By: Loni Kennington – Care Tech

This is a rare and unusual story – a true story about a girl with whom I became close friends, and who I later observed and supported as she made significant life changes in treatment for her eating disorder at Center for Change. Except for our prior friendship, this unique experience together would not have been possible given the importance of proper boundaries in clinical settings. I am grateful for the support and direction I received from my supervisors during this time.

I’ve thought and thought about how to start telling this story. My biggest problem is that this story is profoundly personal. Not only does it involve intensely personal details of my life, but also it involves telling you personal details of a sacred journey I’ve been on over the past 2 ½ years. I’ve decided, however, that it is a story that needs to be told because it is a story of hope. A story that reminds me that my Higher Power truly is aware of each of us in our time of need.

To start at the beginning would be to start in early December 2003. On that day I was praying that I would have the strength and courage to break off my engagement to a wonderful man I realized I didn’t love. Later that evening I received a phone call from the director of a girls camp asking me to meet at her house on Saturday morning to talk about being employed there for the summer of 2004. I committed to attend the meeting vaguely making her aware that my engagement was under negotiation at the time.

Saturday morning came, and I numbly went to the meeting where I was invited to be the Program Director for the 2004 season. As I sat there struggling with indecision, my dear friend sensed something was wrong and soon learned that I had called off my engagement only the night before. Love and comfort was extended amidst her shock, and soon I found myself committing to pray about the position. Nearly 5 weeks later I decided that I would take the position, and I met the summer staff for the first time in late March, which is where I met Jane (name changed to protect confidentiality) for the first time.

Jane, was the type of girl everyone wanted to be friends with. Bubbly, sweet, gracious, and energetic, she was very interested in your life and always had a kind word to say. She was beautiful and people were drawn to her by her positive attitude and pleasant disposition. We got to know each other over the next couple of meetings and soon learned that we lived close to each other. At this point, Jane’s mom was driving her everywhere, so I offered to drive her to our meetings. Over the next couple of months we became good friends.

Our first pivotal conversation came during our drive to a pre- camp meeting during the end of June. We were talking about a variety of things, and I got kind of put off that she was giving me limited, superficial answers. I started pushing her to be real with me, but she was taken back by the very idea of “Being Real.” Later that night she came into my cabin and asked me what it meant to “Be Real.” We spend a lot of time talking about sincerity and honestly telling people how you are feeling. Seeing as the concept wasn’t new to me, I was surprised at her reaction. She just sat there pondering, and I think that was the first time I caught a glimpse of the real Jane.

Over the course of the next 2 weeks we had several more conversations, and she gradually let her walls down enough that I was privileged to get to know the real Jane. I have to say, that as fun as the superficial Jane was, I enjoyed the real Jane so much better! She had sass and attitude, and a spunk that was hilarious! The only thing was, I started noticing some missing pieces in her logic. Keep in mind that at this point in my life I knew very little about eating disorders other than just surface information so at first I didn’t put together what she was trying to tell me through her behaviors and her random logic.

I started getting reports from other staff members about some eating disorder behaviors she was doing. I started getting concerned as I watched her push herself beyond her limits, and she started being superficial with me when I would ask her what was going on. Finally, on the 3rd week of camp she and I were driving up to the campsite, and she told me about her eating disorder. She minimized like a professional and wanted me to promise that I wouldn’t tell the other directors. I couldn’t make that promise but I did let her know that I was going to need some time to think about what needed to be done. I found this little chart we had in our camp manuals that went over eating disorder signs and symptoms and made her look at it and answer me honestly. She just cried and wouldn’t look at me. We called her parents and this began Jane’s journey toward recovery.

The remainder of camp was a healing experience for both of us. At this time in our lives we both needed a place where we could be surrounded by our Higher Powers’ love. Living in the mountains amidst such amazing creations brought a new depth and peace to our souls. We were both hurting; we needed each other’s honesty and sincerity to pull us through this time in our lives.

When camp was over we drove down the canyon, and she shared her fears with me about getting back into her old routine. At this time Jane was at the tender age of 17, and I was 23. Despite the difference in our ages we both wanted to stay in touch, so we promised to call each other and hang out when we could. With camp over I found myself unemployed, so I began my search.

I’ve always wanted to be a social worker, so I started looking into treatment centers in the area that would help me gain some experience to see if that was what I really wanted to do. I stumbled upon an ad in the local paper which advertised job openings at Center for Change, a treatment center for women who suffer from eating disorders. I couldn’t believe my luck as I looked online and saw that not only was the facility beautiful, but the treatment they offered covered every single aspect that I had come to learn plagued those who suffer from eating disorders. I quickly submitted my application and soon found myself in an interview. When I was hired as direct care staff, I called Jane and told her all about this incredible place hoping she would want to come and do some outpatient work. She seemed excited for me but hesitant to jump into therapy, as she wasn’t having a great experience sharing her feelings with strangers.

In October of 2004 I started my journey with Center for Change. I began absorbing information about eating disorders like a sponge, and poor Jane had to put up with my constant conversations on the subject. She started doing some outpatient counseling, but as our friendship grew her involvement in therapy didn’t. She started turning to me for answers and try as I did, I just didn’t have enough answers.

As she finished up her senior year of High School in the spring of 2005 things were not going well. Her eating disorder behaviors had intensified, and I grew more and more worried that behind her stubborn denial there was a major problem that would eventually be the end of her. My sweet friend needed help, and I felt I had to help even if it cost us our friendship.

I started exploring the idea with her of going into inpatient treatment at Center for Change. She refused over and over again, minimizing how awful she really felt. It hurt so much to see her go through this. It’s hard not to get emotional as I think back to those hard days in my life. I began to draw upon the strength and the experience of our trained staff and relied time and time again on their expertise and council. They guided me as I prayed and hoped that she could get help. Thankfully, she allowed me to talk to her parents and with their support we were soon on a tour of the Center. This was near the end of the summer of 2005, and there were about 3 weeks during that Indian Summer that I thought for sure she would never talk to me again. I became consumed with the feeling that she needed inpatient care, and I needed to do everything that I could to get her into a more intensive treatment program.

One conversation I remember with great clarity came as I was driving home from a long 12-hour shift in late August. Jane’s stubbornness was in full swing that night and I couldn’t take the denial a moment longer. The words that flew out of my mouth came with such force that even I was surprised I was saying them. She began to cry, but it didn’t restrain me from opening my heart and telling her that she couldn’t have the life she dreamed of if she didn’t get help now. I didn’t know if she would ever talk to me again, but thankfully she walked into Center for Change later that fall.

Due to our close friendship it was determined that I would switch from working on the inpatient unit to the residential unit. My sweet supervisor understood better than I did just how difficult it would be to work with her while she was still entrenched in her illness. We communicated just as if I was one of her friends in the outside world with her therapist being the mediator as I pulled myself out of the caretaking role. I respected her confidentiality as I did all the other patients and supported her from a distance. The incredible blessing to me was that this transition came so naturally. As awful as it was to watch her suffer so, I felt incredible peace knowing the comprehensive treatment she was receiving at Center for Change. While in the Center, Jane participated in the inpatient program, residential program, day program, and transitional care. I knew not only would she be getting the best physical care but that her heart and spirit would get the love and tenderness she needed and deserved.

Over the course of the next 10 months Jane transitioned into the incredible young woman that she is today. I am still amazed when I look back and see the journey that she has come on. She put her whole heart into trusting the program and allowing it to bless her life. She has told me that being around the women on our staff who have fully recovered from their eating disorders played a vital role in giving her hope that she too could conquer this disease. I know firsthand just how much our staff has all loved being a part of her journey towards recovery. For me personally, each time she shares her latest epiphany I just marvel that I was blessed enough to be allowed to be a part of this strong, courageous, beautiful young woman’s life.

Jane and I have a very unconventional friendship. Our age difference alone has made many people question how we could ever be friends, and such good friends. I admit, I have asked myself that question at times. The beauty of it is that our age difference is just another amazing part of this story. It played a key role in bringing us together and allowing us to give each other the help we both needed. I know that our friendship has grown to be something that was authored by our Higher Power

I’m not sure that Jane has ever accepted the reality of what she has done for me. It’s very easy to look from the outside and think that I’m the one that helped her make huge changes in her life. But when I reflect over the changes that have occurred within me over the past 2 ½ years, I am so humbled and grateful. What began as one of the darkest times in my life has blossomed into priceless experiences, dear friends, and a new awareness that has sculpted and enhanced my life. Because of Center for Change, we are both changed.