weight but on your HEALTH. The weight will work itself out over time if you are eating intuitively. Many dietician's will still count calories or use exchanges or be afraid of you gaining "too much" weight in recovery. This causes many people to never fully recover because they never allow their body everything it needs to fully heal, which in many cases causes a weight overshoot for a while. It's unfortunate because I feel like it robs many people of total freedom. It's like replacing one bad thing with another. The goal is FREEDOM. NO DIETING.
If you have read my previous blogs, I’m sure you already know, recovery is, how do I say this nicely.....HELL. It is THE hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Coming out of an eating disorder left me with extreme anxiety and at times major depression. This led me to Team member #4, my psychiatrist! Dr. K! I don’t know why but I feel a deep sense of shame when I type that I have gone to a psychiatrist. It’s almost like it’s ok to have physical health problems, but the minute it becomes mental and medication is involved, there is some sort of shame. The reality is, many times throughout treatment it has just gotten too hard and medication has been an option to consider. If I’m being fully transparent, I have not yet taken any psychiatric medication during my treatment. This does not mean I am against it or I haven’t needed it. This is honestly a topic for another blog. But there came a time that trying to change my behavior to alleviate the depression as well as getting cognitive therapy for my depression just wasn’t enough, so I went to Dr. K. Every so often we meet and re-address my openness to medication. It’s nice to know it is always there if I need it.
Sometimes the team we start off with is not the team we end with. For the first 6 months of my recovery I had Dr. Al as my therapist. She informed me that she was moving along and will no longer be practicing at my treatment center. At first I was upset, but then I decided to change my perspective, which led to Team member #5 AND another tip for you!
Tip #4 - If a team member quits there job, or moves along from the center or you realize they are not helpful and you find yourself in the position of having to find a new team member, in my opinion, it is best to treat it as an opportunity and not become distraught. When I had to get a new therapist in the middle of my treatment I decided that instead of being upset, I was going to be excited because now I get to meet another new person that is going to help me meet my goal. I am not dependent on anyone for my recovery. These people are here to help me reach MY goals. So instead of wasting time being upset, I marched into my new therapists office and said, “Let’s get to work.” My perspective is, I know where I want to go, how are you going to help me get there? Recently my dietician, who is a rockstar and has been with me from the beginning, let me know she is leaving the practice. This is definitely upsetting, but I have the option to follow her to her new practice, or try out another dietician and see if the new one can help me even more! Maybe be a fresh set of eyes on my nutrition! Again, I want to reach my goal, I create a team that will help me to get there. It's ok to be sad, because we create a relationship with these people. However it is not ok for it to hinder recovery!
Team member #5 is my current therapist Becca. She is THE BEST! What’s funny is Becca helped me more in one month then Dr. Al helped me in 6 months. Sometimes having a team member move along is a blessing! I think that I, hands down, have the best eating disorder recovery therapist in all of the land. She helped me find my worth and value again. She has given me 100 coping skills to deal with every thing that gets thrown at me and she is my main source of support. She does not make everything sunshine and rainbows, but she is validating and knows what she is doing. She holds me accountable, challenges me as well as week after week encourages me to keep going and helps me mentally figure out how. (Becca, if you are reading this, you are a Godsend. I thank God every day for you and the help and support you have given me. I appreciate every time you challenge me as it has made me a better person and one step closer to being recovered. THANK YOU!)
Team members #6-#100+, are the rest of the people that support me. It is Rock Recovery. My Sunday night support group. All of the therapists, dietitians and group therapy assistants that give up their time to support me, encourage me and hold me accountable at Rock. It is the mentor that Rock provided me with that is always reassuring me that I’m doing it and it WILL be ok. It is the girls in my support group that lift me up when I’m down and go through recovery with me. It is my family and friends that listen, pray over me, give me a break when I need rest, and are there for me. It is even the people that read this blog and send me sweet notes of encouragement to keep going!
Tip #5 - Figure out who in your life will support you. Not everyone is up for going through the journey of recovery with you. That’s ok! It’s just important to find the ones that will, even if it is only one or two people. We are not meant to go through things alone. Ask for help and seek out those close to you for support. Also, distance yourself from people that hinder your recovery. If you find yourself triggered every single time you hang with someone, it's time to take a step back and see if that relationship is positive towards your goal. If not, move along.
Tip #6 - Find a support group! Joining my support group was one of THE best things to happen during my recovery process. I now had other people that I could talk to that literally understood what I was going through. This is worth more then gold and should be a TOP priority while going through recovery. (FYI - sadly, most support groups do actually charge to be in them. I pay $300.00 a month to be in my support group. This is for the professionals that come. It's worth it though.)
Tip #7 - Get a mentor and preferably one that has recovered from an eating disorder. Connecting with someone who has already gone through it and come out the other side is truly a blessing. My mentor is proof that recovery does work. She keeps me motivated and speaks truth into me when I’m ready to give up! Find a mentor!
Member #7 of my team is GOD! I truly believe without him, this team would never even exist. He has a perfect plan for me and He is putting the right people in my path to help me achieve freedom. His guidance, when I choose to follow it, works more then any other coping skill I've learned. When I lean into my identity in Him, my insecurity goes away. If you don't have a faith, this might be the time to explore that! It has been a blessing to me during recovery.
The last and most important team member is......ME! There may be no I in TEAM but there is a ME. (feel free to eye roll atthat cheesy line...) I have to want it. I have to show up for all of my appointments. I have to do what they tell me to do. I have to put into practice the tools I have been given. I have never heard of a person recovering from an eating disorder because their therapist did all the work, or their dietician ate all the food. Nope, I show up and I do it. If I quiet the team, the team falls apart. If I don’t do my part, things don’t go well. It is I that has to keep going and keep working!
This is my team!
My team did not “POOF!” and all come at once. They came at just the right time, for just the right reason over the course of a year. Each member of my team has a specific role in helping me be successful in recovery. Sometimes they even work together in order to help me even more. My team is amazing and I truly believe they are the best. I will settle for nothing less. My life and freedom depend on it!
If you are entering treatment and looking for a therapist or your dietician decided to take a hike, I encourage you to keep searching and make sure you have a good team set up and lots of support. It is VERY hard to recover from an eating disorder, but it is less difficult when you have an amazing team behind you!
- Sara -
p.s. Something I didn't talk about when it comes to my team is the cost. When you read how many doctors and professionals I go to in order to recover you might be thinking, dang, that probably costs a LOT of money! Yes! It does! At this point I think we have spent over $20,000 to get me healthy. The truth is, the decision was made in the beginning that I would get the best team so that I would be successful and money was not going to stand in the way of that. Insurance does cover some things, and what it doesn't cover we pay out of pocket. My health is worth more and I have heavily trusted on God to provide the funds and ability to move forward. I also have a husband that works very hard to provide me with the best care. (Thank you Wyatt!) If you can't afford some of these things, seek insurance, seek pro-bono, seek out grants at project heal or other organizations that help fund treatment. They are out there!
1 & 2 - http://www.newid.org
3- I just want to clarify something that might be confusing to readers without an eating disorder. At times I say that I knew I had an eating disorder and other times I say I did't know. Basically, I knew that I was eating nothing, and exercising more then anyone I knew and I was still gaining weight. This baffled me. So I understood that I had some sort of issue, but I thought it was just my body that was messed up and something was wrong, not that I was suffering from anorexia. It's like I thought I had an eating disorder, but wasn't sure because I couldn't see it. I also suffer from body dysmorphia so I absolutely do not see the size that I am. I see myself as WAY bigger then I am, so I couldn't understand when people said I wasn't fat. I also didn't realize I was actually scared of food. I just thought I was an elitist when it came to dieting and I had a skewed understanding of nutrition and food portion because of diets and media. There is a sense of knowing there is an issue, but being in denial about what the issue is as a whole. I hope this helps clarify this!