Victoria resident Sarah Johnson overcame her eating disorder and addictions at Cedars Cobble Hill

Battling anorexia: Victoria woman opens up about struggle

When Sarah Johnson was a child, she remembers watching kids on the playground and thinking there was something different about her.

When Sarah Johnson was a child, she remembers watching kids on the playground and thinking there was something different about her — that she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Dealing with abandonment issues after her biological father left, she found it difficult to deal with her emotions, especially at a young age. While attending elementary school in Calgary, she would often run away from home and later in life, began cutting herself to relieve her anger.

When Johnson was 15 years old, she wrote a report on eating disorders for a class in high school and, as a way of controlling that aspect in her life, decided to cut the amount of food she ate.

But that quickly spiralled into a 13-year-long battle with anorexia, and drug and alcohol addiction.

Johnson cut her food intake to 200 calories a day, while exercising, doing drugs, such as cocaine, and drinking on a daily basis. There were some days when she wouldn’t eat anything at all.

At her smallest, Johnson, who is five-foot-three, weighed less than 80 pounds.

“I just didn’t know how to deal with my feelings. I didn’t know how to ask for help or to express what was going on with me. I always felt empty and alone,” she said. “I think I wanted some control in my life.”

Johnson was in and out of Foot Hills Hospital in Calgary over a four-year period for her addictions. She was also admitted to the psych ward on two occasions for her eating disorder.

On her second visit to the hospital, Johnson’s body began to disintegrate on her. She had no energy, could barely get out of bed, had no muscle and had osteopenia or pre-osteoporosis. She was so physically weak that doctors wouldn’t allow her to eat solid food because her heart could have stopped.

Her relationship with her family became strained as well. She missed events which led to tension and anger, mainly between Johnson and her mother and brother.

That’s when she decided to get help.

After researching addictions treatment centres online, Johnson came across Cedars Cobble Hill, a 12-step treatment facility for addiction disorders on Vancouver Island.

In the past, Johnson sought to help from other addictions centres, but found as soon as she received treatment for alcohol and substance abuse, her anorexia addiction would surface again.

Over a roughly two-and-half-month period, the program helped her overcome her addiction in a way other programs weren’t able to.

“I reached a new level of surrender. I thought ‘what am I doing’? I have all the help here. I might as well give it my all,” said the now 34-year-old Victoria resident. “It changed my whole life.”

Johnson now works at the Cedars Recovery House as support staff, something she has always wanted to do, but was too weak to pursue. She is also going to school to be a social worker.

Now, Cedars Cobble Hill has launched Cedars Victoria, an intensive outpatient program for the treatment of substance abuse and process disorders on Douglas Street. Patients receive intensive treatment over a six-month period, but are still able to live at home.

As part of the program, patients start with orientation, where they learn how to participate in group settings and learn about addictions, followed by a psycho-educational component, therapy process group component and individual counselling.

“It provides options for people who either don’t need to or aren’t able to go into a residential facility, either because of the cost or because of family responsibilities, work responsibilities. It provides an intensive level of treatment that’s quite integrative because they’re still involved in their lives at the same time they’re receiving addictions treatment, ” said program director Sue Donaldson, adding there are currently seven patients, predominately dealing with alcohol and drug addictions, in the program.

“It’s really proving to be quite a positive resource. (Patients) are finding it very supportive and helpful. It provides structure in many cases.”

For more information about Cedars Victoria’s intensive outpatient program visit cedarscobblehill.com.