Our client kindly shares her experience of eating disorder recovery at Orri.
I’d had an eating disorder for twenty years before I started treatment at Orri.
It started at 19 and at 21 I was admitted to an inpatient eating disorder unit. Whilst I knew there was something wrong with me, the diagnosis of anorexia and bulimia was a shock and I strongly resisted admission. I was there for five months until I reached a healthy weight but had very little insight into my illness and received no aftercare when I left. This was the first of 13 subsequent admissions to psychiatric hospitals and EDUs in both the private and public sectors. The private units had caring staff and individual therapy but none provided the comprehensive treatment the severity of my illness required. My own dishonesty and fear also crucially prevented me from exposing myself and my vulnerability, and I repeatedly unravelled upon leaving.
My lowest point in treatment was under section in a facility which had few permanent staff. There was only a pretence of therapy and my first appointment with a counsellor was six weeks after admission. Most patients were on their third, fourth or fifth admission. There was no group therapy, no suggestion of recovery, little empathy and no hope. Any voluntary patient who tried to leave or access alternative treatment was threatened with sectioning.
My first experience of Orri was one of nervous relief. I had never encountered people who sincerely wanted to know ME and what I wanted from treatment, and ultimately, my life.
It was while sitting in my hospital room that I discovered Orri on the internet. I had been sent to this hospital again after spending a month in intensive care, ‘guarded’ by a mental health nurse. I was finally desperate to do anything I could to live my life without illness and which was more than just trying to get through. I knew that if a wanted a future of any kind I could not continue with the way I was living. For many years I had believed that my eating disorders protected me from everything I was afraid of, and for a long time I was able to deny the effect it was having on my physical health and the extent to which it had destroyed my life.
“My previous experiences had led me to be mistrustful, but throughout my treatment I only encountered respect and compassion.”
Sitting on the bed in that desolate hospital I began to dream of a new kind of life which wasn’t dictated by food and eating disorder behaviours. After years of self-hatred and damage to those around me, I wanted to know who I was and if I could live a better life in which I didn’t have to hide behind an eating disorder, feeling ashamed and inferior. Most of all I didn’t want to live a compromised life, rather one where I had goals and ambitions, and the emotional and physical resources to be able to give and belong to other people.
My first experience of Orri was one of nervous relief. I had never encountered people who sincerely wanted to know ME and what I wanted from treatment, and ultimately, my life. My previous experiences had led me to be mistrustful, but throughout my treatment I only encountered respect and compassion. I never felt controlled or coerced, decisions were collaborative.
“The simple repetition of eating in a warm, caring environment, and particularly the post-meal ‘processing’ group meant that I could honestly express my fears as they were happening and receive reassurance and perspective.”
The first few weeks were challenging but they were without the turmoil I have normally felt, essentially because I had surrendered to the fact that I had to completely relearn how to eat and look after myself. I think that because of this, I was better able to explore the reasons I had become ill and everything that has happened in my life subsequently that helped to maintain my illness. Facing up to myself and the failures in my life has been painful, but by coming into treatment, I wanted to become a more honest and braver person who can grow through adversity rather than hide from it. The staff supported me through these changes, whether in individual therapy examining very personal events and feelings, to vital practical aspects such as talking about the feelings that emerge around food and how to cope with them.
My typical day at Orri is tightly structured with different therapies looking at all aspects of your eating disorder. Psychodrama was particularly powerful for me as I was able to explore toxic family dynamics and the way these have led to my dysfunctional coping mechanism. Realising how these work and my own role in events has allowed me to gain a better understanding and greater acceptance of the past. Instead of being embroiled in these emotions I can move forward knowing that I don’t deserve the punishment I was inflicting on myself.
In parallel to these therapeutic processes, the reestablishment of a food routine became easier to manage. The simple repetition of eating in a warm, caring environment, and particularly the post-meal ‘processing’ group meant that I could honestly express my fears as they were happening and receive reassurance and perspective. Gradually I realised that the support of coming from myself, the resources that Orri had given me, and I was no longer struggling as before.
“Before coming to Orri I didn’t know I had the ability to make choices that were stronger than the ones made by my illness.”
At this point, I felt it was time to try and fill up my life with the things I came into treatment for. I have always worked, to the extent my illness allowed, as an artist so enrolled in a course in an unfamiliar medium whilst coming to Orri part time. My social life also improved and although I still had fears about eating and my new body, I knew that to keep on moving forward I would have to accept invitations and make plans in spite of my fear. The staff at Orri were always there to support me in these.
“The most wonderful thing to happen this year is finding love.”
The most wonderful thing to happen this year is finding love. I hope it will last, but the thing that motivates me most to come into treatment was the ability to take risks, to live in the real world, unmediated by illness, without crutches and self-deception and to live boldly. Trying to overcome an eating disorder can be frightening and difficult, but I believe it will lead to a broader and richer life. For me, it has led to more authentic relationships with other people and myself, and a life in which I believe I have value and in which I have agency. Before coming to Orri I didn’t know I had the ability to make choices that were stronger than the ones made by my illness. They encouraged me to look at my values and to use these to fight the voices controlling me. With these, I am moving towards freedom.