Excited

Tomorrow I start my second clinical affiliation. I was super nervous about how I’d manage full-time clinic with therapy three times a week. Turns out the physical therapy office I was assigned to is literally three blocks from my therapist.

Huh. Interesting how that worked out, eh?

finally got my schedule from my clinical instructor. I was originally assigned a week of mid-shifts, but I asked to switch with my fellow student so now I have a schedule that allows me to go to therapy right after my internship on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I am very looking forward to getting back into a regular routine. Therapy has felt sporadic and far away lately. We’ve been mostly puzzling our schedules together, trying to make the pieces fit as best we can. I was totally checked out emotionally during finals week, so I kinda feel like I haven’t really been in therapy since late November. We did have one phone session while I was away, but I was so distant and walled up that it didn’t really feel like much of anything.

But she came in to see clients on the 28th and that session was fruitful. I felt very relaxed and spoke openly about how much I’ve been struggling with my eating disorder. I think she was relieved that we were finally really talking about this in a way that allowed for more options. Since I was going to see my psychiatrist later that week, she asked if I would be willing to share about this with the doctor as well.

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Orphan

I want to write about Thanksgiving, but it’s hard to even remember much about it.

My wife’s grandmother passed away unexpectedly a few short days before the holiday, leaving her family scrambling to figure out funeral arrangements on top of holiday planning. Wife has been understandably emotional. Her family is predictably WASP-y, all but ignoring the death of their matriarch.

There was virtually no mention of her during the holiday spent together.

Not a single person asked about me. Or my wife. Or anyone, really. They talked about sports, television, Broadway, politics. There were some heated discussions, which is always confusing since we’re all vehemently liberal. We’re on the same damn side.

Somehow we found a way to argue about politics anyway. I suppose it’s not a holiday without that requisite?

The food was terrifying. I’d made a plan and I mostly stuck to it, but the tiny variation from that plan has me reeling even now. My intake has been dangerously low ever since in some futile attempt to even the balance and prevent imminent danger.

I wish I’d taken photos of what I ate. I always overestimate how much I eat in my head. Sometimes just visualizing what was actually on my plate at a later time helps me understand normal portions.

Whatever that means.

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Pickles

When I was 11, my parents hosted Thanksgiving. In my family, we generally ate breakfast and then fasted until gorging ourselves on the impending feast in the early afternoon. There were no appetizers or snacking pre-turkey. Partly because I grew up poor and partly because my family is punitive around food. 

So that’s about six or seven hours without food. Which, when you’re 11, is a long time. 

On this particular holiday, my mother put a dish of pickles out on the table just before dinner. They were sweet pickles, the “bread and butter” type, sliced into pieces. 

Our dining room table was pulled apart with the extra leaves stuck in to make room for more guests. It barely fit into the dining room. I was carefully navigating my way between the wall and a line of chairs when I spotted the pickles. The porcelain dish sat next to a tiny pickle fork used only for this occasion. 

I impulsively reached for the pickles. I was hungry and I love sweet pickles. 

My uncle, however, was watching me. He was standing on the threshold between the dining room and family room, arms crossed, apparently surveying his environment. 

Just as I put the first pickle slice in my mouth, my uncle pointing at the remaining 2-3 slices in my hand and said,

“See, Andi, that’s why you’re fat.”

I can’t remember what I said. Probably nothing. I think I was stunned and embarrassed, so I just shrugged. I was also mid-chew, so I finished eating. And since I’d already touched the other slices, I ate those too. 

Later on when dinner was served, it was the first time I restricted what I ate for the sake of not wanting to be held responsible for “being fat”.  I also felt acutely aware that people may be watching me eat, thinking the very same thoughts my uncle did as he watched me eat the pickle slices. 

He violated me. He humiliated me. I was a hungry little girl who was innocently eating a few slices of sweet pickle. He intruded on my moment of pleasure to shame and guilt me for a very natural thing: eating because I was hungry and the food in front of me looked good. 

I don’t think I have ever been able to do that since. 

He’s a shit person who has no influence on my life now whatsoever. But that moment, and his choices in that moment, had a profound impact on me.

And from that experience, I learned that I could control uncomfortable emotions by altering the amount, type, and quality of food I eat. I also learned that “fat” is highly undesirable and I should do everything in my power to avoid it. 

A lesson that has tormented me ever since and come into full relapse for just over a year now. 

Can I just sleep until Friday??

Fuck Thanksgiving. 

A Life In Numbers

Content Warning: Disordered Eating

After my therapist and I finished the conversation about scary movies, I changed the topic to food. November 4th marked one year since I relapsed into my eating disorder and I had a calorie tracking chart to show for it. I said,

“So I brought a document with me today.”

“A document? Well, that sounds…formal.”

I laughed and pulled out my folder. I explained that the 4th marked this specific anniversary and outlined the chart for her. The numbers are in different colors: green for “good”, yellow for “caution”, red for “bad”, and blue for “best”. Each day lists the exact number of calories I ate and the font corresponds with the appropriate color. The bottom of each column gives a monthly average and the bottom left corner has an overall average.

It is green.

After I explained all of this to her, I handed it over. She said, “Wow, okay, so this really is a ‘document’?”

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I Met The Therapist

I went to our therapy session today. Well Julia went and then I came out. I wasn’t planning on it, but then the therapist said my name. She knew I was out at the end of last session. Or she suspected. Can’t tell. Either way, I did not want people talking about me again. So I came out to see if I could talk myself.

I didn’t say anything for a long time. She asked me what I was feeling and I said, “Scared” so she asked why and I said “I don’t think I’m supposed to talk.” She asked if that came from inside or outside. I said “both”. I said that I wasn’t going to let anyone else talk. She wanted to know why.

I felt cold. She said I didn’t have to talk at all, but that she was curious about me. She asked if there was anything she should know about me. I told her that I keep order and control. It’s not just about the food. It’s about many things. It’s important. Life or death.

She asked if I thought it was working. I said yes. She said that she believed what I’m doing is really important, but that perhaps it isn’t effective anymore. And maybe I don’t need to keep order anymore. Then she asked if I wanted to be happy. Or relaxed. Why would I want to do that? I was not made to be happy or relaxed. I was made to keep us safe. And alive.

She said she thinks that might be true, but that there are other things about me beyond those things and that I don’t just need to survive. I think she’s wrong but I like that she said that though. I almost cried because I felt a lot of emotion about the things she was saying.

She made me feel okay. Like it was okay to talk. But I don’t think it is. Maybe this is a trick. Sometimes people say very nice things as part of a trick. That’s how I ended up in a hospital being forced to eat terrible awful food. And Zooey was nice. She said she wanted to know me better so I spoke to her in person one time. She left us two weeks later.

She can’t make me eat more. No one can. But she said maybe she can help the Others to feel more calm and less stressed, so that my job is easier. I would like that. Oh, and I told her the story of why my name is River. She thanked me for sharing and said it helps her understand a lot of things. I don’t know what that means, but I think it’s a good thing.

I might talk to her again. Julia is upset that I stepped out in front of her, but I only did that because I wanted some privacy. I think everyone deserves privacy sometimes.

So I might say more. But I won’t eat more. I’ll just talk.

-River

Meltdown

I don’t know how many of you struggle with disordered eating, but let me tell you – it is my very least favorite thing that I/we’ve ever had to face. It is a demon unlike any other and it has a way of permeating every moment of your life in a way that feels very similar to drowning.

For the system, our eating issues are mainly present in a teenaged part, River. She developed an eating disorder when she was the main fronting part back in the mid-late 90’s. In fact, our very first hospitalizations were centered around eating disorder recovery. It was seemingly the worst between the ages of 13 and 16. But being hospitalized and essentially forced to eat pushed River back inside and left room for another part to figure out how to get through this crazy life. This is around the time Julia took over as the full-time fronting part and our coping skills switched from starvation to self-mutilation. Not ideal, but somehow less deadly.

The severe distortions and behavior patterns around eating remained mostly dormant for a long time. I now know there were issues of purging in college, but I’m still not clear on what exactly was going on. And I’m fairly certain there has always been an underlying theme of “food is bad”, but it presented itself in less serious manifestations.

That is until five months ago.

I’m almost 100% sure that the exact moment River reappeared as a fronting part was the day my wife lost her job. I think that experience was intensely triggering to a system that has spent a good amount of time homeless and without proper access to food. Since River has started fronting again, I’ve also realized how truly fucking nuts my parents were around food. I now have memories of myself as a kid foraging for food and only finding packets of pudding to eat. In the powder form. Or the powder mix for corn muffins. Or dry pasta. Or plain mustard. It’s awful and devastating.

Then, a week later, when we were preparing for admission to a residential trauma treatment program, Zooey had to fill out this form to fax in. Although we hadn’t experienced truly disordered eating in a while, Zooey said she was going to check off “eating disorder” because of the unresolved nature of River’s issues around food. Then she asked me what I weigh (required on the form). I told her and it didn’t really bother me. But it bothered River a whole lot and I think that was the final trigger for her. Since that day, she’s been almost 100% controlling our food and liquid intake.

Not fun. And nowhere near enough intake.

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