I was feeling lazy today, so I plopped on the couch and picked up the remote, scanning the guide for anything meaningful to watch. I never watch Dr. Phil—in fact, I have a strong aversion to his quick-fix psyche-show. You know what I mean: family members on stage, bawling about their problems and then his simplistic solutions. But maybe simplicity is exactly what I need right now because his show was about Eating Disorders and his guest was someone I spent time with when I was inpatient last December for my own ED.
Here’s the rub: I know I was supposed to be horrified by the examination of this woman’s life. There was even an almost naked photo of the woman—her breast blocked out by a yellow colo9r bar, her vagina covered by a blue triangle, the rest of her skin-and-bones body bared for all to see. I know I was supposed to see her body and instinctively should have shuddered. I mean, the entire audience was panned and all I could see were looks of disgust and horror. How could she? The unasked question. How could she think her body looks acceptable at 95 pounds? How could she not see herself as everyone else saw her: emaciated, wan, on the edge of death?
IT was watching with me and whispered, “Aren’t you in the least bit jealous of how thin she is? How few pounds are attached to her frame? Isn’t that what you secretly long for, the body-that-needs-nothing?
But then there was the other voice, that of Dr. Phil’s, yes, and he asked her, “Are you willing to do what it takes to get better?” Dr. Phil superimposed onto Dr. B., who is, thankfully, more complex and intuitive than Dr. Phil, but who has been asking me all these years, “Will you do what it takes to have the life you want?”
What is problematic about this question is IT doesn’t want me to have a life, at least a life that is worth its weight in pounds and ounces. Even when I’ve been inpatient at all of these hospitals for my ED, IT has traveled right along with me, demanding I secretly purge and exercise, while all the while I’m claiming I want recovery. So I’m a hypocrite, too. I want a life, a rich, full, purposeful life, and yet, at every turn I allow IT to undermine my faithful, honest efforts to recover. I see that woman on the T.V. screen and fantasize about being that thin, about letting go and handing my life over to IT. Which, by definition, equals assured death.
So. I’m watching Dr. Phil and the woman’s family members talking about how devastating the woman’s illness has been on the family—how they have been cornered by her IT, how they’ve had to give up so much to fighting or at least appeasing IT: money, time, friendships, love. And I think about my own family and my recent inpatients stay, about Christopher’s tireless efforts to keep IT at bay, about my kids’ questions about my eating and my “brain sickness.”
Just yesterday, my daughter decided she was going to have a dinner-lunch, swap meals. So she gobbled down a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. Then she turned and asked me, “Why don’t you have some, too? It’s fun to mix things up.” And all IT would allow me to say it, “No. I’m going to sti8ck with a lunch-lunch”—which means, of course, my measly bowl of yogurt and granola and blueberries. This is what IT takes, my ability to be spontaneous, and my ability to find joy in expected and unexpected places.
Dr. Phil. 3pm. Snack time as ordered by my dietician since I have apparently lost a good deal of weight while inpatient. It w3anted to find a way to get around eating that snack, even considered lying, claiming that a granola bar had been consumed. But in came Dr. B.’s voice, arguing with IT: Do what it takes to have the life you want. So while I watched this woman on T.V., a woman much like me, a woman who I once sat down with to eat our precisely controlled portions, who I once went through daily weigh-ins with, who I struggled alongside, I decided I was going to follow the plan instead of IT. I grabbed a jar of peanut butter, spooned out a few mouthfuls, sliced up my apple, and ate my snack while watching her on the T.V.. Eating what she refused. Eating what felt like too much, but which was exactly enough. Eating for recovery.