I could not pull over fast enough. The rental car’s tires crunched to a halt at the Southpoint shopping area. I quickly threw the car into park and buried my head in my hands. My heart was overwhelmed with emotions. My morning at the Carolina House was over and the magnitude of this trip and the memories of my long journey hit me like a tidal wave, a very unexpected tidal wave.
Hours before this tidal wave, I happily entered the Carolina House, filled with excitement to share my story and simply be back within its safe walls. As I walked into the cozy CH living room, it felt as if not a day had gone by since I last left. I felt the same comfort and safety that I had experienced just two years ago. The women greeted me with smiles and warmth. We all curled up around the roaring fire and I held a hot cup of tea as I began to talk. I was back ‘home’.
After I recounted my recovery story, patients began asking questions about life after treatment – dealing with relationship changes, finding support, re-entering the disordered world you leave behind and the dark memories that still linger. It was surreal to hear them ask the exact questions I had asked myself two years ago. I’m not sure if my experience or advice helped, but connecting with them today and yesterday certainly helped me. Eating disorder recovery can be a lonely place. I am so grateful to them for reminding me that I am not alone in my struggles.
When the talk ended, a staff member asked if I would like to go upstairs and see the bedrooms. I did not expect such an offer and was thrilled to take her up on it. I was certainly not prepared for the emotions that came rushing in as I laid eyes on my old rooms, the ‘Pink Room’ and the ‘Green Room.’ (Side note: Everyone begins her stay in the ‘Pink’ Room. It is definitely the least popular room due to its close proximity to the night desk.) Memories came flooding back. It seemed as if it were yesterday I was walking up the stairs to my room. But today, instead of loud footsteps, noisy blow dryers and fellow patients talking and laughing, the upstairs hallway was eerily silent. As muted tears streamed down my face, I slowly walked down the once familiar hall. A knot formed in my stomach as I saw the beds where I curled up under the covers, crying into my pillow as my mind raced with questions of uncertainty and doubt…
How was I ever going to recover? Would I ever get to leave the Carolina House? And if I did, was I going to make it? Was I going to really be able to live my life and leave my eating disorder behind?
It was in these rooms where I sobbed into my pillow aching for my husband’s arms to wrap around me. It was there I sadly realized that I had forgotten his smell. It was there that I cried alone in the closet as I tried to get dressed for outings. It was there that I looked at a mirror full of inspiring post-it notes, trying my best to believe their messages that I was worth recovery. It was there where the emotions of the day would hit and utter exhaustion set in. It was in these rooms where I rested my tired mind and sick body.
Tears still fill my eyes as I reflect back on today and this trip overall. I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to my former therapist for asking me to come. To me, this invitation was more than a simple talk. Each time I share my story the wounds of my past heal a bit more and this time was certainly no exception. Never in a million years did I think I would be able to share my story with the openness and honesty I do today. During my time at CH, my former therapist worked tirelessly to help me accept and understand the severity and realness of my disorder, as well as the fact that I deserved and warranted treatment and recovery. Denial, doubt and minimizations were my biggest hurdles. Even as I discharged, I still questioned her because I had not fully accepted the reality of my illness. The truth has taken quite a long time to sink in. Whenever the doubt sneaks back in, I simply think back to her continuous reminders that I was very sick and that I deserve the life I have today. So for me to be able to recount my story in such an honest and vulnerable way with her listening on was hands down one of my proudest moments in recovery. The role she played in my recovery was monumental. I would not be where I am today without her guidance, patience, compassion and persistence (persistence being the key word there). She constantly pushed and challenged me. She never gave up on me. She helped take me from the fog of my disorder into the light of recovery.
Tonight as I returned home from my trip, I kissed my baby boy and squeezed him a little tighter than usual. While there is always some heartache in remembering my past, there is much joy and gratitude for this beautifully imperfect path I set off on a few years ago. Life has certainly come full circle. My heart is bursting with pride…pride in myself, pride in my story and pride in the ability to finally look back and accept how far I have come. I said goodbye again today to the house that rebuilt me. I said goodbye to the Pink Room, the room where it all began. As I took one last glance around the room and its pale pink walls, I muttered a soft ‘Thank You.’ Thank you for your safety. Thank you for your peace and quiet. Thank you for giving me a place to rest, a place to heal my body, mind and soul.
Until next time, Carolina House…