Inpatient Treatment: Getting Over the Stigma of Hospitalization

by Elizabeth on March 25, 2013

Hello friends. Thank you again for your support last week. If this is your first week to read, please feel free to read: In the Beginning: Joe’s Concerns, and Protecting the Eating Disorder: Forgotten Struggles of the Spouse to catch up. Each post gets a little more personal, and I have a feeling this one will be the most difficult yet. I will be as detailed as possible in describing this journey to inpatient treatment, but out of respect for Elizabeth and for our family, there are some things that you experience in the depths of a mental illness that are better left unsaid. Thank you for your understanding.

Let?s pick up where we left off. Elizabeth searched for over six months before she finally landed her first job as an orthopedic nurse. She was really hoping to get something with labor and delivery or with babies and children, but after a six month search, beggars cannot be choosers. I was pleased because she didn?t have to work nights or weekends which is rare for an entry level RN, and the schedule seemed fairly manageable. I was also hopeful since she no longer carried the stress of finding a job that she could balance work with therapy, and that the eating disorder would ?slowly disappear.?

Unfortunately, just like every stage of life, the stress never subsided. I think a lot of us have this mentality through school that once we finally graduate and ?start our lives? the stress will go down substantially. What a joke! Stress does not graduate college or take summer vacations. I am telling you this from experience, the longer you wait for the ?perfect timing? to seek treatment, the more the disorder grows and the stress only multiplies.

Elizabeth was having an extremely difficult time balancing work, and an eating disorder that was beginning to grow arms and legs. Managing relationships with co-workers also became increasingly difficult. When the nurses sat down for lunch or a snack, Elizabeth always had to come up with a different story for why she wasn?t eating with them that day. (I think the dishonesty portion of an eating disorder is one of the most difficult factors to overcome when trying to maintain friendships.)

Two months into her brand new job, we got some joyful but surprising news. Elizabeth was pregnant! I am fairly certain that all first-time expecting parents experience mixed emotions from this exciting news, but the eating disorder added a whole separate dynamic to the equation. We immediately set up a doctor?s appointment with the OB and a family session with Elizabeth?s therapist to share the news. The doctor did not have a lot of experience with expecting mothers that struggled with eating disorders and excessive exercise habits. She simply requested that Elizabeth run less, eat more, and gain weight every week… That sounds easy enough right?? I was somewhat encouraged by the fact that the doctor recommended maintaining (to some degree) her pre-pregnancy routine throughout the pregnancy. We both feared that the eating disorder would pose a significant threat to our baby?s health if Elizabeth continued to mistreat her body. Meanwhile, the therapist had treated several pregnant clients that struggled with disordered eating. She basically told us that pregnancy usually helps to force the issue of treatment sine your baby?s well-being depends on the mother?s physical and mental health. Elizabeth and I had a certain sense of peace knowing that she was at least healthy enough to conceive, but it?s fair to say that we had no idea what was coming our way.

Add the nausea and fatigue of the first trimester to the work schedule, and things started going downhill fast. The eating disorder was really the only means that Elizabeth had to channel her stress and anxiety. All those years that most adolescents and teenagers spend learning to deal with their personal problems, Elizabeth put up a shield of perfection and hid all the struggles in the eating disorder. Just because she was pregnant now, did not mean that she magically had the skill-set to effectively deal with the difficulties in her life. [I want to make sure everyone understand this piece because I think people might look at Elizabeth?s struggles during her pregnancy and mistake them for selfishness or irresponsibility. The fact of the matter was that she was physically and emotionally incapable of making the right choices for herself and her baby, and treatment became our only option.]

As a husband and future father, I felt hopeless in this struggle. There was nothing that I could say or do to encourage Elizabeth to get more rest and nourish her body. The eating disorder had taken over, and I felt like I had no way of stopping it. I can remember kneeling in church one Sunday morning with tears in my eyes, and I prayed, ?Lord, this is too much for me to bear. I need your help. I feel so hopeless and lost in this struggle.? Later that evening, after a men?s league basketball game, three of my best friends stopped me before I got into my truck and asked if they could talk to me. They intervened right then and there and urged me to get Elizabeth into treatment. The moment I realized what they wanted to talk to me about I burst into tears, and I couldn?t believe how quickly God had answered my prayers. I needed assurance and strength, and they were offering me the support that I needed. My friends may never truly understand what God did through them that night, but I am forever grateful for the impact that they had on me and my family.

To top it off, it wasn?t three days later that Elizabeth and I received an email from a concerned family member that we needed to take action ASAP. The email voiced the obvious concerns that Elizabeth and I had been shoving under the rug out of fear. The eating disorder was clearly driving the ship, and if we didn?t change its path, Elizabeth and our baby both were headed down a devastating path. She was not in a place to be able to nourish herself and our child on her own, and we finally began to realize that we were running out of time and options.

It was time to face the facts and take action. We sat down with Elizabeth?s therapist and went through her struggles in detail. The therapist urged us to consider inpatient treatment. She assured us that after spending several years treating patients in an inpatient setting, Elizabeth would not be ?out of place.? In fact, she told us that Elizabeth would be one of the more severe cases especially since she was almost through the first trimester of her pregnancy. There was a certain stigma about hospitalization that I think we both had to overcome before committing to this treatment plan. You have to realize that Elizabeth wasn?t on the verge of feeding tubes, and she didn?t look like a walking skeleton. The only picture that I had in my mind for inpatient treatment was the chapter on anorexia from my high school health class. The girl who weighs 65 lbs and she is so emaciated that her rib cage is sticking out of her stomach. I think we tend to forget that an eating disorder, like any illnesses, can take on many different forms. Just because you don?t have the worst possible physical symptoms, does not mean that you are not in need of intensive treatment.

So, within a week of God?s intervention through family and friends, we made the decision to move Elizabeth to ERC (Eating Recovery Center) in Denver, CO to start inpatient treatment. My confidence and attitude had shifted, and I was laser-focused on recovery. Elizabeth was about to face the most difficult journey of her life (even more difficult than her accelerated nursing program which I thought was impossible to beat). I flew with her to Denver and we checked into ERC. It makes me incredibly sad to relive that day now, but while it was happening it seemed like a no brainer. I had a new found confidence that we were doing the right thing, and God gave me all the strength that I needed.

I flew back to Houston to get back to my job, and it wasn?t one full day before Elizabeth called me in tears and hysteria. I was somehow numb to the tearful pleas. There were no other options, and I knew that Elizabeth was where she needed to be. She was living in hell. Three forced large meals and three forced snacks a day, and she had to stop running cold turkey. I tried to encourage her to make friends with the other girls that I knew she could relate to, but she was too depressed and miserable to even consider making deep connections with others. By the third day, Elizabeth had made up her mind. She went online and bought a plan ticket to fly home. It was a Sunday evening, and I remember that night like it was yesterday. It took me three hours to work the system long enough to find her confirmation number and cancel her flight. I canceled all of her credit cards and locked her out of every account that we had. The only money she could access was the pocket change left in her purse which wasn?t even enough to get a taxi. Her angry tears that night were almost unbearable. Elizabeth?s parents, her aunts and uncles, and my family were the only reason I got through that night. I remember feeling like I had betrayed Elizabeth by locking her out of any means of funding, and I had to trust that we (her loved ones and I) were doing the right thing by forcing her to stay.

I finally went to sleep that night with hopes that we had solved the problem. Elizabeth woke up that morning with one thing on her mind; she was leaving ERC. I remember getting a phone call from her that she was walking to the homeless shelter, and that she would rather be homeless and alone than stay at ERC. The drama was intensified because her safety and our child?s safety were at risk since she had no money and no transportation in the middle of downtown Denver. Elizabeth?s parents urged her to return to ERC, and that if she found a way to come back to Houston, we would have her forcefully admitted into a psychiatric hospital as soon as she got off the plane. (Another memory that is difficult to relive?threatening your spouse to have legal actions taken to get her admitted into a pysch. hospital!) All these threats didn?t seem to phase her that day. We had to call in the big guns. Elizabeth?s aunt flew up to Denver and spent the afternoon with her. I was skeptical that she would be able to convince her to stick with it because it felt like we had pulled every string there was. I am still not sure what she did or said to change her mind, but by that evening, Elizabeth checked back into ERC with a new attitude. She was finally committed [although still a bit resentful] to going through with the treatment plan. I could not have been more relieved.

Thankfully, we had countless loved ones that were chomping at the bit to help us get through this impossible situation, and we are forever grateful to our family and friends for all of their love and support. Many loved ones made the trip to Denver to visit Elizabeth while she was in inpatient treatment, and I know that she cherished each moment that she spent with her family and friends during those difficult times. I will never truly comprehend the sorrow that Elizabeth felt during her stay in inpatient treatment, but I do know now that she would do it 100 times over for our wonderful son, Noah Joseph Sauvageau.

Next week we will dive into the intensive outpatient journey and the transition from Denver back to Houston. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading,




{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 aine @ ainesadventuresabroad March 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I cannot tell you how brave I think you both are for sharing this story. I understand it must be incredibly difficult to relive this and open yourselves up this way. Thank you for being so open and honest…
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2 Sandy March 25, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Again thank you for sharing your family story and trusting us with such sensitive information. I am so glad that you have the Lord in your life because the power of prayer truly shows in this story. All of these struggles have made your family so close and I am so glad that your love for one another carried you through these hard times. The picture at the end of this post sums it all up. Seeing the smiles in the picture made me cry and I am so glad your story has a happy ending. I am so damn proud of Elizabeth and her willingness to share a very difficult part of her life. I am not sure if I could do that.


3 Megan D March 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm

God truly does work in mysterious ways. I am so glad your friends listened to the spirit and intervened. I can’t imagine going through all that your family has. But what a testament to Elizabth and your relatiohsip that you were able to work through it all – albeit a very difficult time for everyone. You are a great writer and I have anticipated each post in this series. You both are very brave to share this personal story, but I am sure you are helping many people by doing so.


4 Michele March 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is always amazing to hear how the Lord works through us…especially when we’re in the middle of the storm. I will add all of you to my prayers for continued healing and wellness. You are an amazing family!
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5 Julia March 25, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I’ve never commented before but wanted to say that I think this story is so powerful. I have goosebumps after reading this and can only begin to imagine what you and Elizabeth both felt during that time. Thank you for telling a story of eating disorders that so often goes unheard.


6 Chelsea March 25, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thank you so much, Joe, for being willing you share your story, especially such a difficult portion of it. I can only hope that your words here will bring someone out there knowledge, comfort, solidarity – another part of the way God is working through your story :) continued prayers, as I know this is something that one doesn’t necessarily just get rid of!
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7 Mendy March 25, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Thank you. That was amazing. And intense. And raw. So proud of you both, for your strength and perseverance. So inspired by your trust in the Lord.
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8 Megan March 25, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Wow, you really capture the intensity of the situation and express it very well. Each of these posts give me a new perspective on what family and friends go through while watching someone they love battle an eating disorder. I think I said this on the last comment I made but I don’t think I realized that my struggle with anorexia was not affecting just me but everyone in my life who cares about me. Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to reading more!


9 Rachel @ Undercover Diva: A Sitcom March 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I cried reading this; thank you both so much for sharing. I can’t even imagine the pain you all felt during this time, and you are both so so brave for sharing your struggles. I look forward to reading next week’s post!
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10 Becky March 25, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Wow. Thank you for sharing this story, all of it. You two are a very inspiring couple!
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11 Sarah @PickyRunner March 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm

This really left me speechless. Your story is so incredible and I love that you’re willing to share it with us.
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12 Amanda @ .running with spoons. March 25, 2013 at 5:01 pm Thanks so much for sharing, Joe. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been for both you and Elizabeth, but I really admire your strength and determination to do whatever it took to get Elizabeth better, even if it meant incurring the wrath of her eating disorder. I’m kind of glad that I’m reading this at a point where I know that both Elizabeth and Noah are fine, because it sounds so scary and painful :(


13 Brittney @teaberrytrails March 25, 2013 at 5:12 pm

As I have read each installment of this story, I am amazed at the audacity each of you have. Sharing something this private with the world is beyond amazing and such an inspiration to others who are having similar problems. I applaud the time and commitment each of you have and that you are able to come out of something of this magnitude still standing by one another. It really goes to show that no matter what, true love conquers all. I enjoy reading this blog and look forward to each and every post =) Thanks so much for sharing!
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14 Ashley @ My Food N Fitness Diaries March 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm

This post brought me to tears. You both are so brave for sharing your story with us! I think it takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to be able to do this, but I admire it so much. There’s so many women and girls out there that are struggling with eating disorders and need these stories to encourage them to get to a better place. Thank you for sharing!
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15 Kelsey March 25, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Thank you for sharing. You express this very well and make it extremely real for me as a reader. It also gives us insight in to your lives. Very moving.
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16 Karen @ Runner Girl Eats March 25, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I am so impressed with how honest you both have been about this time in your life. I have worked with patients receiving inpatient psych care for years and the stigma can be one of the hardest obstacles for patients and families to overcome. I love love love your these stories and how open you are being. I know you are helping many people out there reading this in similar situations.
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17 Nelly March 25, 2013 at 6:15 pm

God will be using you both in this story. Amazing
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18 Kim March 25, 2013 at 6:49 pm

The story that you continue to share with us is amazing. I find it incredibly admirable that you supported your wife so much through everything since it is difficult to comprehend the feelings that an eating disorder creates for those that suffer. This may be too personal, but I thought it’d be worth a shot to ask. Was the inpatient treatment extremely expensive, and how were you guys able to go about covering it being so young and just starting your careers? I know inpatient treatment can be astronomical, and there are many people that suffer from disorders or addictions that need the intense therapy, but it is simply out of the question because they cannot afford it. Once again, remarkable post and I look forward to hearing the rest of the story!


19 Joe Sauvageau March 25, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Thank you for the question Kim. It is not too personal, and I know that it is a real concern. You are correct that inpatient treatment is very pricey, but thankfully my insurance (Blue Cross Blue Shield Over Texas) covered most of the expense. Our experience with ERC was that the insurance company would commit to two weeks of treatment, and then it is up to the psychiatrists and therapists to convince the insurance company to cover another two weeks and then another two weeks… Etc. We were extremely fortunate to have good insurance coverage, and we are both well aware that multiple visits to inpatient treatment could cost as much as $60,000 per stay if the insurance company cuts you off.

There are always options as we have learned through the outpatient process. If you are insured, you can usually find a treatment facility that accepts your insurance. If not, generous people sometimes donate scholarship funds to sponsor those in recovery so that the financial burden is not a factor. If there is a strong will to seek out treatment there is a way to work around the finances. Hopefully some day we will be blessed enough to start our own scholarship fund.


20 Jackie March 25, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Thank you again for opening up even further with your story. You are an amazing support system and admire the strength you and your family have shown throughout and as you continue to write about it.


21 [email protected] March 25, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Again, I just want to thank you for sharing your story. I am certain that there are people reading these posts and God is using your words to encourage them to make much needed change.
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22 Debbie @ Deb Runs... March 25, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Thank you for continuing this series that must be so difficult to re-live and talk about. I am sure you are doing far more than your realize for your readers.
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23 Carly @ Snack Therapy March 25, 2013 at 9:17 pm

You’ve brought up so many inspirational, touching, and honest points, I don’t even know where to start. This story breaks my heart, but it is beautifully written and I can feel the love emanating from it. Elizabeth is clearly a strong person and you guys are clearly a strong couple!
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24 Courtney H. March 25, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Thank you both for sharing this. When I first heard about what you went though I felt helpless even though I wanted to find some way to be there for Elizabeth. I cannot even imagine how hard it was for you joe, but you are amazing. I hope that writing this (and seeing it) is helping Elizabeth just a little bit more through every day. Liz you are a wonderful mom and a great person. Love you guys!!


25 Brittany @ read, run, repeat March 26, 2013 at 5:21 am

Joe, I have really enjoyed reading each of your installments and your perspective on being “the other side” — it can be so easy to forget about all the people that are affected when someone is dealing with mental illness. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. This post was so moving – I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to endure that. Elizabeth is very lucky to have such an amazing support system, and its evident how much you love one another :)


26 Karla @ myhighonlife March 26, 2013 at 7:58 am

Thank you Joe for opening up on such a difficult time in your and Elizabeth’s life. It really has affected me as I have been experiencing difficulties with eating and over exercising lately. Reading your perspective makes me think of what I’m doing to my boyfriend who would move mountains for me and it makes me re-think some of my choices.

So glad that God answered your prayers. You have a beautiful family. Looking forward to the next post. Again, thank you!
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27 Koryn @ High Heels & Healthy Alternatives March 26, 2013 at 9:04 am

You both are such an Amazing couple… the love you have as a family literally gives me chills! I have no doubt God is using you and your story to help more people than you know. Thanks for sharing!


28 Janice Kuhl March 26, 2013 at 9:06 am

My eyes are full of tears! I can only imaging how difficult this has been for both you and Elizabeth however, I know it has helped so many including my self. Everyone has struggles mo matter how big or how small. I have been touched like never before. Thanks for sharing. God is good!


29 Holly March 26, 2013 at 9:46 am

Wow. Just wow. I’m teary reading this post because I cannot even begin to imagine what an incredibly hard and painful journey this was for both of you – in such different ways. Thank you for sharing this personal experience.


30 Danica @ It's Progression March 26, 2013 at 10:32 am

This story is just amazing…I appreciate how honest you are with everything, Joe–I know that cannot be easy to think back to, much less write out for others to read. It’s so wonderful to know that even though that time was completely and totally awful for everyone, Elizabeth (you, and your families too) made it out better on the other side…Once again, I’m looking forward to reading more of this series!


31 Thais @ Eats n Miles March 26, 2013 at 11:11 am

Thank you again so much for sharing and for your honesty. I can only imagine how difficult it is to relive and think back on that time, but I´m sure you are helping many others (including myself) by sharing your story. Reading this makes me focus on the important things in life, and look at the big picture. I look forward to reading more next week.
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32 Lana Lacey March 26, 2013 at 11:20 am


Your boldness and courage on your family’s behalf is so remarkable and admirable. Thank you for being so raw and transparent in writing this so that others can identify with your story and feel hopeful and encouraged. Much respect to you and Elizabeth. I truly mean that.


33 Andrea March 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Wow what amazing people you are to share your story. You two truly have been blessed to have each other and a beautiful son!


34 sharissespieces March 29, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I just finished catching up with the previous two posts and this current one left me in tears. I cannot relate to any of your experiences, but thank you for sharing them and teaching great lessons about marriage and life. I am looking forward to your upcoming posts. Thanks again!
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35 Jordan March 30, 2013 at 8:53 am

Joe and Liz, thank you for your transparency and honesty in sharing this story and part of your lives. I admire you guys so much and am grateful to call you friends. Obviously, I never knew any of this but I’m glad I do now. I’ve dealt with addiction before so I can relate, albeit only slightly. Again, I appreciate y’all.


36 Julia April 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Joe, you are an incredibly talented writer, it has literally brought tears to my eyes. Joe and Elizabeth, I greatly admire your courage and honesty in sharing your story. Eating disorders/disordered eating are so rampant in this society, and yet it is difficult for so many people to deal with and talk about the condition because of the unfortunate stigma associated with the disease. Thank you.
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37 Michelle Kim October 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Wow, thank you so much for sharing this story. I’m sure it is hard for both of you to relive… yet seeing how far you have come now, it is like God has made you into a new creation :)
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