Holiday on the Rocks

One of the nice things about being in recovery is that no one expects too much from you around the holidays. 

Then again, one of the horrible things about the holidays is being in recovery.  If one is an alcoholic, one need never touch a drop again; one can leave the table when the wine is poured.  If one is an addict, one can leave the life and never look back. 

But when the problem is food, one must eat to live; face the issue every few hours, every day, day in, day out, every day for the rest of one’s life.

Seems unfair, doesn’t it?

Over the last year, I’ve become much more candid about my struggle with an eating disorder.  Not out of any sense of altruism, or wanting to “help” anyone else, rather, out of a sense of needing to process what the hell just happened to me.  Needing to process what it’s like to stop doing math during every meal; every workout; no longer reading every label and suddenly having all this…time.

I think a common misconception is that this all happened because I didn’t want to be “fat.”  And that drives me insane, this word, “Fat.”  Maybe people with my problem use that word; they use the vocabulary of size because there are no other words in the English language to describe the funhouse-y, distorted feeling of not being able to control how one sees her own shape.  If I told you I looked, felt “distorted,” you’d think I was crazy.  But that’s more how I feel.  If you asked me to point out someone of comparable size or shape, I wouldn’t be able to do it.  What I see in the mirror is actually not what you see

It’s the weirdest thing in the world to me.  I think: I’m a smart girl.  I should be able to see myself clearly.  As if it has something to do with smartness.  Smartness is probably the root of the problem!

I remember very clearly the day I decided to get help. 

I was still taking time off of work, then, and it was a sticky, muggy afternoon in early June.  I had just left the Queen Sofia house where I’d had a Spanish lesson and I was walking down Park Avenue.

“Can you see me?” I called F and asked, “I’m in the white tunic.  Orange flats, orange handbag.”

“No,” he said.  I was calling him in his office in the MetLife building.  I knew he kept binoculars in his office, specs confiscated from a client.  We were playing a game.  We always played games like that–peekaboo on Park Avenue; ordering a selection of overshoes to protect his Gucci loafers; answering the phone with outlandish claims of being pizza parlor and rollerderby employees; juice fasting together.  Our years-long friendship was based on the abjectly absurd.

“Look harder.  I’m at 58th and Park; southbound side.  Under a green awning.”

“I see you,” he said, “I’ll meet you downstairs.”

We met in Grand Central Terminal, Vanderbilt Hall, the coolness of the stone walls insulating against the heat and humidity of the day outside.

“I took your leftovers after the event last night,” F said, real consternation apparent in his voice.  His critique of my eating habits was the first thing out of his mouth and I knew I was in for it.  “I ate them alone…” his voice trailed off, but I knew where he had eaten them. 

“God, you’re short,” he said, suddenly, “…Tiny.”  More softly. 

I never wore flats around him; I rarely wear flats now.  I was 90lbs then, maybe; am only 5’3″.  He was nearly a foot taller than me, standing there, hovering protectively in the hallway as we discussed our respective problems.

We stared at each other for a long moment.  The silence was telling; spoke more than was probably intended.

“You need help,” he said, “I’m going to get help.  You need to get help.” 

I nodded in recognition.  “I tried the okra last night,” I said lamely.

He squinted at me.  “I’m serious.”

We discussed the mechanics of what it would take; the whowhathowwhenwhere; we shook on it, then and there, in the Terminal.

By the end of the month, he’d gone off to the wilds of what waited for him in the suburbs, and I’d gone off to outpatient, and there would never be a return to the status quo ante bellum, ever again.

There were other moments; other people who impacted the decision, certainly.  But the day in Grand Central stands out in my mind as the tipping point; as the moment I stopped thinking I might have a problem; stopped thinking about “the problem” generally, and realized I did have a problem; that I was worthy of receiving help.

The process of recovery changed me.  It impacted every corner of my life.  And people always see the big victories–the healthy body; the hair that is no longer dull and falling out; etc.–but what they do not notice, always, are the small victories.

Like savoring a small, but significant slice of cake on Thanksgiving, instead of just scraping off the frosting.  I haven’t eaten cake–really eaten a whole piece of cake, no matter how small–in years.

I’ve argued before Judges Posner, Easterbrook and Wood of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals; I have submitted significant briefs in key cases before the National Labor Relations Board; I have run half-marathons and the New York City Marathon; I have climbed mountains; I have done all kinds of gratifying and significant personal and professional things…

But one of the things I am proudest of that I have done in recent years is eat a piece of cake; savor a piece of cake; enjoy it; feel good and fine and like I was the same as when I started when it was done.

It is nice, sometimes, to be in recovery at the holidays and have no one expect too much from you…so there is space for victories like this.

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