Know anything about Geographic Cures? Well, my journey from Mt. Lebanon, PA to Happy Valley was my first attempt at one; the return trek was my second. Essentially, the idea is that you leave a place, hoping that starting over in a new place will make things all better. You don’t think this in a conscious, rational, way—there's nothing rational about a Geographic Cure. It’s not where you are, it’s who you are … and I had the acute displeasure of being me whether I was hiding under the covers in a dorm in State College, or beneath a blanket on my parents’ couch in suburban Pittsburgh.
I was sad, sick and sorry me—poor f*cking me.
So no, I wasn’t glad to be back home exactly, but I was sure ready to hit the sack for a couple months. Returning home after my failed semester and a half at Penn State was as low as I thought it could go for me. I actually thought I was like the only person in the history of my high school to go away to college and not stay there for four years and emerge with a degree. If I could have a conversation with myself as that barely 19-year-old college dropout, I would have many choice words, but I'd start with these:
“Listen, nobody cares that you left Penn State—literally nobody. Some people never go to college in the first place. Some people are starving to death—and not on purpose. People everywhere are dealing with all kinds of sh*t storms every second of every minute of every day. Believe me when I say: not everything is about you. Now would be a really good time to get your a** into therapy and make it count. There's a big world out there and it's time you figured out a way to live in it.”
I would then hug that young adult and tell her to stop drinking alcohol immediately—because in her case, drinking always had a way of making the sh*ttiest of things ... even sh*ttier.
Interestingly enough, I didn’t drink at all during the time I spent in self-imposed exile at my childhood home between January and May of 1992. Frankly, I didn’t even think about drinking. The fact that I would go for long periods of time without drinking further solidified the notion that alcohol wasn’t a problem. Plus, I was 19, so any drinking would have involved work on my part, and I wasn’t feeling particularly industrious at the time. A typical day in my post-Penn State life went something like this:
- I slept as late as I possibly could.
- I ate some sort of gross bran cereal.
- I dressed for the weather and walked/ran for hours.
- I worked nights at the mall.
- I came home.
- I watched reruns of the show Thirtysomething, during which I was able to happily escape into other people’s problems. I thought 30 was very old at the time.
- I went to sleep at around 12:30 a.m.
I repeated this every single day except on the evenings I had off from work. On those evenings, I rented movies and watched one new release after the other. I could probably count on two hands the average number of words I spoke to other human beings on a daily basis. Aside from exercising, which was a solitary pursuit, I participated in nothing with no one. My parents did make me visit my therapist once a week though.
At the time, I did not consider my diet and exercise routine extreme. I didn't think of myself as a girl with an eating disorder anymore. I viewed myself as a girl who recovered from an eating disorder and proceeded to get fat.
I saw nothing of relevance about myself beyond my fat, fat, fatness. I focused with laser-like precision on the 20 or so pounds I believed I needed to lose.
Honestly, there was really nothing else left for me to do anyway: tennis ... gone, friends ... gone, school ... gone. I'd shut it all down and cut it all out and I wasn't exactly looking for new hobbies. I was free to diet and exercise as was my wont. I couldn't summon the energy to care about much; except what was going to happen with Michael and Hope on Thirtysomething.
During my time at PSU and post-PSU, I rarely made myself throw up. What constitutes rarely in the mind of a human who used to view puking as a legit approach to weight management, you might ask ... ? Opinions vary, but I really thought that throwing up once a month or so was totally within the bounds of normalcy. This kind of bulimia was nothing like it had been in high school when the cycle was so violent that I had an undeniable fear of dying.
This bulimia was totally cool because it was on my terms. Feel me?
Most of my efforts were focused on restricting my caloric intake and working out, anyway. Oh, and I smoked cigarettes as much as possible because I had grown to fancy cigarettes more than oxygen.
During my exile, my friend’s mother lost her battle with cancer. “Shelly” had been one of my best friends since about second grade. Her mother was the first person I had ever known who had breast cancer. Frankly, when I got the call that she had passed away, I didn’t even realize that she was so sick again. It had been at least 10 years since her initial diagnosis. I remember the day Shelly first told me about her mom being sick. We were at softball. We had to have been about nine-years-old.
She said: “My mom has cancer.”
I was like: “No way.”
She said: “She’s going to be fine. It’s going to be fine.”
So I believed her.
We remained friends and Shelly very rarely shared much with me about her mom’s ups and downs. She was stoic and strong. Always. I admired her for it.
Shelly was at Penn State when her mom died. She was in the middle of a crisis I couldn’t begin to imagine, and I was the one who had dropped out of school. She was a fighter. I was a f*cking quitter who almost didn't show up to pay my respects at the funeral home because I felt like I was too fat to be seen in public.