Why I Flew 4,000 miles for Treatment

Why I Flew 4000 Miles for Treatment

From being told I was never going to get better to raising $75,000 via our fundraising campaign, I am sharing why I flew to the U.S. for 6 months of treatment, plus a personal thank-you to everyone who made it possible for me to be where I am today: alive and thriving, more than ever before!

“You’re just going to have to accept the fact that you’re never going to get better”.

Those were the exact words spoken to me by the head practitioner when I got discharged from Rintveld, one of the so-called ‘best’ eating disorder clinics in the Netherlands. After spending four long months here, I was deemed 'a hopeless case’…at the age of only 16 years old. But was it my fault that I didn’t improve, and even got SICKER at this clinic? There was absolutely no therapy or support whatsoever—they claimed ‘eating moments are therapy moments’ and basically let you struggle with your eating disorder thoughts the whole day. Well, when you weren’t eating at the table at least.

Too bad we didn’t know this before. My family and I had just moved from Boston to Utrecht a couple of months ago, a big challenge for us all. We didn’t know this either.

When the idea of living in the Netherlands (my country of birth) was presented to me in May of 2015, I was all for it. I had been struggling with disordered eating and exercise for almost 4 years at this point, and was hungry for a fresh start. The past four years had been filled with meal plans, doctors, dieticians, therapists…all of which came into my life at the age of eleven. I was no longer allowed to play soccer, my biggest passion since the age of six. I barely was able to see my friends because of all the appointments, so I felt isolated, too. Perhaps moving to a new country would give me back everything I no longer had.

My enthusiasm along with my parents yearn for change and our house that was now officially sold could only mean one thing: we were really going to move.

The Beginning of Decline

I was really looking forward to a fresh start here. Little did I know my parents had already scheduled an appointment for an intake at Rintveld, as was advised by my doctor at Boston Children’s. I was angry that they didn’t trust me, but I had no choice. I was still a minor, and minors have nothing to say when it comes to health decisions. So I bravely went to the intake with my parents, which ended in us going home—or better said, my parents going home—with a meal plan. Yet again.

This meal plan was the beginning of all the misery. Unlike the typical American ‘style’ of working with exchanges (which I have mixed opinions about, blog post to come!), this meal plan was more of a strict eating regime. I didn’t have any choice of variety in what I could eat. If I did want something else, say, oatmeal instead of bread in the morning, that would be the start of an endless fight which ended up in me usually not eating anything. Looking back, I feel sorry for my parents too. They only wanted what was best for me and thus tried to stick as best they could to the eating list my dietician had set up for me.

Slowly, my weight declined. I was already very vulnerable physically, so these last couple pounds were the deciding factor for what the clinicians had warned me of at the intake: if you fail to gain weight, or worse, lose weight, you will need to be admitted to residential.

Again, I had no choice; I was a minor.

Residential Treatment

On my mother’s birthday—September 16th of 2015—I was admitted to Rintveld Unit 1, the adolescent unit of the clinic. It was one of three units, Unit 2 being for the age 18 and older, and Unit 3 being exclusively for adults for whom ‘there is no hope’. The goal in Unit 3 is no longer recovery, rather how to learn to ‘deal’ with your eating disorder. Just a little opinionated interruption, but isn’t that just TERRIBLE? The fact that they have a separate ward for ‘hopeless cases’ simply blows my mind.

After four long months of HELL, I realized they throw the term ‘hopeless case’ around pretty easily, just like they discharged me for that exact reason. Like HOW can you tell someone who still has a whole LIFE ahead of them that they’re ‘never going to get better?’ At that, how can you tell ANYONE they’re never going to get better? I was eleven when my disordered eating started, I’ve gone to hell and back several times, but here I am, almost 10 years later, STRONGER than ever. There’s always hope. Always. For everyone.

And deep inside, I knew this. But not just yet…

In the Throes

I was fragile having lost weight during my stay in the clinic, so I believed what the psychiatrist said that day. If there was ‘no more hope for me’, what was the point in trying anymore? A few months after that, I hit my deepest point…

To say every day was a struggle for me is a huge understatement. Each day was ruled by the eating disorder and the only things that took up space in my head had to do with it. When to eat, how much to eat, when to exercise, how many calories I had consumed, tracking the calories in MFP…I was going to school at the time, but honestly don’t remember anything from those two years because I was so absorbed in other things. The fact that I actually passed blows my mind.

But that is the power of the eating disorder. All your energy is generated by willpower, energy that you believe you have (rather your eating disorder tricks you into thinking you have), but really don’t. Precious energy of which you have such a deficit of, that you could drop dead any moment. Precious energy that isn’t even enough to support proper brain function. Hence, the panic attacks; every. Single. Day.

Panic Attacks

The Panic Attacks—I dare say— were probably the most horrid part of my entire disorder. They’re a part of an eating disorder that receives the ‘taboo’ label in the recovery world, because they’re dangerous. Not only for me, but for everyone around me.

To be honest, I don’t remember what happened during most of my panic attacks. It was like I mentally checked out as the devil inside took over. I threw plates across the kitchen, shattered the hand-painted teapot my mom had spent hours on at the Clayroom, cut apart my dad’s leather shoes. When my sister didn’t put milk in her cereal, I chased her around the kitchen table like a wild animal, threatening to hurt her if she didn’t listen to me. I ran away from home on my bare feet in the middle of winter, claiming my mother didn’t love me if she didn’t chase after me. I even cut my left arm open with a piece of glass from a shattered door, as a result of me slamming it so hard.

During my panic attacks, Livia was gone. My body was still there, as I do clearly remember experiencing all the symptoms associated with the attack; I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was dying. Looking back now, I probably wasn’t too far from it.

I can’t do this anymore

It was right after one panic attack, after I had been calmed down by my mother and two sisters who were shaking of terror, that I lay on my bed, crying, exclaiming that I couldn’t live like this anymore. I said I needed to go to America, because all the psychiatrists and therapists here in Holland were too afraid to help me. Too afraid of the ‘complexity’ of my illness, too afraid they would fail at giving me hope. I personally had none at the time either. I was at a complete loss, and so was my family.

I knew I had to get help. I could no longer do this to myself, but I also could no longer do this to everyone around me. No one could really ‘live’ anymore—we were all merely surviving by the means of crisis management.

I said I needed something COMPLETELY out of the box. I needed to get help far away, somewhere so new and out of scene that I would have no choice of running home again, putting my hands in the air and giving up. I said I needed to go to ‘one of those’ treatment centers where they embrace you with loving kindness and listen to you and sit at the table with you, cheering you on as you sit there, trembling, with a fear food in front of you. I said I wanted to get better, but really really really couldn’t do it here.

Finding a Treatment Center

This was the tippy tip of the start of my healing journey. My mom, sisters and I spent days behind our laptops looking for eating disorder treatment centers in America. My mom spent weeks calling internationally, explaining my issue, sorting out papers, taking notes, and reporting back to me of her findings. Emotionless at the time, I only later realized I am probably only alive because of how dedicated my mother was to making sure I got the right help.

The most asked question I get when it comes to this topic of finding the ‘right’ treatment center is: “Why did you choose Carolina House?’ Honestly, the answer is not complicated. Almost all of the treatment centers only accepted adults (18+) or had a separate adolescent unit (12-18). I was 17 going on 18 and have always been mentally very mature. I did not want to be in an adolescent unit, and believed that being in an environment focused on adult recovery would be most beneficial for me. Carolina House, out of all of the treatment centers we found, was the ONLY one that accepted patients with an age of 17+. So it looked like this was going to be it!

There was one *minor* problem though…it costed somewhere around $2,000 dollars a day, and without American insurance, that was completely out of the question. My mom was able to negotiate a lower price after explaining the situation, but nothing less than 75% of the original costs. So still, it was out of the question. Unless… we could somehow raise the money. My mom wanted to start a fundraiser, explaining my situation on GoFundMe and hoping people would be generous enough to lend us a helping hand and donate. I told my mom this was the most far-fetched idea I had EVER heard of, but I guess it was worth a try.

Let’s Do This

We posted the campaign Saving Livia on May 31st of 2017, which was shortly thereafter accompanied by an amazing YouTube video created by my sister, Mae. Fast forward only a couple weeks later, and we had gathered $75,000. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually going to get help.

I flew to Carolina House together with my mom on July 3rd, when I said my goodbye’s on the porch of 176 Lassiter Homestead Road, a beautiful yellow house with grand, grassy surroundings. I would spend 13 weeks in Residential Treatment followed by 12 more in PHP and IOP. During this time, I lived with my Aunt and Uncle in Raleigh, for which I have a special place in my heart <3 Plus, having a U.S. address allowed my mom to successfully arrange insurance for the remainder of treatment. After 6 long and exhausting months, I was ready to go home.

Infinite Gratitude

Words cannot express how thankful I am to everyone who made my treatment at Carolina House possible. Without all the donations, and the support of my family and friends, I wouldn’t be where I am today. As I wrote in a recent instagram post:

two years later, i am here: healthy, physically AND mentally. i can finally say i have beat my monster to the ground, without the slightest doubt that i will ever let it creep back into my life again. two years later, i am the happiest i have been since eleven years old, and i am more alive than i ever thought i could be. recovery, you gave me that.

When I first came home from treatment on Christmas Eve 2017, I was scared. I was in a completely new body, one that felt unfamiliar. The ED voice at this time was also still quite present, as the mental recovery often takes some time to catch up to the physical part. Two years later, in December 2019, I feel the strongest I ever have. I feel more alive than I ever have. I am so grateful to be able to share my story, and even more grateful that I get to use to inspire others, day after day after day. Thank you times a million, for guiding me on the path where I found my passion.


Come join me and follow the conversation on Instagram!


Want to learn how to navigate ED recovery as an autistic person?

Listen to my FREE TRAINING teaching you how to use your autistic traits to your advantage in ED recovery 💪