Hitting Rock Bottom: Inpatient Treatment for Anorexia, Alcohol, and Prescription Drug Abuse

January 14, 2012 Angela E. Gambrel

It was 3 a.m., January 1, 2012. I had been struggling to sleep for hours. All had did though was constantly shift around in my hospital bed and throw covers on and off, as my head throbbed and waves of heat flushed my face. It left me hot and then freezing cold.

It was the last night of my hospital stay and I had gotten progressively sicker in the past few days. The nurses simply told me I must have the flu or something since I had a slight fever and struggled to eat — not a good thing for a recovering anorexic. I pushed the call button for the night nurse, hoping for some relief but knowing I had just taken a pain killer a few hours before and, therefore, there was nothing anyone could do. He brought me a box of tissues as I started crying and tossing around, saying "I guess this is what they call hitting rock bottom, huh?" He told me to go ahead and cry.

I had been in the hospital since December 26. It has been both the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done.

[caption id="attachment_522" align="alignright" width="119" caption="Source: Getty Images"]Source: Getty Images[/caption]

Checking Into the Psychiatric Hospital

On December 26, I drove about two hours to the large hospital downstate for refeeding and alcohol detox. It's a long ride, but that's where my eating disorders psychiatrist sends his patients. He asked me to admit myself because I had been restricting my food intake and drinking excessively for about three months. He was also concerned that I was mixing alcohol with the prescription tranquilizers he had prescribed for me. Finally, he suspected I was taking more tranquilizers than I had been prescribed — which I was but didn't confess until I was in inpatient.

The hospital resembles a self-contained world of its own with multiple levels, Starbucks and food places, and several small boutiques. I was headed for the ninth floor for my seventh psychiatric inpatient admission in four years. At the insistence of my insurance company, I had to go through the emergency room for blood tests and rehydration of fluids.

Since I refuse to drink and drive, thinking others did not need to pay for my stupidity and self-destructive nature, my original plan had been to drive to the hospital and have my last drink in the ER parking lot. However, the hospital social worker warned me on the phone that morning that even one drink would mean I would not be able to be admitted until I was medically cleared. Sighing, I placed my alcohol in the garage as I left and realized I took my last drink on Christmas Day.

I over-packed as usual, cramming cosmetics, personal care items, and enough outfits to last several weeks into my small suitcase. The airline tag from my 2008 mission trip to Haiti was still hanging from the case. I looked at the tag, sad that I was not returning to Haiti but instead needed to go to the hospital yet again. I remembered when I was strong, before anorexia and everything else had weakened me, and prayed I would return to myself.


I was admitted to the ER, where I was asked to change into a hospital gown and surrendered my belongings to the staff. I hated the indignity of going up in a hospital gown on a gurney because I would look like a patient. I didn't like that, but soon I would lose all pride and not care about how I looked or what people thought.

I was taken up to the ninth floor after several hours. It took so long, my psychiatrist called the ER and asked the social worker if I had ever arrived. I appreciated his concern and told the social worker to tell him, no, I hadn't backed out even though I panic and try to leave every time I check into the hospital. However, I wanted to get well and I did not try to leave during this admission. I think that is just one sign that I also knew how sick I was. Another sign was what I said when the social worker called up and said my insurance was questioning the need for inpatient admission. I had had enough and told her to tell them if I went home that night, I would kill myself. I am not sure if I really felt that way or was just exhausted by all the events of the past few months.

Life in the Psychiatric Hospital

It was a routine I knew well. Eating disorders patients were woken up around 6 a.m . to be weighed and I was woken up again — if I managed to get back to sleep — at 6:30 a.m. for my thyroid medication. My psychiatrist is an early riser and surprised me that morning by arriving at my hospital room at 7 a.m. I quickly told him from behind the curtain that I was still getting dressed. I rushed to get ready and went to the cafeteria to breakfast and a tray filled with food that I knew I had to eat.

Next came groups, including crafts and self-care, group therapy, and relaxation. I had made many beaded bracelets during the craft group and decided to do something a bit more relaxing. I picked out a picture and started to fill it in with colored pencils while others around me sanded wood or painted boxes. I looked around and felt slightly bewildered by being back yet again, and worried about all the unfinished work on my master's thesis at home.

I find group therapy one of the most useful parts of hospitalization because each of us gets to talk about our feelings, and it helps to hear that others understand what you are going through even though they might have a different mental illness. Each time, I rediscover people are just people; each one struggling at times to get through life and find joy. I am able to open up and process the multitude of feelings that come up inside me. I talked about my struggles to eat and maintain a healthy weight, how I am still afraid of food, and the sadness within that caused me to start drinking too much and eating too little.

Facing Changes In Treatment

That first morning, I realized that my psychiatrist had almost completely changed my medication regime. Gone were the tranquilizers that I had been taking. First, I was placed on Celexa, an antidepressant. Then I given Dilantin, a seizure medication, and the Catapres patch, for high blood pressure. Both of these medications were given as precautions during the detox part of my hospital stay.

I should have known that my doctor was going to discontinue my tranquilizers. When we discussed admitting myself to the hospital, he said that he had a plan. Of course, I didn't ask what his plan was because I was afraid I would talk myself out of checking in. I didn't yet realize that the tranquilizers were a major part of my problem, but I admitted that morning that I had gotten hold of some extra and was mixing Ativan and Valium with the alcohol and restrictive eating. Later, I told him that I didn't blame him for taking me off these medications; I would have taken me off of them in his place.

However, I did struggle with several symptoms of withdrawal from tranquilizers, such as a headache, nausea, sweaty palms and feet, and incredibly restless legs that wouldn't allow me to sleep. The combination of facing more food each day, lack of sleep, and withdrawal made me irritable and I had to stop and think that everyone there was facing their own demons.

Going Home...And To The Rest Of My Life

I started to feel better mentally even though I wasn't feeling so hot physically. I ate and was able to think clearer about where I wanted to go in life. I knew that I needed make a lot of changes in order to have any sort of life. That life can't include anorexia, drinking, or taking tranquilizers. Nor can it include some of the self-destructive behaviors that I was doing while I was drinking.

I had a lot of time to think since there were no computers on the unit and I typically don't like to watch television. I think it was good to have this time because I was able to start solidifying how I was going to move forward. I realized how much I had been running and hiding from by all my behaviors. I started to feel again, and although that is still painful at times, I realize that it is necessary for complete recovery.

I packed my bags and prepared to go home on New Year's Day. My sister and brother came to pick me up, as my doctor felt I was still too shaky to drive myself home - a two hour trip. I did feel shaky and nauseous, and was amazed at how well I did do on the way home.

My family quickly took action when I got home, searching my refrigerator for any alcohol and dumping my bottles of tranquilizers in the toilet. My sister and brother went to get food for me while I sunk down into my couch and talked with my sister-in-law.

My head was still pounding and I was frightened, but I was home. I thought, "Now what?" as I looked around.

Next week: My continued recovery and setbacks at home, and moving forward.

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APA Reference
Gambrel, A. (2012, January 14). Hitting Rock Bottom: Inpatient Treatment for Anorexia, Alcohol, and Prescription Drug Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 29 from

Author: Angela E. Gambrel

November, 30 2012 at 6:07 am

I'm so glad I was introduced to you and your story today on twitter. I've been there- Have I been there! My lowest weight was 70 lbs. at 5'8" and I was an alcoholic for years.
Now five years sober and a healthy weight, life is no longer a living hell. You are an inspiration to all in the earlier phases of recovery. God bless you for your ability to share your story and help others who still struggle.
As I compose my new book on this this subject, there are several stops and starts. I begin writing, then read what I've written and cannot believe I would treat my body or myself with such rigid hatred.
Each day in recovery is now a blessing. Angela, may you share that joy and continue to inspire others.
Leslie C.

January, 18 2012 at 7:07 am

What a journey.
I get a sense that you are ready for the new year. New life. New.

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