the treatment plan...

day one:

after being interviewed and assessed as a person with a serious eating disorder, I was checked into the psych unit/ eating disorder program. why a psych unit? this is where the treatment program lived - inside the four walls of a psychiatric hospital. was this scary? not yet! this was a voluntary check in - this time. not to get too far ahead, but there would be more than one stay in the psych ward/ eating disorder unit.

on the previous highlight reel was information my two bulimic/women friends had shared prior to check in - they let me know i’d lose boatloads of weight while in this very treatment program, as it was nearly impossible to binge there. all the patients food was weighed and measured, and if it wasn’t meal time, it was generally kept locked up. music to my ears.

there wasn’t much known about eating disorders at this time, but because anorexia or bulimia are almost always accompanied by depression, it was a neat and tidy add on to the hospitals psychiatric program - and billable insurance… so as the heavy metal doors clanged and shut behind me, I was soon to meet my merry band of misfits.

this is what I discovered.

people who struggle, who wake each day unhappy with their lives, or their bodies, or themselves, are some of the strongest people in the world. why? because they don’t quit. they wait, sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly, for a miracle.

a miracle can come in many forms.

because I’d landed in this hospital, because I was desperate, and yearning for an end to the unhappiness and sameness I was stuck in, when the nutritionist/dietician, the same nutritionist/dietician i’d previously brushed off, who was barely my age, who was once again seated calmly in front of me, in her very proper work attire, legs crossed, arms cradling my file, told me something - words i’m sure she’d said to others - but that moment, and those words, it cracked the stuck thing inside me. I finally understood why I was doing what I was doing. those words changed my life in that moment, and with them, I found the ability to change.

but that all happened in part 2.

i’ve never been brave

it was weird, incredibly strange and surreal, and yet in another kinder, weird way, it felt safe. you don’t have to think much when you’re in a treatment program. it’s like kindergarten - with a lot more rules - rules to wake up, rules to go to bed, lights on, lights out, meal times, group sessions, and of course, visitation hours. that is, if you’re lucky enough to have someone come visit- someone you actually want to see. let’s face it, most people here were not in the most functional relationships. addiction does that to you. it’s such a downward spiral, it tends to drag everyone down with it, because there’s just no room for anyone else, and so, it becomes all about you, or me, as the case may be.

I kept losing weight because I was in such a controlled environment, until I couldn’t lose anymore. my body rebelled. it knew I was starving to death, and a body wants to take care of you. so every calorie that went in, stayed in.

the scariest part were the drugs. hospital drugs. I didn’t know or understand prior to checking in what a teaching hospital was, or what that meant. this is the place where interns “get their hours,” where they “learn on the job,” and all the patients like me that were in the eating disorder wing, me, and my not too merry band of misfits, whose biggest pranks were smuggling in laxatives and cigarettes, or making it to the bathroom when a nurse was out of earshot- we were the lucky consumers of all the drugs they were testing.

there was just one thing I knew for sure. drugs, for some reason, terrified me.

the no cure, cure. anorexia to bulimia and back again.

there are times in life, when you just get tired, really tired. tired of normal. normal is sameness, and normal is not being in control. control for me only alluded to one thing - how many calories am I putting in my mouth? there I was, with the same problem, over and over. the measurement of success or failure strictly delineated by weight, and how few calories I’d ingested - which had me constantly verging on starvation. I considered that a good day.

after a few weeks, or months of this, there’d come a breaking point, and the bingeing would begin and round and round it went. this was painfully consistent, this circle I traveled in. social isolation becomes pretty top tier at this point. self esteem from this behavior hits ever new lows, with depression sidling in closer and closer - either from lack of food, and nourishment, or self loathing, or loneliness. take your pick, any one alone is a killer, but eating disorders seem to wrap it all in one svelte package. but not until I could fit in the exact right thing, would I go anywhere, or do anything different, at all.

I had the 500 calorie a day phase, and there was the hot air popcorn and bran muffin phase. that was my favorite. it allowed for lots and lots of time to slowly and deliberately chew, and feel relatively guilt free. the bran muffins of course, were considered to have some laxative effect, so that was a plus. it was always, how fast can I get rid of these calories? I used exercise and laxatives and enemas as companions on the journey of seeking less and less of me, until I was so thin, I felt almost invisible. but that was good, right? when I was so very thin, no one saw me, and I liked it. it felt safe. it was the same if I ballooned up to my highest weight. no one saw me then, either, because my body was padded and insulated from the world I clearly found so terrifying.

this drama I realized, was never going to end, and I was exhausted. I wanted it to stop but I had no idea how to make that happen. the pattern I’d created and fallen into had been with me for so many years, from that tiny beginning in my teens when I asked myself - am I too fat?

so it was then, when a couple of women I knew who were bulimic, told me about a clinic in San Francisco. they said you didn’t need to pay for it if you qualify for medi- cal. which of course, I did, as I was barely able to hold a job. working at all depended on how tight my skirt was. if it wasn’t, I could work. otherwise, the shame and embarrassment I felt about my body was so strong, I wouldn’t show up.

I did go to that eating disorder clinic - which was not an eating disorder clinic at all - but a psychiatric hospital. desperation breeds strange bedfellows.

to be continued

eating disorders, cont...

I’ve been plagued with every manner of eating disorder in my short life. the first started with the plain irritation of being irrefutably too thin. at the wrong time. like when I was 12. every single one of my friends were on diets. in high school, the grapefruit and egg one was big, as was Atkins, or, the “I only eat lettuce and carrots” one. when I’d go to these “I will not eat, but I will cook for you!” friends homes, they’d delight in stuffing me with grilled cheese sandwiches and piroshki - because as anyone on a diet knows, there’s nothing better than watching other people eat what you won’t… with the secret hope they’ll get fat, right?

up until college, I could still eat a bear - not a real one, but I could out eat anyone, and never gain an ounce. then something happened. all the girls around me, as usual, were on a diet. it got to me. I thought, maybe I was too fat? this was the first time this had occurred to me, so I too went on a diet, a very restrictive, college freshman type of diet. I’d have one box of instant oatmeal with a carton of milk in the morning, and a nice, hot, stove top ramen at night. period. I must’ve lost a lot of weight, but I liked it. I felt good. in control. I felt sexy and powerful and I thought, I had this! until I got really hungry, and m & m’s and chocolate and peanut butter and chips and pretty much anything else not tied down, started calling my name. loudly. and so it began. the nightmare. and it always was at night, mostly. there seemed to be a part of me in control during the day. but when the lights went on, and dusk settled in, let’s face it, I was hungry, and, I did not have a plan. the only plan was to not eat. but the part of me that wanted to eat seemed to have more say, and more power, and so another day would be ruined by a giant binge, and once you get started, I mean, why stop? it’s all ruined anyway, right?

fat camp... the heroes journey

you know that ten pounds, we all seem to want to lose? well, maybe not everybody, but, it seems like most people want to improve their health, or their waistline. especially their waistline. i guess the new science is letting us know that our girth, the width, the measurement of our waistline you know, at the belly, the belly button, um, that could be a great determiner of your longevity, or your health. so, I decided that my waistline needed a little uh, rehab, and I wasn’t quite sure how to make that happen. this all started by the way, when I turned a certain age, which along with that certain age came a certain hormonal change. y’all know what I’m talking about, right? that menopause thing? well, nobody had told me that menopause is sort of this cyclical arc. you know, you start out actually in your twenties and thirties with peri menopause, and before that you get your menstrual cycle.

um. I wonder why it’s called a men-strual cycle? why does it start with men?

anyway, it should be a wo-men-stroll-cycle. I kind of like that better. anyway, um, so it’s all kind of a arc - you know, kind of like the hero’s journey, sort of, by Joseph Campbell. you know how he talks about uh, the different stages that you go through? well, it’s the same with your wo-men-stroll-cycle. it’s like you go thru different stages. you get your period- and why’s it called a period? because maybe they’re letting you know at some point in your life it will stop. period. the end . that’s probably why it’s called your period. so, even though you get it now, period. it will stop. that was probably a good reason why they called it a period.

but anyway, when I found out in my 40’s that I was in peri menopause, which I had never heard of, which is before, as opposed to after, then what happened is, um, it was with my friend Judy, we were um, having hamburgers. because you know when you’re having your period which stop/ slash means it will stop at some point, you crave certain things. a lot of women crave chocolate, or meat, red meat, and that could be from the loss of iron, um because when you’re sloughing off all that you know, blood. I’m not good with blood by the way. I mean that kind of blood was ok, and when I say was, you can obviously understand that I am in the post menopausal phase. in other words, I’ve stopped my period. it’s a period. it ended.

so what happened is, during all this, my waistline decided to gain two inches. now, was this because of my hormonal changes? was this because of other things going on? I don’t know if I’ll ever really know the answer because I can’t go back there 15 years now when it all started, starting.

but what ended up happening is, I did get rather a wider girth. um, and as I mentioned in the beginning, the technology of measuring your waistline at the belly button to determine the state of your health is sort of the new modality, so I felt I better lose some inches, off this mystery girth that decided to uh, show its face.

and, so, I went to fat camp.

i’m not fat, you guys, just FYI. but there’s this skinny fat thing they have. it’s when you don’t appear to be carrying extra weight, but your body is composed of more fat than muscle, or something proportionately that is not appropriate. so anyway, so I went to fat camp where I hoped to lose the fat.

there was just one problem. I didn't.