Session One: September 28, 2015
Lesson: Rules Are Made To Be Broken
She sits across from me, her eyes full of sadness as I try my best to recall all of the rules.
“I have to go to the gym every day, there’s no way around it. If I miss a day I have to go twice the next day, or double the workout in one session. I go when I’m sick, too.”
The words come out like I’m reciting a shopping list; one after another I dictate the rules with little to no emotion. This is just what is. This is life.
She looks up from her notepad, confused.
“But why are you thirsty?”
I realize I left out a rule.
“I can’t drink water after the workout. I have to lose the weight I gained from the night before by working out. If I drink water, the weight comes back. I know it’s water weight, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t be that number on the scale. So I can’t drink water. Also, sometimes it’s harder to lose the weight with just the workout. I guess my body gets used to the cardio. On those days I have to wear layers so that I can sweat more — sometimes two layers, sometimes five. It depends. I’ve worked out in a leather bomber before, and I cover it up with a sweatshirt so nobody at the gym can see. I get really tired on those days. Yeah, those are hard days, I guess.”
The rules start the minute I wake up and are all consuming.
No matter how sunny, the morning is always the darkest time of day. 9am. How many calories did you eat yesterday? The counting starts. 1,600. That means three hours of cardio at the gym. I’m thirsty. You can have three sips of water. Hungry. A sucking candy should do. No more than 50 calories before 9pm.
I look at the therapist and I feel guilty, like a fraud. I’m not trying hard enough. I want help, I do. I just don’t know where to begin. This is who I am.
A week ago I left my life in New York to begin outpatient treatment in my hometown. It was a decision not even I saw coming, but once I made it, I knew there was no looking back. I had had an awful year job-wise, and in recent months had become sad, despondent, depressed. In a miracle moment, it hit me that maybe at the root of all my problems was the prison I created for myself 15 years ago, and so I booked a flight home, just like that. I’m exhausted. I want out. Finally.
My mother set me up with a therapist she trusted, and I trusted my mother. I hadn’t seen a therapist in well over 10 years, so it’s safe to say I was a bit nervous before I got in the room.
I have to make sure she knows all the rules or this might not work. But will I be able to remember them all? How can I fit 15 years of rules into a 60 minute session? Where do I even start?
“I know by looking at me you wouldn’t think I have a problem. Well, first glance anyway. But that’s because I’m not actually anorexic. I was 15 years ago, but that’s a long time, my body had to survive. I mean, I know the science of it all…the less calories I eat, the slower my metabolism gets. But that never seems to matter–I can’t break the rules. And as a result it just gets harder. I eat less and less, work out more and more. But I eat. That’s the part that’s hard to explain. I refer to myself as a functioning anorexic. Like, I know I have a problem, and because I know it, I’m able to come up with schemes to trick myself into thinking I’m not causing my body any harm. The eating disorder never goes away, it just morphs. And that’s why I’m here.”
“A very wise realization.”
“Well I’ve had 15 years to think about it.”
She laughs. “Have you tried therapy in the past?”
“Yes, years ago.”
“And how did that go?”
“Obviously very well.”
She laughs agin. “I see you’ve kept your humor.”
“It’s how I cope. Joking about it numbs the pain.”
Numbness. This comes up again in the session.
“Your older sister–married, kids?”
“Congratulations. And you, do you have a boyfriend?”
This time it’s my turn to laugh. “No, never. I’m sure you’re not surprised though.”
“No, I’m not. Are you ashamed to let anyone see this side of you?”
“That’s a complicated question. But, I wouldn’t say that because I’m ashamed…I’m very honest about my issues. I’ve learned that just openly telling people takes pressure off me to act normal.”
“What about your sex life?”
“Never had one. I mean, I’ve had sex. But I’ve never felt what normal people feel. I don’t feel anything, actually. So yeah, I’m not likely to go to bed with anyone. I just don’t care.”
“How could you with all these rules? What do you feel when you are working out at the gym?”
She nods. “You’ve removed yourself from your own body. You spend hours at the gym every day, you’ve had no choice. You starve yourself all day long, and you don’t even feel it. You sit at a table filled with food and don’t feel the slightest temptation. You are numb. It’s going to take time, but in order to start feeling things again, you have to learn how to reconnect with your body, and let go of the rules.”
I am ready. “I’ve always said rules are meant to be broken.”
She looks me in the eye.”You can’t just rip it off. It’s like a thread that has been woven into you over a period of 15 years, and now, we have to carefully remove the thread one stitch at a time.”
This is happening in real time, and I will continue to journal my journey as I go. I have no agenda, just a promise to keep. And by placing this journey here, I know there’s no going back.
We live in a society accustomed to thinking success is only based off your pay grade. But ask any old person and I swear they will tell you,
you don’t have anything if you don’t have your health and happiness. Well, I think it’s time we start realizing that at an earlier age.
So you see, my story, or my issue– it’s also about you. I will share my journey because it’s the only one I know, but as I do, look at your life, and make sure all the really important things are in place.
It’s okay to slow down. Take all the time you in the world you need to figure out what you need and where you will find it, and then go get it. Life is too short.