November 26 – December 3rd
After breakfast on Monday, I returned to the couch upstairs. I just wanted to rest my eyes before group, so I was sitting upright with my feet resting in front of me on another chair. I had my blanket around me, exhausted, so I soon drifted off. I woke up to Sarah, writing at the table at the back of the room, saying something to Liz as she was walking up the stairs.
I straightened my previously resting head, opened my eyes and I gave a light smile to greet her. I tried to give off the impression that I was just sitting there, relaxing. Not anxiously trying to chase a single moment of sleep.
Liz took a seat on the couch perpendicular to mine. She had her clipboard and she looked a little nervous. Or maybe it was a look of sympathy. It was similar to the look she gave me on my second day, when I was so tired I lay my head on the table in exhaustion. Whatever it was, she had a different look in her eyes than usual when we joked and laughed. She asked how the weekend was. I told her I didn’t sleep much. I told her I had four panic attacks. She nodded and said, “You definitely seem.. off.”
I felt off. I didn’t feel well at all. I felt nauseous, anxious, exhausted, strung out. I wanted to crawl into a hole. I wanted to leave. “When am I going home?” I ask for the very first time in six weeks. Women around me complained in groups about how they would ask for a discharge day and their therapists wouldn’t give them a direct answer. I never asked because I never felt like I was even relatively ready. I assumed Liz would tell me when I was ready, when I would discharge.
“I’m hoping for Monday, but it might be Friday. There are some T-Stage exposures over the weekend.”
I felt relief. I wanted to leave to get away from the fear and anxiety I was feeling the past few days. I wanted an escape from my escape. My warm bed at home with my dog snuggled up to me sounded nice. Everything else outside these walls didn’t sound quite as safe. I didn’t want to say goodbye to anyone here, but I missed my friends. I was ready to leave. This place no longer felt perfectly, 100% safe from everything. No where would ever truly be perfectly safe from everything.
“We need to work on you sleeping in your bed.” She mentioned a few different options. I didn’t really feel interested or invested in this project. I just needed to live through this week so I could leave and go home. I just needed to survive, to tolerate everything. I didn’t care where I slept. Yes, I was tired, but sleeping was out of the question. Only one more week like this.
Liz checked the schedule and then told me that she was glad that Sarah was in T-Stage group with me. She went back downstairs and I stood up from the couch to sit next to Sarah at the table. We looked through our new T-Stage packets. I made the horrible realization that the packet was only full of empty lists of exposures and exposure worksheets. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was sinking in that this whole week would just be exposing myself to uncomfortable, anxiety provoking situations. I lay my head on the table. I screamed internally.
Nick, the dietician I met on my second day here, walked up the stairs to meet Sarah and I. I realized why Liz told me she was glad I had Sarah. There’s no way I would have willingly sat alone with Nick at this table right now, especially in this exhausted and anxious state.
Another patient starting T-Stage with us joined a little late. The four of us began to plan our food exposures for the week with Nick. There was a list of hierarchies to fill out. Box number ten, at the very bottom, would be 1/10 on the anxiety-provoking scale. This would be distressing and challenging but on a lower scale. The boxes would gradually work their way up to the top, numbers nine through one. The box at the top, box number one, would be the most distressing situation related to food.
On Wednesday Sarah, Roseann, and I would be going on an outing to a restaurant. Nick asked if anyone had any places in mind. Sarah seemed very panicked. She hadn’t eaten at a restaurant in a while and it made her feel really anxious. I thought about how she had told me that she loved Mexican Food. “What about a Mexican restaurant? We could get margaritas!” I joked and smiled at Sarah to maybe help her calm down.
She looked excited for maybe a fraction of a second. Nick told us no margaritas. “But what if I told you I’m super scared of margaritas? I need to face my fears.”
After the tiny, initial reaction of loving Mexican food, fear washed over Sarah. Mexican food is one of the only foods she would let herself indulge in before she got here. Her food hierarchy includes chips and salsa, eating at a restaurant, eating with other people, and a few others that could all be tackled at one time if we went to eat Mexican food. She started to freak out a bit. She would be skipping the less intense exposures and skip straight to her highest anxiety provoking ones.
“Would this be challenging for anyone else?” Nick asked.
I froze. I didn’t stop to think about what this would mean for me. I love Mexican food. I always eat Mexican food for my birthday, requested margarita dates with friends.
And I have purged in every disgusting Mexican restaurant bathroom in Fayetteville. Mexico Viejo, El Matador, Mojito’s, Sabor Guacamole. I never turned down Mexican food dates with friends even in the worst parts of my eating disorder because I love it so much. If I knew about it enough in advance I wouldn’t eat anything in preparation. But loving it so much made me lose control, hate myself, and then compensate.
So yes, this was going to be challenging for me too. We agreed on Mexican food and would meet in front of the nurses station at 11:30 on Wednesday. We finished discussing the rest of our assignment, to challenge ourselves with food exposures during meals and with our therapists this week. Nick packed up and headed to the dining hall to supervise lunch. Sarah and I sat there for a second internally screaming in silence.
Once we filled our trays in the dining hall, no one needed to check us off to make sure we met all of our exchanges. We decided to sit out on the porch which was a privilege of being on “fix-own” dining structure. We were allowed to eat wherever we wanted in the dining hall or outside on the porch.
The weather outside was a muggy, hot day already. The sun shone on the grounds, the same healing garden I retreated to my first day here. We found a table that was relatively in the shade.
We talked like human beings. We didn’t sit there and obsess over serving sizes, calories, or the amount of sugar in our food. We didn’t shake in fear or sit in silence. We laughed. I told her about my friends at home, my family, we talked about books. And it occurred to me that I felt.. normal. I felt like a 23 year old having a normal lunch with her friend outside on a nice day. I didn’t feel impending doom, like I was panicked, crazy, or in danger. I sat in this feeling for as long as it lasted. I looked forward to returning home and eating lunch with my friends, with Megan and Lauren and Kristin. Making conversation, laughing, listening to what’s going on in their lives. Which they’ve been shoving aside to comfort me for the past year. We could think and talk about things other than food. I couldn’t even recall the last time I did that so naturally.