Sunday, September 22, 2019


Well, I gave it a go. Five weeks in a group home. Pretty sure I always knew that it wasn’t the right eating disorder treatment setting for a fifty-four-year-old extreme introvert. So much of my life can be compared to that Fisher Price toy where you try to match up triangles and diamonds and push them through the corresponding slot in a larger spherical object. The circle can never be jammed through the square space, no matter how hard you push, no matter how many times you rotate it. I’m a shape—something more complex than a circle, something with more jagged edges—that has yet to find its slot in the bigger sphere of life. Shrug, shrug…

Maybe somewhere down the line, weeks or months from now, I’ll feel some regret that treatment didn’t work. Maybe anger and resentment will surface. Why only one model of intervention? Was my perennial “misfit” stance only a convenient cop-out? Did I have one foot out the door during my entire stay?

Wrong program? Wrong time? Both? Yeah, probably both. There is plenty of time to process things. Later. For now I am greatly relieved. I’m thrilled to have my freedom back, my autonomy. That includes my disordered behaviors: my opportunity to exercise more, perhaps excessively; my ability to restrict food again for large chunks of the day; my chance to lose another pound and a half. (Yes, there always seems to be weight to lose. Couching it in small amounts helps me minimize that this is probably a bigger problem.

The fact that my weight falls within a “normal” range is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s been very frustrating to open up to people about my struggle and have them seem to offer their own diagnosis: “You don’t have an eating disorder.” So much for the opinions of psychologists, psychiatrists and dietitians. Eating disorder behaviors are typically done in secret. I don’t exhibit the signs, nor does my body seem to show the effects. That last part is the good thing about my situation. I’m not in any danger of dying. I’m like a frustrated dieter: all my efforts to slim down are for naught. My doctor gives me a clean bill of health on every visit. He consistently says I’m incredibly fit and all is good, physically at least.

Out of program, I’m right back where I started. I’m greatly relieved, in large part because I’m out of a group environment that didn’t suit me. But I’m also relieved that I can go back to being me. No more meal plan that makes me feel like I’m being force-fed. No more activity protocol that leaves me feeling guilty over stunted workouts and sends me into a panic that I’m losing muscle and gaining fat. No more babble about coping mechanisms and thinking traps. Hello again, cottage cheese; so long, peanut butter. I’m happy that I can feel hunger again instead of being constantly bloated.

I’ve spent the past twenty months half-heartedly trying to overcome my eating disorder. The nagging worry when I began was that maybe help was coming too late for disordered ways of being that I’ve relied upon, off and on, for four decades. When I was discharged from hospital in late May completely unchanged, I had an overwhelming, crushing feeling that I failed. It’s a small victory that I’m not so critical of myself this time around. Wrong program, wrong time. Nothing to beat myself up over. I’m free again. I can go back to focusing on losing that last pound and a half. Or maybe more. I keep telling myself I’ll know when to stop.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Things started out well enough.
I do like my oat milk lattes!   
After a week of mindless texting (Yes, I’m still fine. And you?), Alan and I finally met in person. He’d suggested meeting for coffee so I came up with a place in between where we both lived—my regular writing spot on weekend mornings. I arrived early and it felt odd being in a familiar place at a different time. Same employees who know me by name even though I only know them as “you” and “you”. (Like Starbucks, they ask your name when they take your order.) I sat one table over from my usual spot and let my decaf oat milk latte sit as I passed time paging through a travel book I’d bought for an upcoming trip.
Alan sauntered in wearing an MTV ball cap, jeans and a champagne colored polo shirt that showed off bulging biceps. Instead of lining up to place his order, he sat at the stool opposite me, seemingly settled in for our conversation. Yet this unsettled me. I didn’t want to start talking and then have it interrupted after a minute.
Are you getting something?” I asked.
He smiled and said, “If I have coffee now, I won’t be able to sleep.”
Fair enough. “My drink’s a decaf,” I said. It didn’t register as a suggestion. And so we sat and stared at one another, presumably both of us looking for an entry point into a conversation. He said something but I couldn’t hear. They try to create a different vibe in the cafe at night, louder music and all.
I remained uncomfortable, unable to shake an unreasonable self-consciousness that I’d brought in a freeloader date to a familiar haunt of mine. What would “you” and “you” think? It only makes sense that if you go somewhere, you order something.
So you’re not having anything?”
I thought they’d have beer.” I squinted at the menu posted high on the wall behind the counter. Nope. No beer. A coffee place that serves coffee. And here I’d thought I’d done well as the location scout after his week-old text, “How about we meet for coffee?”
And just to clarify, I turned a question into a statement: “So you’re not having anything.”
I’m good.”
I wasn’t. “How ‘bout I drink just a little of this and then we go someplace else?”
There’s a bar across the street,” he said, smiling once again.
There was some stilted conversation as I took a few latte chugs. A risky move. If I consume hot drinks too quickly, it tends to seep out in sweat. Not a good first date look. Even knowing this, my family’s belief, Don’t be wasteful, won out. I flashed forward in my mind to an hour later, Alan a slurring, drunken mess and me sitting uncomfortably in a slightly too tight tee, being overtaken by growing pit stains. Maybe the vision should have prompted me to call it a night. Nice to meet you. So sorry, I feel a migraine coming on. Or something like that.
Okay, it could have been worse.  
But no. We stepped across the street to the bar only to discover that it closed in half an hour. What bar closes at nine at night?! We walked a block and slipped into another bar that didn’t close until ten. (I’m not much of a night person these days and apparently neither is my neighborhood.) I made the mistake of letting Alan choose his seating preference. As I took my seat facing the wall, I noticed a dead pheasant fastened to red brick and then gazed left and right to see a taxidermy zoo keeping the bird company. So not my thing. There would be no gazing this way and that from me. To cope with The Wall of the Dead I’d have to keep my focus on Alan. There’s a plus side to mounted roadkill after all.
The conversation on the walk over hadn’t gone anywhere. Can’t really form a bond over the fact that neither of us likes heavy metal. After we ordered drinks, I tossed out the standard “What kind of work do you do?” Perhaps it was out of nervousness but this led to him launching into spouting off a series of jobs he’d gone through, none seeming to last more than a month. So he won the I’ve-had-more-jobs-than-you contest, but I wasn’t exactly impressed. Still, he was currently employed (though thinking of quitting), which is more than I could say for myself. Can I say I’m a writer if I’ve only had one paid gig this year and I keep being told, “The check is in the mail”?
Alan (wisely) switched the subject, asking me, “How long ago was your last relationship?” It’s a dangerous first date question. Haven’t we all heard that you steer clear of talking about exes in the early going? I simply answered that it had been almost two years. Gosh, time flies. There was no follow-up and, knowing basic dating rules, I didn’t volunteer anything more. I simply did the courteous thing, turning the question to him.
And apparently Alan didn’t know the basic dating rules. That or things were too raw. His four-year relationship only ended three months ago. And they were still living together in the same condo until the end of the month.
From then on, my role was that of passive psychotherapist. I had to nod every once in a while and furrow my brow once or twice. Alan had a lot to unload. As he got more comfortable (inversely related to my growing discomfort), he replayed his side of conversations he’d had with his ex, pre- and post-breakup. Alan’s eye contact shifted from me to his ex who, in Alan’s mind, had taken a seat just to my right. Whole scenes played out, nothing mercifully condensed, as Alan laid his case against the ex who chatted up three different guys online while they were still together. Bad ex, no question about it.
I was relieved when we’d both finished our drink and figured I’d flag the server, take care of the bill and flee. But, in addition to having to avoid staring at dead animals on the wall, my seating position left me with the disadvantage of not being able to see the waiter. Alan raised a hand, tapped his empty glass and round two was on the way.
Please help me.
Clearly Alan had more to get out of his system and I knew we’d be there until the waiter leaned over and said, “Guys, we’re closing.” It’s true...sometimes time really does tick by slower than others.
I got to hear about more transgressions of the ex. How he loaded the ladle in the dishwasher was a major issue. (How often does one use a ladle anyway?!) Still, the most hurtful post-breakup behavior of the ex was that he’d stopped including Alan’s dirty clothes when doing laundry while Alan still included the ex’s undies and such when he loaded the washer. Alan continued to state his case to the invisible guy on my right as I unsuccessfully tried to will his drink glass to empty faster. I am no David Copperfield.
Yes, as it turns out, having bars that close early in my neighborhood is a good thing. As we walked the single block to where I knew we’d head off in different directions, Alan stroked my forearm and patted my back. Asking for feedback about “us”, I thought I was pretty clear, saying I didn’t feel a connection and adding that his immediate focus should perhaps be on moving out and settling into his own place. I was about to say, “Good luck with all that” when he started pressing for when we could go out again. Suddenly I created the busiest weekend ahead of me that I’ve had in years. Dinners. A hike. Helping a friend with a plumbing problem. (Me?!)
Well, I’ll be in touch,” he said. Sure, sure. I was free after a goodbye hug.
Alan sent two texts later that night, pressing to nail down next time. I knew the best thing to do was wait. Death by text came the next day as I sat in the cafe where the night had begun. Let this be my writing place once again and nothing more.