Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From Behind Bars, Part XIV, on Family Therapy

Well, the polls are closed, and apparently the majority wants to hear about family therapy, and I'm surprised, but I can't quite put my finger on why. I suppose I was just a little agog that people don't want to hear about all the fart-tacular stories that are inspired from a yoga class full of girls drinking a ridiculous amount of Boost. But I’m sure at some point on another I’ll get around to chronicling every choice on that poll, for they all merit posts of their own.

So. Family therapy. I’m going to broaden the spectrum here, just a bit, and focus not just on family therapy, but something at CFC called Family Week. Family Week was a special form of torture that came once a month – I believe every third week of the month, if I remember correctly. It was a time when parents from all over the US (or other countries, as well) flew in to be with their daughters and learn how to eating disorder-proof their home, how to openly communicate with each other, and to of course have individual family sessions where they were told as nicely as possible that their daughters disease was entirely their fault. Just kidding.

The end of the week culminated in a spectacularly humiliating activity called the Ropes Course. And, well, there’s nothing quite like watching your aging parents be secured in a harness and get thrown out of a catapult and try to do as many flips in the air as possible. Seeing my dad in a harness and a helmet two sizes too small was bad enough. But the flips? The awkwardness? It was too much, I tell you.

There were many activities an eating disordered patient would do with her parents. Groups vacillated from art therapy, to open group, nutrition class, to even yoga. Some prisoners were thrilled their parents were coming to visit, looked thoroughly forward to the time when they could be with their parents and even siblings. You could always pinpoint the ones more than a little overwhelmed at having the parental units visiting by the hysterical screaming fights that could be heard in a nearby room. It was sad. Scintillating, but sad.

Family Week, honestly, wasn’t something I was completely looking forward to. My familia only lived forty minutes away, so it’s not like I was exactly hankering to see them – they lived near enough that I saw them on the weekends when I was allowed on pass, plus, I felt some sort of indefinable doom at them coming. I felt like the world was going to end, or something.

One of the first groups of the week was art therapy. I still remembered sitting on the hard plastic chairs with my parents, watching all the other parents shift nervously in their seats, wondering if they were really, in fact, going to have to express themselves with paint like the brochure promised. The fear was palpable, I could smell it. Parents’ eyes roved the room, almost maniacally, looking for the nearest exit. My parents’ unease mirrored that of the other unfortunate souls who had a daughter with an eating disorder.

But not us. The prisoners, I mean. I had gotten over my fear of art therapy long ago. I didn’t necessarily love it, (the tribal incantation music still made me feel like I was participating in some sort of ritualistic sacrifice) but I was used to the idea of painting my fear and joy and passions on paper. Or whatever.

But my dad. Oh, my dad. I mean, my dad grew up on a farm, guys. A farm. He got up at 4:00 every morning and milked cows and fed the horses and stuff. He had to walk a four mile roundtrip to school everyday in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. He like grew up in the depression or something.

My dad didn’t have time to be depressed growing up. He only had time for cow milkage and homework and slaughtering pigs or whatever for dinner. The idea of art (especially art therapy) was as foreign and inconceivable as pigs flying.

So there’s my pop. Sitting there, blinking rapidly, wondering how he’s supposed to depict his daughter pre-eating disordered with a lump of clay. I think he ended up making me look like a saggy, mousy snowman with no limbs. Or eyes. Or mouth. Or face at all, really. But you know, I appreciated the effort. I think he would’ve preferred to use the clay to make, like, some sort of farm tool out of it. Mom’s was little better, if I remember, but I don’t think she looked so pained doing it. I think she thought after she made a clay-me I would recover. Suck, I missed the memo.

Individual family therapy succcccccked. Seriously. I have as of yet to find anyone who enjoys being confined in a small space with one’s parents for an hour, sometimes more. If I recall, I was desperately looking toward the door, or maybe at the fire alarm, hoping it would go off. My mom couldn’t stop crying. My dad kept demanding my therapist to tell him just when exactly was Brie going to recover? She’s been here two months and she’s not getting any better! I made a mental note to get on the whole recovery thing, then promptly dissociated. For real.

Family also had a session with dieticians that the patients were not allowed to attend. It was on intuitive eating, and more or less consisted of a dietician trying to convince parents that, in fact, intuitive eating wasn’t some ridiculous myth, but actually a real thing. My dad couldn’t grasp the concept that you could eat whatever you want whenever you want. You mean, I don’t have to finish everything on my plate, he asks? Again, the farm boy side of him was coming out. He was raised to believe that you didn’t waste the chicken you slaughtered that afternoon. You ate it – and every bite. Wasting food was not a luxury my dad and his family could afford back in the day. So naturally, it was a tough thing to ingest (no pun intended). Listen to your hunger and fullness? Diet no more? No reduced fat foods? Allow your own body to find its natural set point? What--??

But really, family week was really beneficial. It allowed my parents and family to voice all their questions and concerns concerning me and my eating disorder. We came, we conquered, we bonded. It was fantastic.

On Saturday afternoon, the last activity of the week was the Ropes Course, like I already mentioned. It was conducted outside, in a sort of boot camp-esque setting, and guides take us through all the activities that are intended to allow us to break free of our fears and embrace our fat body and life, etc. I’ll still never forget my mom, who definitely wasn’t getting any younger, struggle to climb a gargantuan tree that was two stories off the ground. Seeing your parents in a harness is kind of like watching a dog walk on his hind legs. It’s unnatural and uncomfortable. But you know what? They did it for me. Because they loved me, and this was their way of showing me that they wanted to be a part of my life and my recovery.

And I think that’s pretty damn cool.


Laurie and Corey Kunz said...

Very Very cool. I can just see your dad now in the "too sizes too small helmet"
Thank heavens our parents are required to love us no matter what we do right?

Abby said...

Aw, Brie--this is hilarious and sweet. Thank you for sharing your sense of humor. My family never came when I was at the Center--and my mom still talks about how torturous and expensive it was to attend the family weeks at the first two places I got sent to----but I didn't mind that they didn't come, and what I'm actually getting at here is that my only disappointment related to them not coming was that I didn't get firsthand experience with the amusing and torturous therapy that families were subjected to. I always wanted to know about that art group... I'd see the clay things on the counter in the art room, and I wished I could have been there for the fear and misery involved in creating those sad little blobs... so, now I know a bit more of the story! Blame it all on farming, I guess....

Abby said...

Error, error! Em dashes consist of two hyphens, not three! Bad me; I'm not sure why I did that. Alas.

Devon said...

Hah I love it!

...and I totally remember the torturous weekend. Goodness!

I think you should do yoga next and then, at some point, having to go shopping with a rec therapist or Nicole the therapist. Classic!

Morgan said...

that sounds just about as awful at the family week at Remuda Ranch in AZ. We had all the things that y'all had and our parents were there 8 days, yes 8 DAYS!!! We were only allowed to see them at certain times but it was a loooong time, especially when we were never allowed email, phones, or visitors.
In art therapy my dad made a peacock, thats right a peacock. Embarassing, yes it was.
One more thing that Remuda had is called Truth-in-Love. It is some evil creation where for a full day- fullll day, a group of four girls and their parents sit in a room with their personal therapists and a group therapist (who might I add the girls had never met) and tell their parents, in front of everyone else, why they don't get along with them, how their parents have hurt them, how the parents contributed to the eating disorder, and then you get to tell you parents about all of the physical and sexual abuse things that they never knew about or you confront them about the abuse that they did to you IN FRONT OF EVERYONE.
Yah it was painful, torturous really. Luckily I was not allowed to see my parents afterwards because I pulled out my tube so many dang times and would not stop exercising in bed but still- awful experience.
Because of that my parents did not want me to go to Remuda for a third time, but alas I was sent back a month after I left the second time...
moral of story- AVOID family weeks

Stacy said...

I am glad you found it beneficial, but I personally and not sad at all that we never did family week during my stay at CFC. Fam therapy... SUCKS BAD NASTINESS. I did not avoid that.

My parents were in their 50s when I was at CFC... ropes couse would have been comical I think.

bring on more behind bars... another great Excerpt by the Brie

Emily said...

I do not remember if there was a Family Week when I was at Rogers. I was in the middle of some serious ECT then. I really don't remember much about Rogers at all, except for some of the girls there. Even at that, I remember very little. I am not sure if I should be happy or sad about that. I'm just kind of neutral.

Heather said...

I can totally visualize your dad doing flips on that swing thingy flying through the air! When we were there together, my second time and your first, we all went to do the ropes course and your parents were so cute, but it was, as you said, something like seeing a dog walking on his hind legs??? Unusual. But yes, Brie, they did it because they love you and would've done anything, even facing fear themselves to help you in your recovery. Since I had no family during family week, yours was so sweet to accept me into their hearts (but thank goodness, not into the small confined room of the actualy therapy part....whew!).

kristin said...

It is nice to know that your parents would go to such lengths for you. I'm glad that you have such caring parents. I think my parents would do that, too, even though it would torture us both.

Thanks for sharing, Brie. :)

b said...

Heather, I'd forgotten that we adopted you for that family week! Wow! It was spectacularly weird, wasn't it??

And Morgan, hi. Nice to *meet* you. :) That group you mentioned, truth-in-love, sounds positively AWFUL. I swear I would've refused to do something like that. How intense! Wasn't it uncomfortable for other families to hear you and your parents talking? Weirdness, there, for sure. Glad you survived it!

And yeah, I do have pretty cool parents. :)

Brandon said...

I loved the ending line on this one. It was "my dad could beat up your dad"-esque and it made me a little terrified of you and your ancestors for just a moment. This blog was definately a goodie!

Keely said...

My parents didn't come to family therapy-thank god!!!

KC Elaine said...

yay, behind bars is back! holy moley did I hate family therapy, and so did my family. I heard reports that my dad complained post-family-week, "It was NOT a bonding time." so suck, some of my fam even regretted going. :/ My mom wouldn't do the ropes course cos she thought she was too fat...but other than that she's been uber-supportive. overall, yay family week! yay behind bars! Personally, I voted for yoga. Always hard to do some crazy pose in the middle of an orthostatic hypotension episode.

Heather said...

Hey Brie...yeah...I was so thankful that your family "adopted" me that week! I felt so out of place not having a family there to do stuff with, but at the same time, pretty dang glad!


I went to Remuda Ranch too....and the whole "truth in love" thing was HORRIBLE! Each family sitting in the middle of the circle of other families and patients talking, crying, screaming "it" out, in "truth and love", was NOT something I thought of as beneficial whatsoever. I was always embarrassed listening in on the other families' "time" in the middle. On the day I was scheduled to do my "truth in love", I refused. I didn't even go (I hid under a table in the main lodge surrounded by chairs...I know, kinda lame and stupid now in hindsight)....and got in major trouble when they found me b/c of it. So, they just post-poned it to the next day and pretty much shoved me there kicking and screaming! I have very few recollections of family week though. Oh yeah...did you guys have to write out a "truth in love" paper? We were supposed to, but I refused to do it. So, I basically winged it when it was my turn. I threw a kleenex box at my mom. Dumb, I know, but there was nothing else around to throw except those dang kleenex boxes!

At CFC, family week is much, much different...not so public and mortifying for the families! However, my family never came. I was sorta "adopted" that week by Brie's family for the "outings" and stuff. I'm kinda thankful they didn't come cuz I'm pretty sure my therapist, Julie, would've kicked some hard-core ass, as a favor for me, at my family! Then I'd be left picking up the pieces, well, theoretically speaking, of course!

When were you at Remuda?

Jackie said...

I loved this post - your family seems so supportive and loving. You are lucky to have them and they are lucky to have you :)

Abby said...

Heather, I think your hiding-under-the-table strategy was a good one--anything to delay the agony, right? Remuda was early in the whole treatment thing for me, and I was too clueless to know what I was getting into with family week, so I went into it relatively willingly... but I don't even recall how it was. I'm almost sure that my dad, my mom, and my mom's boyfriend were all there (note that my parents' divorce wasn't final at the time), so it couldn't have been pretty... but I think I've blocked it out! Thank goodness. I'm just glad my family got worn out on family therapy early on... although maybe it would have been even better if I'd thought to recover early on... alas!

Heather said...

How right you are, Abby, how right you are!

Courtney said...

Ha! Family week, what an event! I think my parents endured the groups and classes maybe once, but I swear they came to the ropes course so many times that by the end of my stay the CLAS people didn't know what to do with us (one time they made my family go on a lame canoe ride down the murky river/swamp to Utah lake). It was actually kind of painful how much they got into it- I don't think my dad ever grasped the whole "everyone is a winner" concept because he was pretty set on being the fastest group who did the most activities (he's pretty smart so he'd have the whole challenge figured out before they were even done with the instructions). I remember the rec therapist Kara saying to me later, "so, now I see where you get your perfectionism". But hey, anything was better than spending a Saturday afternoon at CFC- and the zip lines, tree climbs, and platform jumps were actually kind of fun!

Penny said...

Well, my dear, you caused your dad and your mom to actually laugh out loud!!Several times. Dad got a huge kick out of the explanation of his farm life and the assorted slaughtering of animals and stuff like that. You are a comedy writer extraordinaire. I actually believe I could have climbed the tree without a harness but I am sorry that I could not get myself to jump off the platform and grab the rope or something. Maybe if I had done that you would have got over this dang E.D. maybe last year? Anyway, Hopefully something good that I gave you was a funny way of looking at life because if i didn't have it I could maybe be living in a nice padded room somewhere!!

Heather said...

Penny,(I know this is Brie's blog, but I just had to say this....):

I don't think I ever got the proper chance to say "thank you" for taking me under your family's wing, both at CFC, and afterwards when I lived with you all for a little while. I know caring for a person, such as you did for me, someone OTHER than your very own child, is incredibly difficult, and I by no means, was "easy" nor was I yet recovered. I made many mistakes, but you helped play a significant part in helping me become a better person. As sick as we both were back then, you and Harold had quite your hands full with the two of us underfoot and still sick, as we were.

So, thank you a thousand times over for all that you did to help me get back on my feet.

And lastly, seeing you and Harold take such courageous steps through helping your daughter recover is something to be admired. And jumping off that platform would not have "saved" Brie....that's something she has to, and is doing, on her own...she's the only one who can, and is, saving herself...both with your support and God's strength. She'll make it, I know she will! She'll recover completely and she'll have such a wonderful family to share her joys, successes, and accomplishments with!

Thank you for being the incredible woman and example that you are.....

- Heather

Tanya said...


As always wonderfully written. I cannot relate too much since the one time my family was going to come they ended up frozen in Missouri...trapped by ice. I did however do the ropes course in the blistering cold and I remember we all ended up leaving early because, those of us in the group that were of course underweight began to turn blue...yes blue...who would have thought. So the techs and families and everyone opted to leave after being there for almost an hour.

For me family therapy was that hell...the dissociation before the end so that I could escape from it. Family therapy is painful. Its like that painful something or other that you have to do something that will cause more pain in order to fix it though. I hated family therapy. I still see it as a torturous experience, but in the end it was so very worth it.


Cammy said...

Wow, I had never heard of a ropes course for parents as part of family therapy, I bet that is a sight! My dad is in the military, so I can picture him being such a ham in a situation like that, he's not that great at turning off 'officer mode' and would probably have ended up trying to run the show.

Great post, as always!

Jackie said...

I already commented but I just wanted to say I love you, you are awesome, don't apologize because my dad is a jackass, and let's do lunch asap :)

Laura Collins said...

Speaking as a parent here. I'd do anything to help my daughter recovery, really.

And wouldn't it be nice if all families could have special camps to improve communication and bonding and do art projects...

But it boggles my brain to figure out what any of it has to do with eating disorder recovery.

b said...

Hi Laura,

I think your blog is great. I actually just directed my mom to it (I found it through the ED Digest Feed. I think you supply a lot of knowledge for a group of people who are largely forgotten about. Parents of girls with eating disorders need support, too. So thanks for your blog).

But about what you wrote...I agree. I think it is intended, really, just for the family to be able to bond, communicate, and have fun. As weird as the ropes course was, I do remember laughing a lot and feeling quite at ease with my family, which was a wonderful respite from the fights and tension we used to have prior to me going into treatment - my parents were of course worried sick about my rapid weight loss and health decline, and I wanted them to leave me the hell alone.

Am I digressing here? Perhaps. Just wanted to let you know that you have an excellent point, honestly. It was fun, quirky, and helpful - but really, really beneficial to recovery? No, not really. I think that comes with the patient deciding to recover, and of course the never-ending support of one's parents. I'm lucky to have mine, and your daughter is lucky to have you.

Take care!

Morgan said...

I was there for 4 months in 2007 then was released and sent back... blah
can I have your email because I have some questions. My email is

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