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.