Heading Back to Treatment

Yesterday, in between work emails and changing diapers, I received a text message that stopped me dead in my tracks:

“I’m being admitted Thursday at 10:30…relieved but scared.”

An admission date and time was finally bestowed upon a sweet young woman I’ve been helping. Reading her text brought back those same emotions I felt on when I admitted to the Carolina House over five years ago. Fear, relief, sadness, excitement. So many emotions, too many to sort through. You just want to get there and get started.

I remember my admission day like it was yesterday. Thanks to Delta’s stellar service, I missed my connecting flight in Atlanta. The delay did not put me into Raleigh until after 5pm, which was too late to start the admission process. The domino effect was devastating, I was put up in a hotel (where I would later stay on partial) and spent the night alone.

My two bags weighed more than me and I had to lug them around the hotel and up a flight of stairs. Dinner seemed pointless. Why make an effort? I’m going to eating disorder treatment tomorrow, I should at least live up to the part. I decided to try my luck at popcorn. I burned through two bags, before giving up and just nibbling around the black pieces.

I got into my pajamas and tried FaceTiming with Jordan. Immediately, we both started to cry so we hung up and decided to spend our night talking on the phone. Hours later, my anxiety still hadn’t received the memo that it was time for bed. I laid awake all night, staring at the glow of the TV: Jay Leno, Friends reruns, CNN and even infomercials. There was no need to set an alarm. I was already up when the sun rose that morning.

The dusty white mini-van pulled into the hotel’s driveway. The cold winter air took my breath away as I stepped out of the hotel lobby. I heaved my luggage out the door and thought, “This is it. I’m finally doing this. Here goes nothing.”

I had my ‘first day of treatment’ outfit on. Yes, I methodically planned my first day outfit. I was still of the disordered mindset that I had to appear pulled together. I even held a confident and engaging conversation with the van driver on our way to the Carolina House as if she and I were long time friends. On the outside, I appeared as if nothing was wrong. Of course, I wasn’t going to treatment for what was on the outside. It was my inside that was dying.

Eventually, the mini-van pulled down a small two lane road and then turned right onto a long gravel driveway. There it was, the Carolina House, a beautiful yellow farmhouse sitting peacefully in the woods. My anxiety turned on and my heart began to race, as I was led to the office for admission paperwork and too many HIPPA forms to count.

“Oh shit, this is real,” I thought to myself. “Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. What have I done.”

My panic turned into fear as they guided me to the kitchen for lunchtime. It was buzzing with women preparing lunches and staff checking off exchanges and approving portions. I actually thought that I could ‘opt out’ of lunch. Yes, this would be my mind set for the first week or so: “Oh, thank you, but I’ll pass on this meal…Thanks, but I don’t ‘do’ group therapy…Thanks so much for this opportunity, but I’m going home now.”

No such luck. I was not able to opt-out of lunch that day. I picked apart my safe, dry turkey sandwich with one slice of cheese. I wanted to run. And I actually tried to.

A few hours after lunch, I was informed there was a group outing that afternoon. Once again, I tried to opt-out, telling the staff I should really stay back alone and unpack. Apparently, I thought I had checked into the Holiday Inn.

Most fear dessert day when they go to treatment, I feared art therapy. And as fate would have it that was exactly what I had to do on my first day of treatment. It was an art therapy outing to the Scrap Exchange, a place in downtown Durham that offers a variety of crap, I mean scrap for you to use for art projects.

We loaded into  the fifteen passenger van and all I could think of is that scene from Girl Interrupted, where they all go out for ice cream into town. I suddenly realized I was living out my fear: I was the crazy girl in the van from the looney bin. We are those crazy people going to town, I thought. What have I gotten myself into and how can I get myself out.

What the staff didn’t know at the time, is that I still had my cell phone. I was clutching on to it for dear life in the deep pockets of my bright red pea coat. I snuck my phone out and text Jordan this was a mistake and not to worry because I was going to fix it. I always had a plan.

Enter: Southwest app. Fantastic! There is a flight out tonight. I can catch a cab to the airport from this scrap place. Peace out. Mistake fixed. Problem solved.

We piled out of the van and walked into the Scrap Exchange. My anxiety was rapidly rising in my chest. I turned to the RPA and told her I needed a minute alone and asked her if I could step outside. I walked ran outside, hoping for just a minute alone, but the RPA was hot on my tail.

I spun around when we got outside and said, “Can I puh-lease just have a minute by myself?”

No such luck. I then put on my Corporate America working woman face and said, “Thank you so very much for this opportunity. The Carolina House and their staff have been fantastic, but there has been a mistake. You see, I’m not that bad. I really don’t need this level of care like the women inside. I need to go now.”

The kind RPA, Mary, saw past my front and began to speak in her calm, soft voice. She questioned why I came, if I didn’t need this help? I told her I came for my husband. And she said that recovery would be worth this journey and hardship. I softened a little and somewhere deep down I believed her. I knew I needed this help and I knew I deserved recovery. I released the death grip on my phone in my pocket and walked back inside to dreaded art therapy.

The fear that ran through my veins that first day is still palpable today. I felt like such a failure that day. Twenty-nine years old, no job and admitting myself to treatment for an eating disorder that didn’t seem ‘bad’ enough to be in treatment for in the first place. What I didn’t know five years ago that I know today, is how extraordinarily brave I was to walk through the doors of the Carolina House.

While yesterday’s text message brought me back to that first day, baby squeals and dinner duties brought me back to my present life. Cooking dinner once seemed like a foreign concept, having food in the house was frightening. The life I have created for myself today is something I never believed was possible for me. I thought I was destined to hate my body and always be at war with food. Little did I know that person I thought was a failure, was so brave in taking that massive leap of faith that has led her to the extraordinary reality I live in today.

So to my precious friend who will walk through the Carolina House doors tomorrow, I say this:

Do not walk with fear because you are not alone. Trust the extraordinary team around you. Do not be afraid to be sad, anxious or angry. You are safe. Let yourself feel. Let out your burdens and hand them over. Open your heart to the help and gift of recovery. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. And most of all, be kind to yourself. The path to recovery is long and bumpy, but the ride is glorious and filled with beautiful color. I am so incredibly proud of you. Sending you lots of hope and love, McCall

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  • connnie
    January 13, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Beautiuflly shared. Inspiring.

  • Marybeth Burns
    January 13, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    THis post was so great. Same type of memories from when i entered Tapestry in Brevard. I have a friend going back to treatment at Carolina House next week. I will be praying for her and YOUR friend. I also remember piling in the van and going to walmart (about one month into treatment when i was experiencing some fun weight restoration changes). There i was, in the walmart, in the only comfortable clothing i seemed to have left.. my pajamas. 🙂 Marybeth Burns Summit Marketing Group 542 N. Oak Street Hendersonville, NC 28739 [email protected] ph: 828.692.2450 fx: 828.692.2144

  • Jenn Burnell
    January 13, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Wonderfully said, though you did leave out the part about missing your dogs 😉 I love what your friend said to you, and that you can pay it forward to the brave women who are currently taking those daunting steps into treatment for the first time.

    • McCall Dempsey
      January 13, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      Ha! I started too but it got too long! There was so much more to the day! I’ll save that story of my dog meltdown in your office for the book ????

  • Brynna Slater
    January 13, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    I experienced this same overwhelming flood of feelings two weeks ago when my friend blurted out to me over coffee that she was leaving in two days for treatment. As I dropped her off and gave her a huge hug she kept saying over and over, “I’m so scared.” I went home to my apartment and spent the next two days crying and feeling overwhelmed with well, feelings. At first I couldn’t figure out why I felt so much, when nothing was happening to me – it was happening to my friend. But then I realized it was because it brought back so many memories from 2012, when I was in her exact same place. Also, as my therapist pointed out later in the week when I was talking about this, I am probably feeling the emotions that I should have felt back in 2012 even stronger today then I did back then, because I’m not numbing them out with any behaviors anymore.

    I am so thankful now for life without Ed, and I have been trying to support my friend through her treatment experience. One of the best ways we can do that is to continue to live a life without Ed – a life that gives them hope that full recovery is possible.

  • Mimi Davis Keisling
    January 13, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Dear McCall,

    I always enjoy reading your posts, but I was especially glad that you included the excerpt from the movie. Angelia Jolie was hilarious! Haven’t you ever wanted to support a friend like that and just start barking or howling or something when one of your friends is being put down? I’m going to have to rent that and watch it again since its been years!

    Thank you for your honesty about your life and sharing all that you do. I know that it has to be tough with all that you have had to deal with, but you have also had many blessings. Keep moving forward.

    Warm regards, Mimi

    Sent from my iPhone


  • rachel2982
    January 13, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Simply beautiful. What an inspiration you are.

  • Sarah
    January 14, 2016 at 2:02 am

    A bittersweet post. It gave me flashbacks of somewhat similar memories or memories I should have had of my last treatment experience. I was trying to remember what that first day of treatment was like 7 years ago when I walked into MP. I can relate to the anxiety and wanting to run away. I think I tried that one a few times in treatment. Treatment was hard but the support I experienced from the staff was amazing. I don’t really miss treatment I do miss the support since there isn’t much resources where I live now. I wish your friend a good treatment experience. I’m hoping that the staff / therapists she encounters will be supportive and caring. I know she can do this. It’s hard but so worth it!!!

  • Donna Jolly
    January 14, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Such an incredible story. Proud of you !! always.

  • Christina@LoveYourselfHealthy
    January 14, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Beautifully written.