Can you feel a sense of devotion to a rehab in the same way you might toward your high school alma mater? If you ask the graduates of Timberline Knolls, an all-female residential drug, alcohol, and eating disorder treatment center about a half-hour outside of Chicago, the answer is “yes.” Women from age 12 to 60 come here for stays averaging around 30 to 40 days. The majority are white, straight, in their 20s, and come from at least some amount of money, although exceptions are not uncommon, and no one is made to feel “other.”
Each woman at “TK”—as the facility is nicknamed by its residents—bunks with two to three roommates. “The rooms were big and the beds were very comfortable,” says one alumnae, out of 101 total respondents. “The best sleep I’ve ever gotten was at TK.” There are no chores to speak of, save for keeping your room tidy, making your bed, and doing your laundry; cleaning staff takes care of the rest. (However on Sundays you can volunteer for additional Lodge chores to earn “TK Bucks,” which can be spent on clothing, toiletries, books and so on at the TK Store.)
Days are busy and highly scheduled, starting at 5:30am for “vitals”—aka blood draws and weigh-in—for residents who are here for eating disorders. The flow of the day, according to one woman, is “very ritualistic, with many smoke breaks of various lengths mixed in.” Morning group session happens at 7:30am, followed by breakfast and a variety of other process groups and activities, with on and offsite 12-step meetings (AA, NA, or CODA) at night. On weekdays, girls on the adolescent unit attend school classes instead of group therapy sessions.
Residents report a twin focus on 12-step and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). “I found the combination of DBT and 12-step work to be really effective and work well together,” says one. “I loved DBT groups, nightly mindfulness exercises, and the goal-setting sessions in the mornings.” There is an optional Christian track, and electives including a group for victims of abuse, self-defense classes, and more. Timberline Knolls also provides equine therapy (summer only), yoga, and art therapy. Some women are moved by the equine therapy, although others feel the offerings are a bit thin. “TK overstates these treatment modalities,” says one woman. Medicine-wise, “amazing” nurses are “readily available,” while physicians and a psychiatrist visit the facility multiple times a week for scheduled appointments.
Food is important at TK, for the obvious reason that so many of its residents struggle with it. Meals are served cafeteria-style, but are not cafeteria-quality: “The food was pretty excellent, all things considered,” says one woman. Even eating-disorder residents—who are on “meal plans,” meaning they are required to eat a certain amount of food every day—have to hand it to the chefs, citing “tons of healthy options,” including for vegetarians and vegans. While weird menu items do pop up—“I once had a horrid wrap with tofu, ranch dressing, and mandarin oranges in it,” reports one alumnae—most people find something they really like to eat, from black bean burgers to spinach and cheese quesadillas. Caffeinated coffee is available only in the morning (and only for adults), and sweets and “junk food” are pretty tightly restricted.
There is a small gym on site, but access is more restricted than it might be at a rehab that did not treat people with eating disorders. If you are on “exercise restriction,” you can’t use the gym or treadmill at all. Once you reach a certain stage in treatment (level two), and if you have attended all your groups that week, you can go on Friday off-site outings to places like Barnes & Noble, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, movie theaters, nail salons and more. Payphone time is available five to six times a day in half-hour increments, and you can watch TV for a couple of hours in the morning and at night. There is no Internet access except for discharge planning.
In general TK is pretty moderate in terms of discipline. “I wouldn't say it was strictly tough-love or permissive,” says one. “The staff was clearly informed in the field, so they knew when women were trying to manipulate them, and we didn't get away with that.” For minor rule infractions the authorities are pretty laid-back, but when something more serious happens, such as a fight or a runaway, some former residents feel this is handled poorly: “They always herded all of us into a single room and just made it more dramatic/scary than it needed to be,” says one TK graduate.
But by and large, most women who attend Timberline Knolls remember their experience fondly (although the same cannot necessarily be said for their experience dealing with insurance and financial issues related to treatment). Despite occasional “drama” that can arise from living in close quarters with 35 other women, “TK was an amazing place to be,” says one former resident. “The women and staff changed my view of myself and of the world, and I no longer wanted to live the way I was living.” Or, as another graduate succinctly puts it, “TK rules!”