I don't remember much at all about the drive to the airport or the flight out to Arizona. I only remember getting to the check-in counter at the airport and being asked by the person checking me in if I needed assistance in the plane from a flight attendant. She thought I was twelve years old. I indignantly informed her that, "No. I do not need assistance. I'm 20 years old!" Needless to say, I think she was quite embarrassed.
When arriving in Arizona, a representative from Remuda Ranch was standing at the gate holding a sign up with my name. The drive from the airport to the ranch was about 1.5 hours. It was a long ride for me. I didn't talk much to my "chauffer" and stared out the window most of the time taking in the sights of this state that I had not visited before. The highway was lined with cactuses. The land was dry. It was more than just a little hot and arid. I wasn't sure quite what to expect from this new adventure I was about to embark on. What I did know was that I was tired of being in the situation I was in. I was tired of being tired; tired of feeling like I was on the outside looking in. Tired of the constant struggle and battle that I was having with myself. Logically, I knew I needed to eat to live, but that struggle within myself and the fear of losing control was still there. The help I had received up to that point from my parents, from my nutritionist and from other people who cared about me, although appreciated, was not quite enough.
Trust was an issue for me at that point. Not trust in that I didn't trust the people that were helping me, but trust that the people who were trying to help me were trying to change me somehow. I was scared to leave this control I had established for myself; even though I knew at this point that the control was gone. But I was so exhausted that I was ready to be helped. I had established a relationship with the admissions counselor who admitted me to the Ranch and I felt safe going there, even though I had never met her in person. Somehow I knew and trusted that where I was going that I was going to be OK there. I felt less scared going there than I did to any college I had attempted up to that point. I know that part of that had to do with the fact that I was going to be taken care of. I had obviously not reached a point in my life where I felt confident enough in myself to be on my own; to be independent; and to feel like an adult who could manage life on her own.
One thing that I have learned throughout my experience and through watching the other people at the Ranch is that in order to really truly successfully beat the Anorexia/Bulimia/eating disordered monster, a person must want the help and be ready to accept it. Without that, truly trying to get someone help for it is useless. Sure, they can go to the hospital and get tubes put in them to force them to physically gain weight. They can go to all the therapists in the world, but until the person is ready for help and realizes that there is a problem, it won't truly be solved. I was ready for the help. I longed for the person I used to be; the happy-go-lucky, not a care in the world young woman I had left behind only two short years before.
When I arrived at the Ranch, I was in awe. The beauty of my surroundings was breath-taking. The Ranch sat on top of a hill in the foothills of a little town called Wickenburg, Arizona. From the highest point, I could look down and see the town and the beauty below me. There was a "main house" that housed the dining room, a large sitting room with a large screen TV and couches, and two or three residents rooms. Outside there was a beautiful porch and sitting area with a swing for relaxing. Below the main house was a housing area that consisted of about 10 rooms for more residents and below that were two small houses; one consisting of four more rooms and another that had two more bedrooms and the art room. There was a boarding house that housed about a dozen horses and a ring for riding the horses. There were two dogs that lived on the Ranch; one whom I remember was named "Ugly" because he was truly, well....ugly.
After I took my tour of the Ranch, I was introduced to my "big sister" Rachelle. Each new resident is given another resident to act as their "big sister" throughout their early days. Rachelle was very outgoing and very kind and made me feel at ease right away. Lucky for me, (tongue in cheek), I arrived just as the residents were getting ready to eat lunch. My first meal was pizza. As a new resident "enjoying" my first meal, I was given lee-way and was not forced to eat it and there were no penalties if I didn't. After that, all bets were off. At meal times, there are about four to a table and the table is monitored by a staff person. You are required to eat everything on your plate in the allotted time (1/2 hour) and if your meal is not completed within that time, then they give you a huge glass of Ensure to drink to suppliement the calores you did not consume with your meal. After meals, bathroom visits were also monitored by a staff person. (for obvious reasons).
There were four levels that you could achieve as a resident. With the graduation to each level, you were granted more priveleges. Very few people ever reached level four. As a new resident, you are automatically on Level 1. This level granted literally no privileges and you were monitored very closely. Level 4 allowed "free-reign" of the Ranch; the ability to walk around with no staff present and a seat at the "family style" table at meals where you were able to serve yourself food. Prior to sitting at the "family style" table your meals (which were custom made to each individuals needs) was sitting on a counter to be picked up as you enter the cafeteria.
My first few days at the Ranch were difficult. I had to complete all sorts of surveys, tests, visits with the staff doctor, psychiatrist and nutritionist. It wasn't until I was there for about three days before I got to get involved in the every day life of the Ranch. I also was not allowed to call my parents.
My feelings the first few days after observing the other residents made me feel like perhaps I didn't belong there. There were others there who were so obviously worse off than I was. I entered the Ranch right at 100 lbs. But there were girls there with feeding tubes up their noses, girls who were literal skeletons and sometimes I felt as I was walking around there being looked at like, "What is she doing here?!" I can honestly say that I was one of the "heavier" girls there. One girl, who ended up being my best friend at the Ranch was a mere 85 lbs. One girl took up to 200 laxatives a day. One girl had already been there for 3 months (the typical stay at the Ranch is six weeks). Some had been suffering with the disorder for the large majority of their lives. I was a "newbie" having only been in it for two years.
I soon became immersed in my life at the Ranch. Activities throughout the day included group therapy sessions, individual therapy, Equine therapy (we got our own horse and got to ride it twice a week; once in the ring, once throughout the hills surrounding the Ranch), Art Therapy, chapel, nutrition, and various others. We got weighed every single morning before breakfast. I began to slowly gain weight.
As time went by, I made some wonderful friends there. These girls were kindred spirits. They were going through the same thing I was and we understood eachother. I felt myself coming alive again. The unconditional love, acceptance and friendship I felt from every person I encountered at the Ranch was un-matched. I started to not care when I saw the numbers going up on the scale. I moved up in the various levels and when I was moved up to level 3, I got elected as "mayor" of the residents. This wasn't a huge responsibility, but a new mayor is elected every two weeks, and I got my turn. I made announcements at meals; I was in charge of finding big sisters for new incoming residents. I became one of the residents that the "new girls" looked up to when they arrived at the Ranch.
By the end of my six weeks at the Ranch, I felt like a new person. I felt loved, accepted, confident and more sure of myself. However, I didn't want to leave. I experienced some of my friends leaving and I was wishing I could just stay at this safe haven forever. But I couldn't. My therapist recommended that I move onto the new "half-way house" program they had started in Chandler, Arizona. This would be an additional 3 month program in which I lived in a neighborhood with several other residents; we continued with therapy programs, a nutritionist and could either get a job or go to school. It seemed like the perfect transition for me...
I don't remember much about the trip to the airport either. But I definitely remember standing there wishing I could go with Kristen, and feeling so bad for her when the attendant thought she was 12 years old. If nothing had done it before, I think this confirmed to Kristen how ill she was, that she could look so young.
One of the aspects of anorexia that is not discussed much is that many young women who become afflicted do so because they really don't want to grow up. They quit having their periods, they go back into a pre-pubescent body form. Much of it is, as Kristen stated, fear of the unknown in growing up, the desire to stay in a safe environment.
We didn't get to talk to Kristen for at least a week - I don't remember exactly. But I do remember a couple of the phone calls and realizing that the lilt was coming back to her voice. One call she told me that she had been in the shower when the Holy Spirit just covered her spirit as the water was covering her body. It was such good news!
We learned that in the middle of her treatment we were required to go to Arizona and participate in "Family Week." We had no idea what was ahead. I did get enough of an idea to realize that her dad had no clue what we were getting into. The "issues" that had caused their problems were going to be discussed. I knew that part of the problem with Kristen was that her dad had held her up on a pedestal, telling her how glad he was that he had her as the "good girl" when her brother was beginning to cause us so much grief. That seemed to be a burden she could not bear.
We decided not to take her brother with us. He was not in a place in his life to be an aid in this process. We left him home with fear and trembling. Though he was old enough to take care of himself, we knew that he would probably take this as an opportunity to do things that we wouldn't want to know about - and he did and we did find out! But we had a whole week to stay at another former dude ranch close to Remuda. (Wickenburg, Arizona has been known as the Dude Ranch Capitol of the World. Many of these former tourist attractions have been bought and turned into mental health therapeutic facilities). We stayed at the other ranch with most of the other families - five families in all.
The structure of the family week included morning devotions (so uplifting and refreshing) and a morning briefing and class time with one of the counseling staff. We had individual meetings with her therapist. Then the big surprise - we had to sit in a big room, four families surrounding the fifth, as they sat in the middle with the young woman's therapist. Some of the families were very dysfunctional, some of the residents hadn't seen one or other parent for years. Some of the parents came in for Family Week, not having any notion of what had been going on with his/her daughter. One lady was in her 40s and her husband was there to try to help her get well. It was an amazing experience. I kept sitting there thinking "Why are we in this situation? Our family has always been so "normal!" I've since learned that there's really, truly no such thing as "normal" in this world. This can happen to anybody's family.
The "stuff" that had been discussed with the therapist all came out in the middle of the circle, with all of the other families watching and listening. The resident had to confront her family with some of her discoveries. I was shocked at some of the things that came from the recesses of Kristen's memory. There were things that had happened in sixth grade on the playground. Why hadn't she told us? Because, she said, it would have made things worse. She "thought we knew!" It was then I realized that not only were parents supposed to know everything that they saw happening, but were supposed to intuitively know when their child was having trouble in school without being told! There was also a situation with a former neighbor girl. This one I knew had been a problem, because I had done everything I could to keep them in separate classrooms in school. She was a very controlling and demanding "friend" and Kristen wanted badly to make this girl's life better - the ultimate "fixer."
After a grueling day of listening to or being the family on the spot, it was wonderful to have the oasis in the middle of the desert to return to for the night. DC and I spent the after hours discussing, trying to understand, but also relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the cooler evenings in the high desert - the smells, the animal and bird sounds, the peace.
A highlight of the week was the rodeo. Kristen enjoyed the equine therapy aspect of the program. The rationale behind using horses has its roots in the fact that if the anorexic woman can conquer her fear of this very large animal, and can even learn to control it, she can possibly transfer this feeling of control to other areas of her life. It was such a joy to watch Kristen do her maneuvers with her horse - she was really good! She had never been on a horse before.
The key to Kristen's success was, as she said in her latest post, that she was READY. She told us that the adolescents who were there in the house served as a detriment to the older ones who really wanted to get well. Several years later we went to visit the ranch again and found that they had bought another ranch totally for adolescent girls. We went to visit it and were saddened to see almost every one of them walking around looking like skeletons, dragging feeding tubes around as they waited for their dinner hook-up. Most adolescents are not mature enough to know they need help. Their parents send them to such a facility to save their lives. They are so desperate. The saddest thing I've ever heard is the proliferation of "anorexia help sites" on line, where young girls go to learn how to succeed, how to hide your illness, how to fool people who are trying to help you. Like any other addiction, you have to reach the end of yourself and be ready to get well.
Remuda Ranch had put together the top psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and nutritionists. They have survived in a world where clinics are closing because of lack of insurance coverage. We are so thankful to God for this facility which is founded on biblical principles and saved Kristen's life.
Don't forget to go over and read Kristen's perspective on her time there here.