On her last day in treatment at Mirasol’s teen residence, Tori reflects on her experience at Mirasol, including a brief stay at another eating disorder treatment facility.
“Right when I came in, I was cared for and I was loved, and people really wanted
to help me.”
“No other treatment center is like this. It’s so individualized.”
“The therapists here and all of the staff members are very, very caring. You can tell that they really love you and they really want the best for you. I remember going into my sessions and I just felt like I could be myself, like I could say whatever I wanted, whatever I was feeling, and I was not judged at all.”
“I feel like I’m a very strong person because I’m in recovery now, and I wouldn’t have been in recovery if it wasn’t for coming here and learning all these amazing things.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing my family and showing them how amazing I’m doing. I want to prove to them that I’m a much stronger person now and I’m going to kick butt in my recovery.”
Panel Discussion with Clinicians from Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers
Much has been written about a spike in eating disorders among middle-aged and older women, but there’s very little information on their prospects for recovery. A group of Mirasol clinicians got together to compare notes on their experiences with older clients. What prompts someone to finally seek treatment after decades of illness? Is it a reaction to other profound life changes, like children leaving home or the end of a marriage? Is it a gift to oneself in retirement? What are the special challenges for older women in eating disorder treatment? How do you feel about a 20-something telling you when to eat or go to bed? What are the odds of recovering from behaviors that have been part of your identity for 20, 30, 40 years or more? Can the older eating disorder client overcome the odds with superior motivation, resiliency and a stronger sense of self?
Clinical Director, Adult Program
Ann Twilley, MA,
Michelle Thomas, LPN
Spiritual Integration Practitioner
Download Audio: M4A
Diane Ryan: “There’s a difference between people who have had their eating disorders for a long time and older clients with eating disorders. You could actually have a long-term eating disorder and be in your twenties. But there are qualitative differences between clients who have had their eating disorders for an extended period of time and those who have come into in more recently. We have seen an increase in the number of older clients, but most of them, on deeper reflection, seem to have had their eating disorder in some form or another for a much longer period of time.”
Moderator: “Why do you think we’re seeing more people who have had their eating disorders for a longer time?”
A lot of people have come to us from other treatment facilities where they have done more of the medical model of treatment, and they come to us because they’re ready to try something different. The women who come to us in their 40s and 50s instead of their twenties seem to have a different level of commitment and motivation.
Katie Klein: “A lot of people have come to us from other treatment facilities where they have done more of the medical model of treatment, and they come to us because they’re ready to try something different. The women who come to us in their 40s and 50s instead of their twenties seem to have a different level of commitment and motivation.”
Michelle Thomas: “It’s the realization that they’ve raised families, they’ve taken care of all these other people, and they finally have the realization that, ‘wow, I better take care of myself.’ At this point in their lives, either the kids have moved out, or relationships have changed with spouses, and now it’s time to look inward.”
Kim Kellow: “A 62-year-old woman called and said, ‘I’m retired, and I’m done with this. I want the rest of my life to be free of an eating disorder.’ We’ve had a number of calls like that, from people who are starting retirement, or thinking about retirement, and they’re just done with the eating disorder.”
Diane Ryan: “Having experienced the desire to not live the rest of their lives in the way they lived the beginning of it, do you think they tend to be successful?”
It’s definitely harder for them because the behavior is so entrenched. With a young person, even if they’ve been doing it for 10 years, there’s a sense that they can change some things because they have their whole lives in front of them
Ann Twilley: “What I witness, and it’s very anecdotal, is that it’s definitely harder for them because the behavior is so entrenched. It really is part of their identity, and to imagine life without it just seems crazy. How are they going to live their lives without this disorder and this coping skill? So I do think it’s more challenging for them. With a young person, even if they’ve been doing it for 10 years, there’s a sense that they can change some things because they have their whole lives in front of them.”
Moderator: “So can you recover from an eating disorder if you’ve had it for 20, 30 or 40 years, and, if you can, what do you have to do differently?”
I think that people who show up here find that it’s much more difficult than what they imagined, because they don’t really know that they’re signing up for changing everything.
Diane Ryan: “Everything. I think if you’ve had an eating disorder, your way of being in the world and your relationships have been colored by your identity as a person who copes with your life using eating disorder behavior, so in order to be able to shift that, you have to have great deal of open willingness. I think that people who show up here find that it’s much more difficult than what they imagined, because they don’t really know that they’re signing up for changing everything. But that’s kind of the keynote of recovery. You have to be willing to let all your old beliefs go, your behaviors, your way of being in the world. You have to make fundamental change in the way you relate to other people …”
Moderator: “What can Mirasol do to support clients with long-term eating disorders in their recovery?”
Ann Twilley: “The most important piece is getting to the underlying issues. We’ve had a lot of clients — especially older clients — who do well in treatment because they’re pretty compliant. But when they go home, even if they can hold off the eating disorder piece, they’ll begin using other medicators. We have to get to the core issues as quickly as possible. If nothing else, at least start to identify what the core issues are. How many of them have come into treatment saying ‘I really don’t have trauma like other people have.”
Moderator: “How often do you find that with these very long-term eating disorders there’s some kind of buried trauma”?
Ann Twilley: “I don’t know of a case where there isn’t. But they may not identify it as such because some of the women in that age group look at it as if ‘that’s just life.’ ‘So what, I was abused, so were a lot of people.’ Or, on the other end of the spectrum, we have people who are so dissociative that they have no conscious memory until you start taking away the medicators and then all this stuff starts popping up.”
As a therapist, I have more hope for people who are older. The older people get, the more they have a sense of who they are without the eating disorder. They have the relationships, they have the family. When someone finally finds recovery at an older age, there’s more hope that it’s lasting.
Rachel Nelson: “For some reason, as a therapist, I have more hope for people who are older. I work with both teens and adults, and I see that the older people get, the more they have a sense of who they are without the eating disorder. They have the relationships, they have the family. But the younger generation has no clue. When someone finally finds recovery at an older age, there’s more hope that it’s lasting.”
Michelle Thomas: “I think older people may actually have more resilience than younger people because they’ve grown up in a generation that had to struggle. So when they come in, they’ll stick with it a bit longer, they’ll try to persevere a bit harder because life hasn’t been easy for them.”
Katie Klein: “A lot of them have to finance this themselves. That takes a completely different level of motivation than the 20-year-old whose treatment is covered by her parents’ insurance. We had a client recently who dipped into her retirement account, and said, ‘I might as well spend this now, so I can have the rest of my life.'”
Women in their 40s [are] less willing to settle for the status quo, and the expectations of society. That wake-up call is pretty profound — it’s pretty significant — and you don’t want to look back. You throw everything out and are willing to start with something new.
Audrey Bailey: “I see this happening with women in their 40s. They’re less willing to settle for the status quo, and the expectations of society. It’s like ‘Okay, what about me?’ That mindset is ‘give everything up for your family, your spouse, your children.’ That wake-up call is pretty profound — it’s pretty significant — and you don’t want to look back. You throw everything out and are willing to start with something new.”
Kira Vredenburg: “Something I’ve picked up on recently is that women coming into treatment are used to care-giving and not used to taking time for themselves, it’s very difficult to for them to be here, where they don’t have to take care of everyone else, and they can really devote that time to themselves and be taken care of. I see it as part of a control issue, having to give that up and be vulnerable.”
With younger and older women together rather than splitting those generations up, you’re going to get all kinds of dynamics and triggers ‘at no extra charge’ that really help to illuminate these issues.
Ann Twilley: “With younger and older women together rather than splitting those generations up, you’re going to get all kinds of dynamics and triggers ‘at no extra charge’ that really help to illuminate these issues.”
Michelle Thomas: “As an older person coming into a treatment facility, there’s going to be someone there who may be your child’s age directing you to eat something, or telling you what to do.”
Jamelynn Evans: “What I have noticed with older clients is the motivation because they really do get to the point where they have to ask, ‘Am I living? Is this living, if my entire day is wrapped up in the eating disorder?’ As we get older we do start to see time a bit differently, so there’s more desire for something different.”
Mirasol’s intention embodies Gandhi’s beautiful words, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
When clients arrive at Mirasol, they are entrenched in their illness, which makes for a very small world with limited vision. They are often consumed with themselves and find it difficult to gain perspective. Our mission is to find ways to reach the client and broaden their capacity for insight and positive change.
One of the ways we do this is by providing opportunities to volunteer at community service organizations including local food bank, wildlife rescue and Church on the Street, and at Ben’s Bells, a community-wide art therapy project that promotes kindness through the creation and distribution of handmade clay bells.
This community involvement broadens the client’s capacity for connection and empathy, and makes a valuable contribution to the world that clients can take with them after their stay at Mirasol.
For more information, visit bensbells.org.
We have just received an incredible letter from a 15-year-old describing her descent into anorexia, and her recovery at Mirasol. This very courageous young woman and her family have generously allowed us to reprint her letter in the hope that it will inspire other struggling teens to “Kick Your Eating Disorder’s Butt”.
When my parents told me that I had to go into a residential treatment center, I was not happy. But I’m so glad I did. And this is why.
I am 15 years old and have suffered with anorexia nervosa for the past year. Let me tell you, though, that year was HELL. I can’t pinpoint the time it exactly started, but I can say the time where I started my diet. That was in March of 2014. I started wanting to eat healthier. At first, it was like that. I incorporated more vegetables and I would try new food. I had days where I would get dessert and eat a little more. I did that for about two months. Then, I slowly started going downhill. The thing is, I didn’t even know I was going downhill until I realized I was so deep down into “the hole” (which is what I would call it). I was NEVER fat to begin with. It’s just that perfectionism part of me always wanted me to be this really unrealistic human being. I kept going on this “diet” and slowly started to cut out chocolate, cereal, desserts, pasta, pizza — all of the foods that I once loved.
In August of 2014, I moved to Arizona and that’s when it got REALLY bad. I could see every bone there was in my body and quite frankly, it disgusted me. I wanted to get better so badly. I just didn’t even know where to begin. My eating disorder was telling me to stay eating the way I was so that I wouldn’t gain weight, but all I would do was lose weight. I didn’t want to lose weight, I just wanted to maintain my weight. Overall I had lost a total of 32 lbs. and for my height, and how active I was, that was not acceptable. I was on a cross country team until my doctor pulled me out of the team. I was very upset.
In September, my parents decided to get me a pediatrician who specializes in eating disorders, a nutritionist, and a therapist. I would see them all once a week. Whenever I would see them, I would get really motivated and excited to get through this, but then when I would leave, I would just go back into that mindset.
Months passed and I got admitted into Mirasol at my lowest weight. It was very challenging and the most definitely the most difficult time of my life. But it was so worth taking some time for myself to help me get back on track and straighten up my life. I loved how we all had our own individual meal plans, and the food was AMAZING. We would get a variety of foods and even though I am an extremely picky eater, I managed to get through it 😉
If you’re reading this, and you’re thinking about going to a treatment center, or your parents are already making you go to one, PLEASE COME. You will be the happiest you will ever be, trust me. I am in recovery and even though it’s been tough, it’s been so worth it. And I would recommend this place to ANYONE for help. You are worth it. Kick your eating disorder’s butt and choose recovery… because it’s amazing…
You’ll find more recovery stories on Mirasols’s web site.
We have just returned from another weekend of camping and hiking with Mirasol’s teen clients. We’ve done it many times now, so we have the packing pretty much down to a science, even with the special requirements of camping with clients who are in various stages of recovery from an eating disorder.
What is less predictable, and much less subject to planning, is what we bring home once the tents are folded and the chairs are stacked. What special moments, new understandings, or closer connections will become part of the story of recovery for a struggling client?
High in the Catalina Mountains above Tucson, it’s all about connection: to self, to each other and to the larger world. Clients often report a clearer sense of self, and a yearning to be themselves without the barrier of their eating disorders. Being on a trail, moving through space, time and terrain — those elements combine to create a powerful yearning to be who we really are, without the smokescreen of the eating disorder, and its attendant anger, disappointment or depression.
This realization may strike with a clarity that derives its power from an environment that challenges them to do more than they thought they could, and to see themselves as “more” — more capable, more brilliant and more worthy.
The physical demands of hiking, setting up camp, reacting to the weather and spending the night outdoors often create a stronger connection to others. This magnifies the relationships clients were already building with each other and with staff. Clients often report that they had no real friends before coming to Mirasol, but they now recognize true friends among their fellow clients, and they are beginning to understand the value of friendship. This sense of bonding and shared experience not only follows them back to treatment, but may form the foundation for life-long friendships.
As we take our clients from all over the globe from the desert floor to the summits of ancient mountain ranges, we move through a landscape which may be novel and full of surprises. Flowers, butterflies, trees, birds, wildlife of all sorts, intimate woodland alcoves and sweeping desert vistas inspire a profound appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Around a blazing fire and under a canopy of stars, we experience emotions that have stirred humanity since the dawn of time. Clients are often surprised by the suddenness and power of those feelings. Returning to Mirasol, they have the opportunity to express themselves through art, music and writing. Some clients may discover passions that will enrich the rest of their lives.
Whatever a client’s individual experience, a trip to the wilderness provides many valuable jewels to pack in the backpack and call upon as the journey into recovery continues.
Top 10 Eating Disorder Blogs of 2015
Eating Disorder Hope Award
- Tori’s Story August 18, 2015
- Elder Eating Disorders: Is Recovery Possible? August 10, 2015
- Mirasol Clients Give Back August 10, 2015
- “Kick Your Eating Disorder’s Butt!” July 29, 2015
- Take-Aways from Our Time in the Wilderness July 21, 2015
- Beyond “He” and “She”: Teens and Gender Identity July 20, 2015
- My Child is Coming Home. Now What? July 14, 2015
- Backpacking and Recovery July 8, 2015
- “Recovery Placemats” Reduce Mealtime Stress July 7, 2015
- Backpacking with Mirasol Clients July 3, 2015
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