February 9, 2011
Up and down. Up and down. One step at a time, then two. I raced up and down the stairs unpacking my bags into my new hotel home. It was my first night on partial. My first night away from the Carolina House. I felt so free. After two months in a residential treatment center, I was finally alone. Or so I thought.
Up and down. Up and down. My mind raced with numbers. How many calories was I burning with each flight? What was I going to eat for dinner? What if I didn’t eat dinner? The eating disorder ‘what ifs’ were incessant and the possibilities were endless when it came to restriction, purging, exercise or whatever else my Ed mind called for.
No, I thought. No. I don’t want you ED. I want recovery. I was so proud I finally made it to partial where I only spend my day in treatment and had the night to myself. But I wasn’t alone, my eating disorder was perched on my shoulder.
The car was finally unloaded and I looked around, feeling terrified, excited and overwhelmed. A short while later I stood over stove and smiled at the eggplant Parmesan I was cooking. I was so proud of myself. This was recovery and I was doing it!
One hour later the toilet flushed. I emerged from the tiny hotel bathroom with watery, red eyes. I methodically leaned over the sink beginning my post-purge ritual: wash face, brush teeth, wash face again.
The warm washcloth covered my face and I slowly pulled it down to see the girl staring back at me. I hated her. After all of my time in treatment, I still couldn’t get my shit together. I was still a failure. I was destined to forever live with this monster in my head. I wanted to die.
February 12, 2016
I sank into the plush white couch at Oliver Pyatt Treatment Center. I was there on a professional visit, but made it very clear I preferred being with patients over professionals. I had spent the previous two days talking and hanging out with the patients. Today I was invited to eat lunch with one of the residential groups.
I listened to the brave women in the the pre-meal group as they each reported on their hunger levels and how they were feeling about the meal – bagel sandwiches.
“I’m a five hunger level. And I am working to dispel the myths about bagels I grew up hearing from my mom.”
“I’m not hungry at all.”
“I’m a 4.5. The meal and its components sounds good. I am going to be open minded to try and enjoy this meal.”
I resonated with each woman’s feelings and fear. I knew those feelings all too well about a bagel. When I was in my eating disorder, a bagel was the equivalent of eating arsenic. The massive carb was scary and off limits, which is why I eat bagels all the time now to prove my ED wrong. As it turns out, bagels are delicious!
We left the group room and headed to the dining table. I sat down and smiled as I saw the delicious bagel sandwich loaded with sprouts, avocado, cheese, meat and…mayo. I hate mayo.
Five years ago I would’ve freaked out. Like keeled over. Mayonnaise could not so much as touch my plate, much less my lips. However, I could not opt out of mayo in treatment. I had to face my mayo demons head on. In doing so, I realized that mayo actually will not not kill me. I’m still not a huge fan of it, but it doesn’t stop me from eating. If a restaurant gets my order wrong, I no longer panic and send it back. I just eat it and move on with my day.
I picked up the bagel sandwich and started enjoying lunch, but more than anything I was enjoying the company around me. The women laughed and we shared stories and jabs at the funny Recovery Coach. I witnessed some struggle at the table. Bagels are such a difficult food. It was a really hard lunch for the women and I completely understood. I was once in their shoes and sat in the same ED bagel fear.
As the women processed their post-meal feelings, I listened in complete awe. My eyes welled with tears as I watched the women support, validate and compliment each other. I said nothing. I did not need too, these women were amazing.
There was one woman in particular who’s process talk knocked the wind out of me. Correction: She knocked the wind out of me. She spoke so calmly and softly, her voice could hardly be detected. She held years of pain in her eyes, but spoke with such courage. I listened in complete awe of her as she recounted the difficult lunch. She acknowledged her victories and cried tears of pain. The women quickly gathered to her side, showing their support and solidarity. The older woman’s tears then turned to tears of gratitude as she thanked the young women beside her for caring and supporting her through the meal.
Her tears dried up as quickly as they came. She bowed her head, signifying she was done speaking. My tears still lingering on. While I could see and feel her hurt, I could see something I am not sure she sees yet – courage. She was hands down one of the most incredibly courageous women I have ever encountered. Admitting yourself to treatment is courageous, painfully and hugely courageous. But doing this work after decades of struggle, putting herself out there and acknowledging her victories, no matter how small they might have seemed, was huge. Accepting the support and showing gratitude for it was even bigger. My prayer is for her to continue this brave work so that one day she can look in the mirror and see the same amazing person I saw today.
As I sit in the airport and quietly process my last few days, I am overcome with joy, gratitude and sadness. I watch as people around me order food, laugh with friends and race to flights. I wonder if they know the incredible people I have just met. I wonder if they know what life is like inside the walls of a treatment center.
You will never find a group of people who are more vulnerable, strong, witty, funny, creative and fan-freaking-tastic than you will behind the doors of a treatment center. These men and women are incredible. I have no idea why God chose me to do this work, but it is an absolute privilege and honor for me to sit amongst such extraordinary people.
I don’t visit treatment centers to change patients’ lives or tell them life is going to be rainbows when they leave. Far from it. Part of me goes for my own selfish reasons. I was called to share my story. Not to heal anyone else, but to heal myself. To tell my story on repeat to that young girl inside me. The young girl who was so loved, but could not receive the love. The young girl who was alone in her closet hurting and crying. The young girl who had thoughts that this world would be better without her. That young girl who thought she was weird and different and was not worth taking up space on this planet. That is why I share my story. I do it for her. I tell her story that she kept silenced for too long.
As it turns out, so many people I connect with know that young girl because they are trying to heal their younger self as well. We all are. I always hated when my therapist, Mary, would talk about the young girl inside of me. I would tell Mary, “Can we please just put that young girl in the trunk and shut it? I’m tired of talking about her.” No such luck. And now I am so thankful Mary didn’t let me trunk slam her. She is and will always be a part of me. Today, I nurture her, I feed her, I love her. And above all else, I love myself.
I would give anything to create a pill to give to those struggling with an eating disorder so they could skip to the part of recovery I am in now. But as it turns out, I am not a chemist or a magician. They have to do the work. I always make very clear that is what recovery is – work.
It is choosing recovery every single day – as painful as it is. Every bite, every meal, every minute you have to sit with those feelings that hurt. You must feel them. You must grieve the past in order to move forward. You must learn to fall and stand back up. You must learn that falling doesn’t mean failure. And above all else, you must give yourself some grace and be gentle with yourself.
As the last woman shared her post-meal feelings, I asked if I could share something. With tears in my eyes, I told the women how thankful I was they asked me to lunch today. I explained what a privilege it is for me to join them. I thanked them for an amazing day and for refilling my spirit with such hope and love.
I reminded them that while my life and recovery may seem easy today, it is only because I did the really hard work for years to get to where I am. I worked every day and got stronger with every choice and was easy on myself when I slipped. I am not recovered today because my eating disorder wasn’t that bad or because I am a unicorn. I am where I am today because I worked for it, because I choose recovery. I can eat (and enjoy) mayo laden bagel sandwiches because I have worked really, really hard to dispel those myths.
This life of recovery, my life today is so rich. It is so sweet. I will never have enough words or adjectives to describe to someone what life is like today. I will also never take for granted what this life is and where I have been. I carry my story and my struggle with such pride because I have overcome. I have survived and continue to survive every day. And so can you.
To each and every OPC woman I met and those who I had special time with…
Thank you. Thank you for letting me in. Thank you for sharing and trusting your story with me. I carry you with me always. My prayer for you all is the same – that one day you feel this freedom, that you are gentle on your spirit on those hard days. I pray that you know your life and worth are not tied to your body, weight or eating disorder. I pray you one day see the incredibly courageous woman looking back at you in the mirror. I pray you see the woman I see. I pray you see your strength and worth. I pray you find your passion and follow it. I pray you stumble so that you can come to know falling doesn’t mean failure. I pray you know your worth and that you are worth recovery and this treatment. I pray you see what so many of us see. And above all else, I pray that you believe in yourself always…because I do and I always will.
With lots of love and recovery light,