On Wednesday evening we set off, an un-merry band of rejects, to trek back through the bowels of the hospital to a large, conference-style room ...
It's the eating disorder support group, y'all!
Just getting there on time is fun for everyone because we have giant obese people who need eating disorder support and teeny tiny people who need eating disorder support—and both groups of support-needing people must travel via wheelchairs. It takes what seems like a fortnight to navigate those basement mazes back to the other end of the hospital. Ours is procession of really, really fat people and really, really skinny people ... and me! I look fine. I usually look fine. People never know why I'm at these things because I look so f*cking fine. Looking fine isn't always a problem—often, it gets me off the hook. But as I'm about to walk into this room, I get the sense that I am not merely here as a person seeking support, but also as a cautionary tale for the non-patients who are here with their concerned friends and family members. All of these people, whom I view as interlopers, are here to obtain copious amounts of eating disorder support. They are also here to see what can happen when you fail to get better.
In addition to showing up to give and get support, some of the tag-along loved ones seem to be here to gawk at us like we're zoo animals. I can't be a d*ck about that because I have looked at some of my fellow patients in the same way on more than one occasion. In any event, my fine-looking self would like to hold up a sign that reads:
I just lost 20 pounds ... and I'm about to lose 20 more! I may not look sick yet, but friends, I am working on it!
Sometimes I'm a size 12, but other times I'm a size 12—in children's clothes!
Sometimes I throw up on purpose and run for several hours at a time, but sometimes I don't do either of those things. Then, I'm really f*cked because I gain weight and become more miserable than ever!
But the sign I really want to hold up would read: and let me tell you people, none of it f*cking works. It never has, and it never will, and you can end up weighing 70 pounds, 700 or some normal weight like me, and it doesn't f*cking matter because it doesn't f*cking work and I can't stop myself from believing that some day ... it will f*cking work!
Instead, I become obsessed with how I will define myself as we go ‘round that circle of people, many of whom do look sick enough to be here. The following is my list of introduction choices as I see them:
Anorexic, Yes (Proudly. Skinny is good, fat is bad. I am good, but not good enough. Yet. The corpse people in wheelchairs are better at being skinny than I am, but, they are too good at it. They have crossed lines that should never have been crossed. Think of skid row for drunks—the wheelchair people are rolling right down it in their hospital-issue wheelchairs).
Bulimic, Yes (Embarrassingly, yes. I hate that I puke. It’s cheating. I am a cheater. I hate myself. I hate all of you. I hate).
Bulimarexic, Yes (Interesting, because it’s a new, exotic term. Exotic is good. If I have to own the fact that I puke on purpose, let it be known that I'm not a straight-up binger, even though I straight-up have been at times. Please let it be known that I want to starve—I long to. I'm just not as good at it as I want to be. Yet).
Exercise Bulimic, Yes (Some people in the room will be confused by this and want to ask me questions about the categorization later, which I will enjoy. I will be able to explain that while I don't look sick, I am actually way sicker than the world gives me credit for. Also good).
Compulsive Overeater, Yes (Confusing, because I'm not fat, and people never understand how someone can be housing ice-cream alone in the dark and not be fat. I like to explain that ... like this: it’s the same way you can be a soccer mom who consumes a bottle of wine alone on the regular and always get a pass. Soccer mom takes her Advil in the AM and we all happily divert our attention until she cheats on her husband repeatedly, or starts living under a bridge. This is a tacit agreement. We all find a way to manage well enough. We f*cking manage ‘yo.
Crazy, Yes (I will never look as sick as I am and I'm tired of apologizing for it. F*ck you people and your families and friends who have come here for eating disorder support. F*ck you all. You will walk to the parking lot, get into your cars and drive back to your cozy houses. We will stay here and be told what to do and when. In fact, tonight, they will make us eat a snack before bed. Who f*cking eats before bed? Anyway, I hope you have been sufficiently scared by the sickest among us, and as I said, I'm sick, maybe too sick to neatly fit neatly in any category and it is currently putting me in a pickle. So, word to the wise: if you've found yourself in a tidy eating-disorder box, do your best to stay put. It's just easier that way. Safe travels!)
What's so funny about my categorizing: it's likely that nobody in that room was even looking at me. We were all here for eating disorder support, but I was in it for me, and they were in it for them. We wanted the leader of that group, and her designated helpers, to support us enough so that we could waltz off into the sunset to a f*cking TGI Friday's, sit down and find peace without eating too much or too little.
Throughout the Eating Disorder Support Group Meeting, people say things about themselves out loud. The things they say are uncomfortable to hear. Their families are desperate and early on in this journey. Frankly, I feel like I know too much about these eating disorders to still have them. I know all the sh*t I'm supposed to know and believe I should be better by now. The families and friends of these sufferers are just beginning to learn the lingo; it's amateur hour.
The thing that rubs me raw in that room is the emotion. People share, as they so often do in support groups, and I loathe it. I don't want to see their tears for their daughter who just won't eat no matter what they say or do. I don't want their pain to ooze out and touch me. I don't want to look at them. I find their willingness to say things about themselves and their families utterly offensive. They are embarrassing, inarticulate, blathering idiot whose hideous display of word vomit should be reserved for whatever daytime talk show will have them. I want them to hush.
Okay, I was a b*tch.
In addition to feeling like I don't look sick enough to be in the room, I also think that I'm better than these people in some pragmatic way, but really, I have just had better English teachers. I am judgmental, thus protected from their messy feelings. I have to match vulnerability with invulnerability or run the risk of feeling things that I aggressively wish not to feel. I had to try to stop feeling years ago. That little girl who felt everything could not keep feeling things so she stopped. The world, its bad people and bad things ... its uncertainty and unfairness and its cold, hard God were too much to take in or on. So that little girl put her foot down to all of it. Then, the me I became found a way to be afraid of everything and nothing all at once.
When our tribe of the sickest of the sick is dismissed to return to lockdown, we headed back along the underground cinder block highway.
I said to a nurse: well, that was awful.
It was sort of a blanket statement that I didn't extend as an invitation for discussion.
But she said: how so?
So I said: all those clueless people who have no idea what eating disorders are, or what their relatives are going through, asking such stupid questions. The tears—all of it. I'm embarrassed for them. Awful.
Then she said: you don't like feelings. Emotion makes you really uncomfortable.
She said that out loud ... to me ... about me. She was right. I didn't like that she was right, but I knew it to be true. I didn't know how to get back to emotions and feelings anymore than I knew how to eat a ham sandwich. I also didn't want those things to be connected. That was the worst part of all: the prospect of having to wade through all that sh*t. I believed it would take weeks, or months ... or years.