As I sit in my cozy airplane window seat, I can’t help but reflect back on my Boston experience. I thought this blog would mainly be about my time at the Almost Anorexic book signing, but there is something else compelling my fingers to click away on this early morning flight home:
A word that meant nothing to me three years ago. I was an all or nothing boundary babe. My relationships were complete enmeshment or were built with barriers so high Godzilla couldn’t knock them down. It wasn’t until I went to treatment in December 2010, I heard of these so-called boundaries from my former therapist. She was known for being one of the most guarded therapists, never disclosing personal stories or information to patients.
Now nearly three years later, I can honestly say I get the whole boundary concept. Therapists are pre-programmed to put up Freudian forts, but so many of us (myself included) struggle with setting healthy boundaries. I am an over-sharer with a bleeding heart. Nonetheless, I am beginning to realize the importance of these invisible lines and how they extend far beyond the therapy couch. With my newfound life-path, I am encountering the need for these safe-walls to ensure I am able to continue on this journey with my healthiest self. And this weekend seemed to bring multiple boundary encounters
Boundary #1: The Hug
At the book signing, a father in the audience eagerly asked questions about supporting a loved one struggling with an eating disorder. You could hear the heartache in his voice; he was desperate for any information on how he could help his child. The kind man approached me after, thanking me for sharing my story. I could see the sadness and exhaustion in his loving eyes, as this illness is one that takes a toll on the entire family. He motioned his hand to someone behind me and then as if out of nowhere, a young girl appeared. She shared the same sad and tired eyes with her father, but I could still see a glint of innocence in her big brown eyes. He spoke for her and she nodded politely along and then finally murmured a soft, “Thank you.” It was all I could do not to reach out and bear hug them both, but boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Plus, I am not sure how Boston peeps would take to my southern hugging nature.
Boundary #2: Momma-Bird
Many young women stood patiently in the long line to have Jenni Schaefer and Jenny Thomas sign their copies of Almost Anorexic. I watched in awe as Jenni and Jenny took their time as each fan approached the signing table. They listened intently to every recovery story and gave countless smiles and hugs. It was truly inspirational. As the line was nearing the end, a young girl waived me over and said how awesome Southern Smash sounded. I grinned and started chatting with her and her friends about scale-smashing. This trio was clearly friends brought together by their journey of recovery. You could see the struggle in their eyes and sadly on their bodies too. As my eyes locked on their arms covered with scars, I wanted to scoop them all up and tell them it gets better…to keep fighting the good fight everyday. While I did tell them to keep fighting, I resisted my inner-mommabird instinct to pick them up and take them to the safety of the nest.
Boundary #3:Therapy Disclosure
Another boundary revelation came at the book signing after-party. I found myself having a lovely conversation with a Harvard researcher currently conducting a study on whether or not it is effective for therapists to disclose their eating disorder past with their clients. I see both sides of this argument. Some would find it effective for their therapist to be in recovery from an eating disorder, but that is a very blurry line and I can see how it can quickly turn the focus away from the patient at hand. However, one of my first treatment experiences was exactly this topic and I shared it with the researcher that evening…
One my very first day at the Carolina House, the patients were taken to a local art shop for some art therapy. When we arrived at the shop, I was on the brink of losing it. I quickly asked an RPA (Residential Patient Assistant) if I could step outside. She nodded and I ran for the door, phone in hand as I booked a flight home that evening. Much to my chagrin, the RPA followed me out the door. Being the always-put together southern lady that I was, I kindly thanked her for the experience and stated I did not need treatment. I told her a mistake had been made and I was simply going to undo it by going home. The RPA kindly asked why had I come in the first place. She then promised me that it would get better and this was worth it. My polite self cracked and I snapped back at her, “How the hell would you know?” She softly responded, “Because I am living it. I am in recovery. I have been in your shoes and I can promise you that this life is worth it.” There were no details given and there weren’t needed. It was exactly what I needed in that exact moment. I guess sometimes boundaries are meant to be broken.
Boundary #4: ‘Mini’ Breakdown
The boundary moment that impacted me the most had nothing to do with eating disorders or the book signing. It was with my sister, Jessica. Jessica is wise, wise, wise far beyond her years and frankly, beyond this lifetime. There is no doubt she has a big ole brain in her head, but what people (myself included) often forget is that she has a big ole heart in there too. Jessica has lived in and traveled to the poorest corners of the world conducting malaria research and treating its victims. It was not until an open and honest conversation this past weekend I got a tiny glimpse into the horror that her eyes have seen. I guess shame on me for never seeing it before, but Jessica does a pretty impressive job of putting up some huge T-Rex proof barriers around her. Jessica opened up in a way I have never seen. A little piece of her wall came down. From grieving tears of past patients lost to explaining her tears of pride in me, we practically flooded out her red Mini-Cooper that evening. She proclaimed that she is not programmed to gush and hug and connect with empathy, but after Friday evening, I would beg to differ.
Boston Boundary Wrap Up
My boundary practice this past year has taught me to accept that I cannot nor will I ever be able to save anyone. Recovery is an individual journey and choice. What I CAN do is offer my story in hopes they can relate to it and see that full recovery is possible. Each time I tell my story and travel, I meet people who leave a big imprint on my heart. Like I said earlier, I am not pre-programmed with strong Freudian walls, and I tend to carry these people with me, collecting inspiration with every person I meet and each recovery story I hear.
And while this weekend was incredible on so many levels, it was that raw moment in my sister’s car that really captured my heart. There is such beauty in connection and vulnerability. Boundaries certainly have their purpose and I am thankful for them. These invisible lines allow therapists to be their best, they give my sister the strength to continue in her life-saving work and they help me keep the blood flow within my heart cavity so I can continue in mine. But I guess broken boundaries have their place too. If there is one thing I’ve learned in this journey, it is that beauty is not always found in smiles and sunshine. Beauty shines brightest in those tear-soaked, imperfect moments of connection that take your breath away.