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Contributor: Timberline Knolls Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
Laura S.’ Story of Anorexia, Treatment and Recovery
Timberline Knolls is proud of our many residents who have left our care and gone on to experience lives of abundance on many levels. We thought a question and answer session with Laura S., one of our alumnae, may be helpful to those who currently struggle with an eating disorder or know someone who does.
Her experience is similar to so many others. We feel the most important take away is the need for treatment, since food-related disorders rarely improve on their own.
Laura S. Q and A:
How and when did your eating disorder begin?
It was gradual. I started with disordered eating around puberty, 12 or so after experiencing certain traumatic events, and moved into a full-fledged disorder by the age of 14.
It began with restriction then segued into purging. Although I never binged, I lived in tremendous fear of that happening.
I had a lot of exercise addiction. I recognized that I received an adrenaline rush from certain behaviors and a numbing effect from others.
My goal was to escape painful and uncomfortable emotions. The eating disorder served a very real purpose in the beginning. It did what I wanted to help me to survive.
How long did you struggle?
I was active on and off with an eating disorder until I entered treatment at 25. The longest I would ever go without food-related behaviors was four or five months. I would get sucked back in because the other coping mechanisms that I picked up were even more destructive.
How was your eating disorder not detected for so long?
I was a masterful, deceptive person. I was excellent at lying and manipulating. Although my parents occasionally grew concerned and had me meet with a counselor, I always figured out how to get around it.
The fact that I remained academically successful allowed many people to maintain a sense of security regarding my overall well-being. I went to a college four hours from home, which gave me a great deal of freedom with practicing negative behaviors.
During the three years of veterinary school, I lived on the very edge of functional, but I managed to keep up appearances.
Laura S., Did you go to outpatient therapy before coming to TK?
Throughout adolescence, I was in and out of therapy but never stuck with it. I tried the college counseling center a couple of times stating that my problem was anxiety.
Once they got too close to the truth, I would quit. I reengaged with therapy in the third year of vet school because it wasn’t “working” any longer.
I could no longer be academically successful, nor could I continue to control everything as I once had. Rock bottom was when I failed a final exam by six points.
The result was that I failed the class. I could not even remember taking the test—that is how sick I was. My entire identity was predicated on being smart.
Now I was no one. The vet school would not allow me to return until I was well. My options were limited: I could die or enter treatment.
What part of TK’s program most resonated with you?
The dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) component. Previous therapy had been cognitive-based, which always left me frustrated. The dialectic of accepting something and still working to change it was life-altering.
Also, it was the safe environment in which I felt that I could openly be myself. I was so tired of the game. I was surrounded by people who understood.
How long were you in treatment at the residential level? Did you do transitional care?
I stayed at TK for six weeks, and though I tried a step-down program, it wasn’t a good fit. During the five months I had before returning to school, I met with a therapist and a dietitian.
I also got involved with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Whereas DBT allowed me to cope with life, I believe EMDR saved my life.
Were you able to consistently maintain recovery? Did you ever relapse?
Although I was genuinely committed to recovery, I did get distracted once I returned to school. Being busy is very triggering; it makes it easy to pay less attention to what is important.
When I started clinic rotations, which are very grueling, I realized I could not be sick and successful. I could not give my patients the quality care they deserved.
I had to recommit. Throughout the past six years, I have had slips, but never fully relapsed.
Laura S., What does your life look like today?
I have a career that I love. I have a fairly strong sense of self-worth because I have trained my brain to believe it. I have a wonderful support group of friends scattered all over.
I am still working fully to establish who I am in different circumstances. With freedom comes the fear of being accepted, liked, etc.
But, I am no different than any other 31-year-old woman. I am just part of the universal condition, especially for those who engaged in higher education.
I do have a therapist and a dietitian that I check in with, but the process of being in recovery is no longer a chore. It is just the way I do my life.
What words of encouragement would you give to someone who is vacillating on whether or not to enter treatment?
Two questions: “What have you got to lose?” and “Can it be worse than where you are now?”
Then, I ask the most important question of all: “Aren’t you just so tired?” Even if people are unsure if they want recovery, they understand how exhausted they are.
They must see that the thing they once controlled is now controlling them. Treatment is the only answer.
Laura was born and raised in mid-Michigan. She traveled to Ohio for college and Kansas for veterinary school. After graduation she made her way back to Michigan where she is currently a veterinarian, Lake Michigan fanatic and indoor-gardening enthusiast.
About Our Sponsor:
Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center provides quality, holistic care to women and adolescent girls ages 12 and older. We treat individuals struggling to overcome eating disorders, substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, trauma and post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), and co-occurring disorders. Our campus is located on 43 wooded acres just outside Chicago. This peaceful setting offers an ideal environment for women and girls to focus on recovery.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed & Approved on August 7, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published August 7, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com