Tag Archives: food

I Quit Forever.

I made a New Summer’s Resolution. I am quitting all diets forever, and I mean forever.

This isn’t a new idea. “It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle” has become cliché in our age of dietry. So I want to be clear: when I say I am quitting all diets forever, I don’t mean I’m adopting a certain diet as my new way of life. I am not a new Paleo convert. I literally mean I am quitting. All diets. Forever.

It occurred to me one day that I have spent a ton of time being afraid of and simultaneously drawn to a few “bad” foods; namely, cookies, sweet tea, and French fries. These are my heroin, my security blankets, and my antidepressants (that seriously don’t work). But these foods have no inherent value; they are not “bad.” They are inanimate, valueless. My method of consumption is what determines the wisdom of eating them.

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t want my daughter to end up waging the same war I have for 30½ years. I want to win it and end it, perhaps for us both at once. I’d rather my daughter know that some foods are everyday, all-you can eat foods; some foods are treats; and some foods are just for parties. I want her to see food as sustenance and occasionally a social enhancement and definitely a gift from God (as evidenced by the existence of taste buds, according to my pastor). What food is not is an emotional anesthetic or a substitute for affection. I want her to know that fruits and vegetables have superpowers, and that’s why God made them so bright and colorful. I want her to know that singing and dancing and laughing and playing all make for better journeys than Oreos do.

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I don’t want her to be scared of food. I definitely don’t want her to be scared of being fat.

So I’m not quitting health. I’m actually kind of finding it, now that I’m exiting the diet funhouse with all its mirrors that distort and lie and frighten. It’s a hard place to leave, because as restrictive and hateful as diets can be, they’re also seductive. They tell you sexiness and happiness and all your dreams-come-true are in following their simple regime.

It’s a lie.

Instead, we walk together, my daughter and I. We have Bath-Time Dance Parties. We snack on grapes and avocados when we’re hungry. We point to different parts of our bodies and say, “Anna has pretty arms; Mama has pretty arms! Anna has pretty feet; Mama has pretty feet!” And we remind each other that strong is more important than gorgeous, but gorgeous is a given.

A really beautiful memoir I read earlier this year included the line, “Contentment doesn’t double by the serving.” Very true: more potato chips have never led me to more joy. But I’ve learned that you don’t have to diet to eat fewer potato chips. You can just choose an alternative ending. Sure, you’ve always eaten the whole bag. See what happens if you don’t this time. I’ve been practicing. The skill sharpens with repeated success. And it definitely keeps proving the point that more food never equals more contentment.

When I get to the end of my life, my daughter with me in my room, I sure hope she doesn’t say, “Mom, you taught me how to diet.” I hope she says, “Mom, you had soul. You knew how to fight and win. You knew how to dance.” If that’s the story I want to tell, I’d better stop the dieting, choose something greater than the cookies, and just for the love of God get started dancing like she does:

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How I Lost 102 Pounds, Part II

My one-year-old investigates the world with a pair of sparkling, joyful eyes. She pulls spices off the rack, books off the shelf, and hair off the dog. But her favorite thing in life is her belly. She often lifts her shirt so she can see it, always pushing her palms into it and grinning, as if saying, “I can’t believe this is mine!” She scrambles away from me while I try to dress her, reveling in the feel of her own skin. She loves her body. And she also loves food. Her first (made-up) word was “baba,” with which she referenced all food – bottles, baby food, the food on our plates. Not long after she started using “baba,” she also designed a way to tell us she wanted more: she pointed at “it” and clapped.

This must be the way God designed it for all of us – to love our bodies and the food we fill them with. Our bodies jump, twirl, sprint, chase, hug, and explore. What’s not to love? And why would food be any different? In Genesis 1, God lavishly offers Adam and Eve “every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for food” (v. 29, NLT). Surely he meant for us to relish it. Everything God has created is good (1 Timothy 4:4), which includes food and our bodies. My job was simply to reorient myself from body-hate and food-anxiety to pure love and compassion.

  • I came to terms with slow progress. As I gradually implemented changes in my lifestyle, I truly owned who I was becoming. I was compassionate with myself and never demanded more than I could conceivably do. For example, it was hard to cut ties with soda. I know some people can drink it and still lose weight, but those people are not me. For two or three weeks, avoiding soda was my only goal. But eventually it became second nature and allowed me to move on to building another victory. The slower the progress, the less likely you are to give up all your hard work for a momentary buzz.
  • I celebrated all success. Celebration empowers: it draws attention to your triumphs and gives you an answer for the mean uglies that sneer, “Overweight is who you are, honey. Give it a rest.” So, I winked and smiled at myself in the mirror on days I liked what I saw. I celebrated with a little kitchen-dance each time my hand passed the Pringles and in favor of the strawberries. When you stop mistreating yourself, you discover that celebration is your birthright and victory is your destiny.
  • I asked myself “Is that true?” My counselor’s favorite question as we processed my relationship with food was, “Is that true?” I told him, for example, that I simply couldn’t stop myself from overeating. I knew it because I’d tried and failed so often. I also told him that no matter what I did, it would be impossible for me to lose weight, due to genetics and PCOS. But whenever I made such statements, he would ask, “Is that true?” I was often forced to say, “No, I guess not.” The Bible tells us to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and I quickly learned most of my thoughts needed to become POWs.
  • I didn’t wait for the strength to make the right decision. If I had, I never would’ve put a single new habit into action. Instead, I tentatively, haltingly, started making changes. I didn’t know if I could go to a restaurant and make a healthy choice. The first several times, I didn’t: I was waiting on some supernatural erasure of my desire to binge, I suppose. It never came. What I found, however, is that when I made the right choice, the strength to keep doing it followed. When I started fighting, I always received the grace to keep fighting.
  • I discovered my weaknesses and attacked them. I always thought I was overweight because I really liked the taste of food. And I do, but so does everyone else. Instead, I was overweight primarily because I love convenience and comfort. It was easy to drive through at a fast food restaurant. It was easy to get lunch out. It was comforting to buy warm food “because it’s so cold today” or junk food “because I had a bad day” or ice cream “because today was awesome” or an appetizer and dessert “because it’s the weekend.” Nothing is inherently wrong with that, but you can’t lose weight if you make “exceptions” every day. I went with my own flow of convenience and comfort by preparing in advance: I always had the ingredients for healthy pizza on hand, I experimented with protein shakes until I had some concoctions that supported my weight loss efforts and were also sinfully delicious, and I made lots of portable snacks to grab when leaving the house.
  • I stopped sacrificing joy on the altar of happiness. The problem with donuts is that they make you happy. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t eat them. But that happiness lasts exactly as long as the donut is in your hand and sometimes even less. Joy – the knowledge that you’re closer to Jesus as a result of your struggle, the ability to make healthy decisions, the feeling of slipping into a sleek outfit – doesn’t go away. And you never regret the actions you took to cultivate it (unlike the donut). Joy does not result from deprivation. Joy does not result from shame and self-loathing. But it will bloom when you treat yourself compassionately, with the same love and awe you have for any little sweethearts you may have in your life. Joy comes from knowing you are cared for, so you must care for yourself.

Of course, even if you learn to love your body and the process, weight loss is not easy. It is sacrifice, it is frustration, and sometimes it is unsuccessful. But here is the beautiful part: in the battle, you find Great Love. As hard as it was to drop 102 pounds – in all that white-knuckling, teeth-gritting, cookie-avoiding journey – I ended up finding joy, loads of it, pouring over the edges of my soul. I was no longer a slave to substance abuse as I learned how to approach the substance itself. Jesus fought for me, and alongside me, and I became free.

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How I Lost 102 Pounds, and How I’m About to Do It Again. (Except with only 55 pounds this time.)

You could call it a “resolution” perhaps, but this is more like finishing a quest I started a few years ago. It’s like this: in 2009 I weighed 268 pounds. The day I saw that number on the scale, I was wearing a hot pink T-shirt and black stretch pants, which had become my uniform since I felt ugly in all clothes. I lived in a state of constant shame that wasn’t working, but when “268” flashed up in red numbers, it was time for immediate change. My friend K called that day, and I admitted to her I had a problem with substance abuse. That phone call launched a personal campaign that led me to drop 102 pounds in the next two years. Not everything worked, but I kept fighting until I found many channels to success. Here are some of them, which I’m learning to repeat so I can get off all that baby weight I gained in 2013.

  • First, I made a commitment to myself: “I will not stop seeking help until I get all the help I need.” Not everyone needs addiction counseling, but after years of dieting and failing, equating my size with my worth, and binge eating, I certainly did. I had religiously followed Atkins, Zone Perfect, Weight Watchers, and others; the solution was obviously not in the food I was eating. However, when I made a fiercely maternal commitment to my wellbeing, my mindset changed. Failure simply wouldn’t happen again.
  • I stopped blaming. The thing is, I really do have a medical problem that adversely affects my weight. Having the infernal PCOS means my hormones are constantly imbalanced, and my body doesn’t properly use insulin. But PCOS does not sentence me to a life of obesity and depression; I was sentencing myself to such a life. So I stopped saying, “If I didn’t have PCOS, I could lose weight” and “It runs in my family” and “I have a slow metabolism.” I finally owned my part in the matter and got down to business.
  • I exercised however I wanted to. I realize a certain pattern of weightlifting and cardio is optimal for weight loss, but I don’t enjoy that. So I swam on days I felt like swimming, I rocked the stationary bike when it called to me, I walked outside and took deep breaths before deadlines, I popped in fitness DVDs I liked, and I went to yoga on Wednesdays. I did whatever was enjoyable, and guess what? It worked beautifully.
  • I composed a list of five things I would do any time I felt a nonphysical urge to eat. I learned that most of the time my urge to eat was emotional, but I just couldn’t seem to talk myself out of it. Therefore, I approached myself with enough compassion to discover five ways to deal with my nonphysical “hunger.” If I still wanted to eat after completing all five, I went for it. (That happened exactly twice.) Heavy emotions like loneliness and fear were suddenly met with prayer, phone calls to friends, journaling, a Friends episode, and/or 15 minutes of walking. Most of the time, I never got further on my list than phoning a friend before returning to homeostasis or even peace.
  • I didn’t eat salad. Here is an understatement: I hate salad. When people say they’re “in the mood for a good salad,” it makes as much sense to me as being “in the mood for a good dentist visit.” Salad is terrible. Balsamic vinaigrette does not deserve its hype. Strawberries, pomegranate, and other jazzy fruits do not belong with greens and oily dressings. And don’t get me started on how salad is not a meal. So…I didn’t eat it. Much like with exercise, I ate what I enjoyed – salmon, apples, walnuts, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and other good stuff. There’s too much delicious food out there to waste time with salad, so I didn’t.
  • I took beauty breaks. In 2009 I lived in an apartment with a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. To keep my stress at bay – and I had a lot of it, dealing with graduate school, miscarriages, an impossible marriage, sexual dysfunction, and isolation from my friends and family – I regularly stepped outside and breathed in the evergreen breeze. Beauty restores; stress destroys. So I gorged on beauty and let it drive out the stress.
  • I envisioned a new life and acted as if I already had it. I had always wanted to be the girl who feels confident in her own skin – the girl who wears red dresses, drinks water instead of soda, and shops at Victoria’s Secret. So I didn’t wait to lose 102 pounds; I bought a red dress and even some items from Victoria’s Secret. I cut out the soda. It didn’t take two whole years to become the person I dreamed of being. I think it took a month. I decided I’d waited long enough, and I was worth the change.

As you might imagine, none of these are based on the advice of a doctor. In fact, they aren’t based on the advice of anyone, and that made the difference. Viewing myself as someone unique, as the world’s leading expert on me (as my man would say), I worked hard to develop a plan that worked for me. My therapist and I talked through each of the actions I set in motion, evaluating the outcomes. I also saw a nutritionist and my gynecologist during the process to ensure I didn’t harm myself in any way and that I was effectively managing my PCOS. But because the answers were coming from me, because I was working on my own behalf, I felt empowered, as if the solutions had been within my reach the whole time. It was just a matter of sifting through what I already knew of myself to create answers.

If any of your 2015 resolutions involve weight loss, I wish you all the joy and endurance you need for the journey. Call someone when you need support. Go on a drive, now that the price of gas doesn’t require you to sell your firstborn. Give a hug. Get maternal about your own health. You can do it. You already have all you need to win. Go be brave.

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Masterpiece.

Earlier this month, I threw a book on the floor in disgust. I was reading A Jewel in His Crown by minister Priscilla Shirer, and if the title leads you to believe the book is nutty, you’re mostly right. However, the comment that initially angered me has proven far wiser in the weeks that followed than I ever imagined: “A continued struggle with weight…is a direct sign that we have not submitted ourselves completely to the Lord.” I was aghast – where did Shirer get off, suggesting my weight was tied to a lack of submission to Jesus? I am absolutely submitted to the Lord, I protested in the margin. While I am thoroughly imperfect, I live my life for the glory of God as best as I humanly, possibly can.

The short version is, turns out she’s right. I dealt extensively with my food addiction while in graduate school and was able to whip myself eventually into obedience. When I felt God was assisting the process, I took the project back over from him and willed myself the rest of the way. Then when the old habits came back during my pregnancy, I was dismayed but not shocked. I kept telling myself, “Well, this is who you are. What did you expect?”

THAT IS NOT THE VOICE OF JESUS.

I continued to let that voice serenade me after the 60 pounds had been gained during 37 weeks of pregnancy. And I continued to let that voice serenade me after my daughter was born. And I continued to let that voice serenade me until I threw down my copy of Shirer’s book when my explosive disgust let me know she was right.

It was time for another kind of throw-down.

I started exploring myself with grace and even acceptance, becoming curious about my thoughts and actions. What else had that voice said to me? I grew militant about uprooting the beliefs, rendering the voice laryngitic. In order to do that, I had to listen, but I did so with beginner’s ears, as if listening for the first time.

The voice said, “You are not free. You must please everyone else. If you don’t at least eat whatever you want, you will have no freedom at all.”

It said, “You cannot control anything in your life. You have experienced so much pain, and it just keeps coming. You should at least be able to eat for enjoyment.”

It said, “Comfort eating is merely a bad habit. If you really want to stop, willpower will be enough whenever you’re ready.”

It said, “Food will give you what you want. You’ll feel free and in control, and you’ll be happy again. The depression will recede and the stress evaporate. You’ll be able to go back to your responsibilities having at least had a little break.”

Jesus doesn’t talk like that. Which means I was listening to a voice with no authority.

But here’s the problem: a diet doesn’t silence that voice. It says all the same things and allures with new gems like, “You’ll be worth something when you lose weight.” “You’ll finally be beautiful when you lose weight.” “You’ll finally be happy when you lose weight.”

The Bible, however, doesn’t say those things either. The Bible says I reflect the glory of God (Genesis 1:27). The Bible says God crafted me (Psalm 139:13). The Bible says God has collected every tear I’ve ever cried because he has that much compassion for me (Psalm 56:8). The Bible says God dances and sings with joy over me (Zephaniah 3:17). Logically, then, I am already worth something, something deep and irrevocable and priceless. The Creator of the whole universe finds me breathtaking. I am already whole. Until these truths bloom in my heart, my life will have no real vitality.

That’s why it could not be more crucial for me as a mother to submit to Jesus the ugly voice, the impaired thinking, and all the lies about who I am. For the issue of weight is fused to the issue of self-esteem, and I cannot teach my daughter to be what I am not. I can’t instill in her a sense of self-acceptance if I haven’t accepted myself. How will she learn? Furthermore, how can I fully embrace my husband if I haven’t fully embraced myself? Will I not always question his love for me if I believe no man could ever find me desirable?

This means, then, what I need is not a diet. Not even a “lifestyle change,” every diet-hater’s favorite euphemism. No, what I need is inner righteousness, an inner power fueled by the One who created me in the first place. What I need is belief in his love and ability to transform me. It is time to put myself in the way of grace and healing. Without submitting the ugly voice to God, I will never be the emotionally, spiritually, physically healthy woman he designed me to be. And I am, by the way, designed. I am a work of art, a cathedral, a masterpiece.

Kill the ugly voice before it kills you. For you are a masterpiece, too.

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Love Wins.

The church my man and I attend has real people in it – people who have excelled and fallen short in their efforts at relationships, being Christians, and life in general. In an environment like that, I shared my story out loud for the first time last Wednesday night. An unexpected thing happened: as difficult as it was to admit some of my more embarrassing mistakes, I became so proud of Jesus. So proud that my God is the kind of God who pursues diamonds in the rough. So proud that my God accepts me as I am – and you as you are – because he revels in the journey we’re on. So proud that my God is in control of the whole thing.

It’s like this. Addiction was a fourteen-year way of life for me – from 1996 to 2010 – and it sometimes nips at my heels even now. I didn’t reason my way out of it or will it to stop; you can’t treat addiction that way. Instead, I went to the office of a counselor hand-picked for me by God. For some, that sounds extreme I’m sure: couldn’t it just be a happy coincidence? But here’s the truth. I ended up finally making my decision to get help on a Wednesday that Dr. Morgan happened to be sharing the walk-in intakes, something he doesn’t always do. I arrived at the Health Clinic during his office hours, which are fewer than everyone else’s due to his research activities. He happened to be the one to take me back, even though several other counselors were available. His approach to counseling proved almost exclusively cognitive, in the sense that we looked around my brain and applied logic where I wasn’t. Given that I live my whole life in my brain, the method felt tailored for me. It’s all these reasons, and a few others, that assure me God oversaw my healing process, even when I wasn’t consulting him. He put me in the right setting to recognize what I was doing, why, and how to stop it. Then, he gave me the strength to change. If you’d ever seen me binge, you’d know: only Jesus can do that.

When I got married in June 2007, sexual dysfunction ignited my addiction, causing whatever shards of self-esteem I had left to dissolve in the heart-wrenching pain of loneliness and anger. My body was too wrong, too large, and sentenced me to a sexless marriage. Every failed “treatment” plunged me into further despair, and I looked to food with renewed zeal each time. I reached a low after my third miscarriage; not only was my body oversized, not only did it reject my then-husband, but it also made a farce of my dreams of motherhood. My destructive behavior had no limits: I binged, entered an inappropriate relationship, wallowed in self-pity and hatred, and ignored God’s invitations to surrender. I couldn’t see a way out of the dark and depression; for a while, I didn’t even want one. And even still, when I’d had enough, when I shrugged and said, “Fine, You win,” there was Jesus. Even when I’d turned Him down. Even after my divorce. Even when the old patterns lured me back. And now I can’t even see a shadow of the wife I was for so long. I have eyes only for my man, and I thoroughly enjoy him – loving him, living alongside him, sharing an intimacy with him that is exclusively ours. I have been made entirely new. Only Jesus can do that.

I shouldn’t be here, in this place of lightness and joy, after the places I’ve been. I spent years destroying my body, being unable and unwilling to stop abusing food. I’ve been through the loss associated with infidelity. I’ve felt the pain of my babies fading. I’ve walked through the disappointment and rage of (supposed) infertility. I’ve tried to soothe myself, to protect myself when I felt assaulted by the storm, only to wake up drowning in further waves of pain. But I’m here – joyful, peaceful, and free. Only Jesus can do that. I am married to the sexiest, strongest, kindest man God ever created. I am mother-by-marriage of two beautiful children that look just like my favorite man. I am mother-by-blood of a 34-week-old pregnancy miracle who is about to forever change my world for the better. I am blessed to live in a lovely home with a wonderful family that makes my life a joy beyond words, beyond anything I could’ve made for myself. But even if I lost everything tomorrow, I have been shown that my God is greater than the gifts he gives and the pain I endure. Whatever I live through tomorrow, He has the answers. He meets my needs. He loves me and speaks tenderly to me and remains faithfully beside me no matter where we go. No matter what happens, there’s Jesus.

That’s all I ever needed to know, really. I’m loved, I’m of priceless worth, and there’s always Jesus.

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The Best French Word

My favorite French verb is tituber, which means “to stagger; to stumble.” The first time I read it was in the poem “A la princesse” by Cameroonian poet Patrice Kayo. The speaker tells his beloved they will tituber hand in hand, toward the horizon. It’s forward progression, however halting and unsteady. It’s hope. Tituber is how I journeyed through addiction.

One of my ongoing questions to Dr. Morgan was, “Where does my addiction come from?” It confounded and angered me that I had such an impossible relationship with food; no one else seemed to. At meetings, get-togethers, and anywhere else social eating was on the agenda, it appeared that people could eat without gorging. If a table of snacks was set out at a party, for example, everyone else seemed able to take some and stop. They didn’t return for a binge when the other guests had migrated to another room. Why did I? Dr. Morgan quickly identified the shame I felt when I compared myself to others, but I was slower to recognize it. He asked me a few questions in my second session about what I saw when I evaluated my perspective of others’ food habits.

“It seems like everyone else makes a conscious decision whether to eat,” I shrugged. “I don’t feel like I have the choice. I don’t make any decisions. I just eat what and when my mind tells me.” After reflecting for a moment, I went on: “In fact, I don’t think I’ve felt actual hunger in months. I eat too often to feel it.” I winced and looked at my counselor. “I’m crazy, yes?”

He chuckled almost paternally. “I don’t use the word ‘crazy,’” he said, lifting an eyebrow and shaking his head.

As I continued to talk, sometimes answering his questions and sometimes my own, I realized two things. First, I was losing every time I compared myself to others. I saw the majority as “healthy,” in contrast to an unhealthy me. The world was well; I was sick. Here’s the truth: not only was that impossible if I believed that “all have sinned and fallen short,” but it’s also ludicrous. You can’t walk through life without being wounded, and hurt does funny things to all of us. For some it creates feelings of unworthiness, for others it instills the expectation of abandonment, for others it’s rejection, and so on. But hurt people don’t escape unscathed. So if we are all hurt from time to time and mistake-prone by nature, some unhealthiness would have to be in all of us. And perhaps the more wounded we are, the likelier we are to develop unhealthy habits. Instead of being the one sick case, I was normal, even by my own logic.

The second thing I noticed was more practical. My addictive behavior was always in done secret. I was willing to go to whatever lengths were necessary – rearranging my schedule, “stretching” the truth, stopping before returning home to get rid of evidence, whatever – to hide my binges. They were more powerful than I was; the draw of the next private binge was practically running my life.

So when Dr. Morgan asked what one thing I could change starting that day, one thing that would get me a step closer to health, I said, “Well, if I do all the ‘bad stuff’ when I am alone, then I would be healthier if I always ate around other people.” And as soon as I said it, I shook my head, telling myself all the reasons that wouldn’t work. I rarely ate in front of others because I believed they would see my shame. I believed I couldn’t eat like everyone else, couldn’t follow all the unwritten rules that they all innately followed.

The rest of the day after I left Dr. Morgan’s office, I thought about not eating alone anymore – no drive-thrus, no picking up something while my then-husband was at work, no gas station snacks while driving home to see my family and friends. That was my way of life, and the thought of abandoning it was painful and impossible. I came up with endless reasons why I simply couldn’t do it.

But the short version is…I did. Even if I felt like I couldn’t make a decision about what or when to eat, I found myself able to decide where. I started getting to school earlier than necessary so I could take my lunch to the graduate assistants’ office. If I didn’t want to eat in front of people who knew me but still didn’t want to break my promise to myself, then I ate out in the open on the school grounds. I asked my friend E to have lunch with me often so I could enjoy her company and unwitting accountability. I fought fiercely against the voice that said, “It doesn’t matter where you go or who you’re with, you’re still sick. Still fat. Still different from everyone else. People don’t change; it’s who you are.” That voice blared, and some days it still does. Nor did changing the location of my meals have any bearing on what I was eating: I persisted in destructive choices. But I persevered with all the ferocity I could manage, and every single meal that week and the next, I ate in front of at least one other person.

By the next time I spoke with K, the friend I first confessed to, I was mentally exhausted from acting against a huge part of my natural instincts, but my brain had just enough space to feel in-control again. I had taken back just enough ground to muster some self-trust. I wasn’t healed in one week, but I had taken back some ground. If I couldn’t run or even walk toward healing, I could certainly tituber my way there. The healthy, redeemed me that I would one day grow into had gotten her first breath of life.

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The One-Yard Line

As soon as I hung up from K’s call, I grabbed my purse and keys, as was my habit. But this time I went the opposite direction from my favorite coffee-and-dessert shop. Blessed relief rushed over me: finally, someone knew. The hiding and dodging were over, and the beast, now named, could be destroyed. I didn’t love being exposed, even to K, but I was suddenly high on hope.

My little gold Sentra carried me down Barracks Road at fifty miles per hour, the second step I took that day toward healing: for the first time in years, I celebrated a victory with something other than food, which I’d always reached for to increase euphoria in the past. I pumped up the Dave Matthews and played the drums on my steering wheel. I smiled widely and waved at the horses on the Garth Road farms. It was glorious and, to be honest, a little comical.

Then, something dawned on me: I didn’t actually have a plan for becoming “normal”; I just believed it could be done. This was not a plan. But because I also believed in my university, I removed my phone from my purse before I could lose the courage and dialed Student Health. When I was connected to the counseling department, I said, “I’m a graduate student, and I want to see a counselor.” A chirpy woman on the other end informed me that Wednesday afternoons were reserved for walk-ins, so I could do an intake before my 3:30 class the next day.

But by the time a stout, fortyish African-American man called my name on Wednesday, I was less convinced. I’d gotten “help” before from doctors who directed me to diet plans, from groups of dieters who promised to increase my motivation, and from Christian counselors who said I needed to pray. Nothing had done the trick: here I was, looking for another answer. Scrounging up my last reserves of hope, I smiled politely and followed the guy down a short hallway.

“I’m Dr. Morgan,” he said when we reached his office.

“Amie,” I responded.

“Why are we here, Amie?” Efficient and professional, Dr. Morgan had little use for pleasantries. His head was bent over my new file, pen poised to paraphrase whatever clean-cut response I offered to his question.

I sighed. “Well…I’m miserable with myself, I’m going to fail my comprehensive exams, I don’t love my husband, I’m no longer sure why I wanted a master’s in French, I have no vocational vision, I’m generally living in a way most Christians like me would renounce, the fog in my brain seems to have eaten up my decision-making skills, and I miss my friends and family so much it hurts.” I paused. “Also, I’m an addict,” I added, barely loud enough for him to hear. I strummed my fingers absently on the corner of his desk. “So there’s that,” I mumbled without making eye contact. It was no more comfortable to say this to a professional than it had been with K.

Dr. Morgan looked at me with a practiced expression that betrayed none of his thoughts. “Hm,” he grunted with a nod, apparently unsure of what to write. Still looking at me, perhaps waiting for a second avalanche of fear and shame, he eventually said, “Okay.” He scribbled on my intake papers, and I answered a few demographic questions. After the necessities were concluded, he set his pen down and laced his fingers. “What exactly do you hope to get out of counseling, Amie?”

I stared at my shoes. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. Two or three times I started to talk before deciding the words were ridiculous. My eyes filled with tears, and I said, “I just need help.”

The silence was awful. As my resolve crumbled, I vowed I’d hit the Corner for something to eat as soon as I could bolt from Dr. Morgan. Since I’d gone so long without allowing myself to experience pain, I was shocked by the raw sensation my emotions caused. I was suddenly “starving.”

Dr. Morgan looked over his notes and said, “Well, there are a few women in town who are trained marriage counselors. I’m sure one of them would be happy to talk to you and your husband, or just you if that’s more palatable. We’ll of course negotiate a reduced fee, since we don’t offer marriage counseling here at the university.” His eyes were back to my file.

So he assumed the rocky marriage was the Big Problem that brought me to counseling. Great, now I would have to reiterate what a disgraceful, disgusting addict I was.

“Well, if we could forget the marriage and focus on the…addiction for now, I think that would be more beneficial,” I said quietly.

“I see,” Dr. Morgan said with a nod, staring at me again.

The session never became less awkward. It brought me so much shame to come out of hiding and describe my actions for Dr. Morgan and why I felt so desperate for help. To comply with policy, he couldn’t help me in isolation without the cooperation of the university nutritionist and gynecologist, so he informed me that he’d make me appointments with each of those women and call to let me know when they were scheduled. When I’d seen them both, I could return to him for a comprehensive plan of action. I nodded as if this were all okay with me.

After I left his office, I went straight to a diner and ate enough to feed a family of four starving refugees. I wasn’t sure I could face anyone else with the truth, let alone a doctor and a nutritionist. In fact, I wasn’t sure I could face myself with it anymore. Perhaps it would be easier to consider this all an unsuccessful foray into weight loss – something I was very familiar with – nothing more. So I escaped for the moment and then headed on to class, equally soothed and sickened by my behavior. Like the end zone when you’re lined up one yard away, my rescue was so near that it was nearly impossible to reach.

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