Renfrew Week Five (Pt. 1)

November  18 – 24, 2018

The weekend continued with Kelsey, Gabby, and I trying to watch small batches of Alex Strangelove. Saturday morning I woke up and we had the usual breakfast of a choice between cereal and oatmeal. I always chose oatmeal because it felt really safe for me.

Last spring when I was in my worst restrictive phase, I’d have the exact same breakfast every morning. I would bring 1/4 cup of quick 1-minute oats and a 1/2 cup of water to a solid boil. I’d add a 1/4 cup of organic sliced strawberries and a teaspoon of pure almond butter, no added sugar. I loved this breakfast because it was less than 200 calories. It was healthy. It was good but not too good to where I may lose control. It held me over until I would get home from work and class at 8pm some nights. I would accompany this with at least four cups of coffee and two full bottles of water that would help me get through the morning into afternoon. If I felt lightheaded when I got home, I’d have another spoon full of peanut butter before I took Beau for a walk or went for a run or went to bed.

So I’d always choose oatmeal when the choice arose in treatment. It felt safe and good and healthy. I avoided cereal at all costs. I associated cereal with binges and guilt. The two days before I left for treatment, I consumed two full boxes of family sized cinnamon toast crunch with almond milk. The roof of my mouth was raw and my throat hurt from forcing all of it back up. When I saw cereal, I remembered how it felt to lose control and feel so incredibly disgusted with myself.

This particular Saturday morning, I finished my oatmeal, a full cup instead of 1/4, with my package of peanut butter and banana. I felt good. It felt like a normal morning here. I didn’t feel anxious, but instead reflected on the time I’ve spent at Renfrew so far. This Saturday marked my 30th day in treatment. Before I was admitted, I imagined I would be done by day 30, ready to go back home. Fortunately I was incorrect.


We had a group after lunch to talk about the meal and our day so far. I was the last person in the corner of the room, sitting on the floor making bracelets, keeping my hands busy. When it finally got to me, I didn’t look up from my bracelet and I continued to quickly work with the string while I spoke.

“Lunch was just a meal, just a lunch. Today marks my 30th day here. And I have been reflecting back on my first day here and how different I feel today than I did 30 days ago. I feel so much more calm and strong. It is a really nice feeling. I feel optimistic about the future.”

I continued to make the bracelet, looking down. I stopped when I heard the counselor start to talk to me. “Yes, we are all able to see that. And it is such an awesome thing.” I can still hear Cecilia saying this in her Hungarian accent. Sarah, sitting on the floor next to me, pat my leg and smiled.

Following group, it was time for the end where we lifted people up who were struggling, encouraged those who had challenged themselves, or announced something we accomplished recently.

I raised my hand immediately, “I have a shout out to Gabby. Because this is day 30 for you too, since we were admitted the same day.” She looked at me in surprise. I really did not talk in groups very much at this point.

“I don’t think you can see it, but I want you to know that you have been working so hard and have progressed so much. And I know because I’ve been here with you since day one and you’ve opened up so much. I just want you to know you’re killin’ it and I’m so proud of you.” The whole room echoed, “I!” to show that they all agreed with my words.

She thanked me. I felt good. I felt like I could finally encourage others again. I could finally offer light to others again, not afraid any more of not being “positive enough” or “good enough.” I was finally starting to see that I didn’t have to be enough for any of these women, I could just be me.

A couple of weeks ago, before I made this realization, I wanted so badly to give encouragement to a girl who was going through something. She shared with us in group that her grandmother was sick and she was so upset that she couldn’t visit her, stuck here in treatment. I teared up. I remember the feelings when my Maw Maw was put into hospice. I remember attending her funeral. I can remember sobbing my guts out in pain after losing my favorite person in the world.

I wanted to lift her up in group. My heart hurt for her. But the anxiety of speaking in group or potentially saying something wrong was too overpowering. I didn’t say anything. And I kept thinking about what I wanted to tell her for the rest of the afternoon and the rest of the evening. That night I lay in bed, wide awake, with all of these feelings and words. Around 1am I pulled out my notebook to get the words out, to write her a letter. I wrote and wrote and got out all of the words I wanted to tell her. The next morning I placed it in the mailbox with her name on the bottom.

When she walked in to the community room after lunch, she slowly approached me, pulling the metal stand on wheels, holding her feeding tube, next to her. She told me, “Thank you for the letter. It made me cry.”

I couldn’t say anything. I felt so many feelings. Sadness at her sickness. Anger at her sickness. Sadness that grandmothers don’t live forever. Anxiety at sharing intimate details with a stranger. Love for her and for everyone in this room. Overwhelmed from it all. I couldn’t speak. If I said anything else, I would have cried. So I just got up and hugged her. “I love you,” she said to me. “I love you too,” I replied.

I want her to get better. I want Sarah to get better. Kelsey, Jennifer, Lauren, MC, Laura, Taylor, Christina, everyone. If I could have, I would have taken away every pain I saw them carry on their faces. And sitting there hearing her say she loved me and thanking me for my letter, I wanted to get better too. I wanted the same thing I wanted for these women surrounding me. I wanted freedom.

I started out week five with an optimism and light that I hadn’t felt in so long. I believed I could get better. I wanted to.




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