To step forward into growth or to step back into safety

“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”

– Abraham Maslow

I have been struggling with eating properly for as long as I can remember.  I did not realize I had an eating disorder at first. It all started by eating very little amounts of food that would not even satiate a growing child and taking excessive amounts of laxatives.  I believed, as a teenager, that everyone goes through this phase and never admitted to have a problem.  It was when I would not eat for days even though I would constantly be thinking about food, feeling fat when I as the smallest size I had ever been that I realized that maybe I was becoming obsessed with my body image.  Till then I believed that an eating disorder solely had to do with hating your body and engaging in abnormal eating patterns and over-exercising so as to lose weight and look like the girls on the television.  Little did I know that there was so much more to than just wanting to be thin.  Unfortunately seeking psychological assistance did not help much either as the professionals did not seem to focus on how this monster was destroying my life.  They seemed to brush it off and not take it seriously so for many years I thought that maybe this is how my life should be.  I started to believe that I was beyond help and that it maybe was not that bad to live with this condition after all.  It became such a big part of me that I refused to leave her.  She was the only stable thing in my life.  She was always there.  When I would find that I was losing control over other situations in my life, I felt proud that at least I had my eating disorder that was always stable and present.

 

I must be honest that I felt different to everyone around me.  I would feel ashamed that I would not swallow my food and go to the toilet exactly after eating something; even if I would sure that I was eating the right foods.  This, however, did not stop me for engaging in these activities everywhere and with everyone.  Maybe being different from the rest made me feel good to some extent as the eating disorder made me unlike my other friends but in a twisted way I seemed to like this concept.

I considered my eating disorder as my friend as she never let me down.  She never pushed me aside like people in my life did.  The question one would ask is if this condition was my friend how could it isolate me from the people I loved, become manipulative, lie to my loved ones and be miserable every single day of my life.  It was affecting my physical and mental health.  I was neither physically nor emotionally strong to do simple things like get up from bed in the morning and go to work or agree to spend quality time with my friends just because either I lacked physical strength or I would have a panic attack because I would feel that I was the ugliest person on this earth.

My loved ones would ask me to eat.  My mum would cook me the food that was healthy and I would throw it in the bin.  They did not understand that food tasted like it had glass in it.  Things got really really bad when due to lack of food I had trouble sleeping and I would have fainting spells while I would be at work in the middle of the day.  I tried to act strong and continued to deny that I had a problem.  I wanted to get better by myself.  The truth is that I was happy that I lacked appetite and more so I did not want to seek help as I was happy as I was especially since my weight had gone down drastically.  Once again, my eating disorder was winning over me. The voice inside my head kept telling me that I needed my eating disorder; that my life would be insignificant without it.

I only decided to seek help from Dar Kenn Ghal Sahhtek so as not to worry my relatives any longer.  For me, this life was one I was comfortable with.  I did not want to change anything.  I was no longer living but I was existing.  Still, I was protected by this bubble as I shut myself from everyone and I felt safe like this.  I would not let anyone in so I could not get hurt any longer.  I trusted many people in my life and they all let me down so isolating myself made me feel protected but at the same time it made me feel very lonely.

I decided one day that I would pick up the phone and ring Dar Kenn Ghal Sahhtek for an appointment.  I was adamant that I was only going to speak to the psychiatrist about the possibility of seeking help on an outpatients’ basis.  There was no way that I would ever accept to agree to a residential program.  I had commitments.  I had responsibilities.  I could not just leave everything behind.

I went for my appointment and on the contrary to what I had planned, the psychiatrist convinced me that I had a problem which was indeed serious and I needed help.  For the first time, I felt that the doctor saw me.  She could see how much I was suffering and this helped me to open up and be totally honest for the first time.  She was firm but very empathic and for once I felt that her concern was real.  She was in fact the first professional who really focused on my disorder.  One might say that other people tried making me aware of what I was doing and tried to convince me that I was destroying myself and I never listened.  This is true but no one really seemed to understand what it really means to be living with an eating disorder.  For the first time in my life I felt she could understand my pain.  She did not push; she did not judge.  What really struck me is the fact that she seemed to challenge me and not pity me.  I hate it when people pity me and this is a mistake this doctor did not make.  She treated me as an adult.  She provided me with the available options but she left it up to me to decide what I wanted to do.  To everyone’s surprise I decided to spend a week as a resident.  It was far more than what I had planned to do when I set the appointment.  I thought to myself that I am strong enough to be able to survive a week and I sort of wanted to prove to everyone that I am not that weak person everyone thought I was.  It could be that the reason why I accepted to take on this challenge upon myself was to prove to everyone that I was not the person they thought I was.  I was not as frail and as delicate as everyone seemed to have pictured me.  I had stamina and I wanted to prove everyone that I was a survivor.  This could have meant that in a sense, I did not accept the help because I thought I really needed it but it was more to prove to everyone that I was not the type to ignore advice provided to me.  The reason for the latter could have been so everyone would shut up rather than because I really believed that this disorder was ruining my life like everyone said it was.

The week after, on a Monday morning, I as escorted to the residence by my relatives and it was bad enough knowing that I was not going to see them for a whole week.  Little did I know that this week would turn into two weeks, then four and then weeks would turn into months.

During the first week, I must say that I felt okay.  I finally met person who did not talk about how fatthey were getting; how they would like to be a size 0 as one of the major rules in Dar Kenn Ghal Sahhtek is not to talk about weight. None of us could ask each other how much we weighed and that was a relief for me as for the first time in my life I seemed to be in a place where the number of the scales did not have a value.  I did not have to worry about them passing a comment which would hurt my feelings because one of the main fundamentals in this place is that no one can comment on either their own or other people’s appearance.  To people outside, this may sound as a minor thing but to a person with an eating disorder, it means a lot as her worth is not measured by the number of kilograms she weighs.  Also being round, the other residents made me feel that I was not alone.  I did not feel the odd one out for once.  I felt I belonged somewhere even though I knew nothing about these girls.  Just the fact that they understood what I had gone through all the previous years made me feel normal for once.

As I mentioned above, I did not have an intention of staying for more than one week but I realized that a week would not be enough to change what I have been sowing for a decade.  Just spending a week in Dar Kenn Ghal Sahhtek opened my eyes to a new way of how I started perceiving the manner in which I was living my life.  For the first time ever, I felt that my eating disorder was indeed affecting me negatively.  It is important to point out that at Dar Ken Ghal Sahhtek intense psychological work is carried out with every resident; both on an individual and as a group.  It is far from easy to spend 24 hours a day confined in a residence with very strict rules, with people you do not know nothing about detaching yourself from the outside world; in particular with the people you feel safe with.  All gadgets with which we could communicate with the outside were taken away from us.  The persons working in this residence are of course trained to make the residents feel as safe as possible and together as a team make sure that they provide the best service possible.  One would never imagine how many professionals from different sectors are employed in such a residence.  I myself did not know what it would entail to be a resident at Dar Kenn Ghal Sahhtek.  I was aware that I would receive the support I needed to conquer the fear of getting fat if I ate normally but little did I think that I would invest so much energy on my inner self.  I was not used to this on the outside.  I never seemed to find time to focus on myself and now that I was here the main emphasis was mainly to focus solely on me.  I must say it was not easy at all to focus all my energy on myself as 1) I never seemed to have the time to think about me and 2) it was scary to dig so deep inside and start discovering things that I thought were deal with but which in reality were still very much on the surface and were affecting me more than I ever gave them credit.

There were times when I would cry my eyes out because I had to speak about experiences which I wanted to forget or even experiences which I thought did not affect me but which in reality contributed a lot to how I took decisions concerning my life.  In sessions like drama therapy, art therapy, group counselling and individual psychological sessions we would be focusing on us and what is it that is affecting us.  We do not just sit down and talk about our problems to our psychologists but through different forms of art and different tasks provided to us  by the therapists we could use our creativity, to express our feelings freely.  In these sessions there was no right or wrong so it does not matter whether you can act or not, whether you are Picasso or else you cannot even combine tow colours together.  What matters is that we were free to do what we wanted and this helped us to let go and not worry of being judged for what we did or said.  A person from the outside may find it difficult to understand how these forms of therapy could be useful to a person with an eating disorder.  I asked the same question myself and I must admit it took me some time to understand the purpose behind participating in these sort of exercises.  My eating disorder made me so rigid; so isolated; so afraid to make mistakes and make sure that I never lose control that I did not realise how much I wanted to be free and how many things I was losing out on.  By expressing myself through dance, drawing and other forms of art I felt free as it was not important to state what I felt if I did not feel like it but at least I had the space to put what I felt down on paper or act it out.  I had no audience to judge me; only myself who sometimes could be my worst critic.

Our days are almost always fully packed with different sessions and I must admit that sometimes I feel drained.  Besides attending sessions which re based on the psyche of the individual we also have sessions which are more fun like craft making and drama.  We also have Yoga and Pilates.  The point I want to make her is that when I was on the outside I never had the courage to engage in such activities either because I felt I was not capable or else because I perceived them as a waste of time.  These sessions did not only help me realize how important it is to spend time doing things that relax you but more so that I deserve to have this time for myself.  These activities helped me distract myself even if for a few hours and make me forget the pain I have been carrying with me all these years.  I even learnt to let myself go in drama whilst before I would even be shy to speak in front of a group.

I must admit that I still have a long way to go and sometimes I feel it is too much.  Sometimes I just want to grab my bags and leave Dar Kenn Ghal Sahhtek as it is nothing like living in a palace.  It is true that our dinner is cooked and prepared for us so all we have to do is just eat but it is not always easy to eat especially if you have a cluttered mind.  I must admit that during my first weeks I used to get angry for having to eat the portions I was provided and eat things I would never have dreamt of for fear of getting fat.  It is important to point out that on the contrary to the outside I was constantly supervised and I could not throw away my food or go and purge.  I had no possibility of being able to do these things.  Three months have passed and I am still here.  One thing I miss a lot is not being able to exercise.  It is sometimes very difficult for me to eat and not go running straight after to burn the calories I would have consummated.  I sometimes get angry for not being able to do what I loved doing most when I was at home but in reality I am finally realising that working out on the outside was stressful when in reality it could be a way of relaxing.

Being in Dar Kenn Ghal Sahhtek is definitely not a walk in the countryside.  It is a bumpy road where I sometimes fall and scrape my knees badly.  Sometimes I just hate the place and the people inside it but in reality what I would be doing is escaping reality as it is much easier to live in an illusion even though it is very sad.  This place is helping me learn to love myself which before I came here was something I would never consider as important. It is not helping me to have over-confidence to have respect for me and my body and make me realise that I am important; that I am unique and it is not fair that I should continue to hate myself the way I did for many years because I am special.  In Dar Kenn Ghal Sahhtek, I am treated as worthy and even though sometimes I feel constrained, on the contrary to my eating disorder which eludes me to think that it cares about me because it is always there;  the professionals working here care about me; me as a person with flaws, with the not so-perfect body. On the contrary to what my inner voice always old me, not being thin does not mean I failed as person but in reality I am beauty just because I am not perfect.  My imperfections make me unique and special.