Rebecca was trapped in a cycle of despair as her eating disorder steadily destroyed her life – but eventually she found a way to break its hold
I was standing at my own front door, terrified, unable to move. My mum and sister tried to get me inside, but I just froze. It was 4pm on Christmas Day 2010. While most people had spent the day with their families – eating, drinking, opening presents and playing games – I had been in hospital, where I had spent the past six months receiving treatment for anorexia nervosa.
I was allowed home for two hours on Christmas Day, my first time out of hospital in six months. But I couldn’t go inside. Anorexia had destroyed every part of me, physically and mentally. I was having panic attacks five times a day – and Christmas was no exception. I burst into tears on the doorstep. How had anorexia got me to this point? I was sectioned, being tube-fed, and unable to step into my own home.
For years anorexia had been my God – I had worshipped it and obeyed its every command. But now I had hit rock bottom. I was broken.
I have had three admissions to hospitals for treatment of anorexia, and that Christmas was during the third. Between June 2008 and July 2011, I was in a revolving door – I went into hospital, was sectioned, tube-fed, forced to gain weight, but when released I instantly lost weight, and within four months was back at the brink of death.
At each admission my liver was at the point of failure, my heart was minutes from packing in. Each time I pushed my body to the point where I couldn’t walk or talk, or barely even breathe.
And the admissions never got any easier. During my first, I was very defiant. I broke all the rules. I hated everything and everyone making me gain weight. All I wanted was anorexia, and I was determined that I would lose all the weight they made me gain, and more. Which is exactly what I did.
It was only during my third admission that I started to hate anorexia. When I hit rock bottom that Christmas Day, I knew that something had to change. I couldn’t keep going like this. So, instead of fighting for anorexia, I decided to fight for life.
I wasn’t ready to give up anorexia completely, but I wanted to be able to manage it. I wanted to have friends, and go out with them for meals. I wanted to sit round the table at home and eat dinner with my family. These were things I had missed out on for years, and I was desperate to be able to do them.
So, slowly, we gradually started re-introducing liquids, and eventually, after nine months of not eating food, in March 2011 I started to eat again. It was terrifying, and there were times when I couldn’t do it, but I kept trying. I wanted to be able to have a life and do ‘normal’ things – and this meant eating.
Having spent years of feeling utterly helpless and hopeless, and wanting to run from life, now I was beginning to feel hopeful, and wanted to live life. Anorexia still held a strong position in my life but I didn’t want it to take over again.
But I knew that once out in the real world, I wouldn’t be able to fight it. Without the restrictions and rules of the hospital, I knew I would not be able to stop myself losing weight again. Yes, I wanted a life, but anorexia had such a grip of me that I knew if I was left to my own devices, the illness would have its way.
Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you
That is where the Community Treatment Order (CTO) came in. After my year-long, third hospital admission, I was released under a CTO in July 2011. A CTO is a bit like being sectioned but allows you to live in the community.
There are conditions in the CTO that you must follow; a set of rules. If you don’t, you can be recalled to hospital immediately for as long as the doctor deems necessary.
My CTO says that if I go below a certain weight, I will immediately be sent back to hospital. This threat motivates me to maintain my weight, and I am now in my seventh year on the CTO – and I would not be where I am today without it.
I had very little leeway, but now I can see this was a good thing. Anorexia pushes boundaries, it likes you to eat as little as possible, and be as low a weight as possible. But the CTO completely stopped this. It was there in black and white; this was the weight I had to stay above and there was no negotiation.
Because I have stayed within my weight boundary, I’ve spent nine years free of hospital. And the longer the CTO has kept me out of hospital, the more time it has given me to start experiencing life again, breaking that cycle and letting me start to live.
The more time spent out of hospital, the more I have realised that I do want more from life, and my thought processes have started to change – which is key to initiating recovery.
Previously, recovery had never been an option because I was in and out of hospital, and anorexia dominated my life. But now I have completed my undergraduate degree, worked full-time as a cook, completed a Masters, and am now working part-time in admin at my local general hospital while also giving talks to university students about eating disorders.
I go on holiday, go out with friends, and can eat dinner in a restaurant. I am far from completely recovered, but I have made huge progress and built a relatively ‘normal’ life.
When I started on the CTO nine years ago, I was just 1kg above the bottom of my weight-band, and I am now 10kg above. Yes, the progression is slow, but without the CTO I don’t think there would be any progress at all.
I want to campaign for the greater use of CTOs. I believe they should be used as a fundamental tool in anorexia treatment. They can be cost-saving, and, most importantly, life-saving. I believe their potential for success in preventing the development of severe and enduring anorexia, and in helping recovery, could be huge. If there was a measure that would prevent cancer becoming terminal, it would be used without a second’s thought. CTOs have this potential with anorexia. CTOs can offer anorexics the key to life.
I have come so far from that Christmas Day when I couldn’t even go into my own house. Yes, it is still a struggle, and things can still feel very scary, but I will get there. And if I can do it, anyone can. Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you. The CTO has helped me develop courage. And with courage, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred), says:
Rebecca struggled with anorexia for more than 10 years. Her hospital admissions stabilised her condition, but there was an inevitable relapse after discharge. Christmas day was a low point, yet also a turning point as she decided to fight for herself. She had felt helpless in the face of her anorexia, yet the boundaries of the CTO helped her to maintain healthy practices. Over time, with the help of the CTO, she succeeded in making effective changes and real improvement in her life. It’s worth recognising that setting firm boundaries and sharing these with others can often help give us more strength.