Missing Peace, Chapter 14: Home Coming

I failed to gain the prescribed weight. The penalty: Extension.

“Abby, it’s for your own good,” Keri had tried to console me when we hung up with my parents. “And it’s only thirty days. You’ve already been here twice that long. It will go quickly.”

“You’ve said that a million times about a million things,” I stormed at her. “And it’s always when you are telling me something I don’t want to hear. My parents don’t want me to come home and you know it.”

“That’s not true. In fact, it’s expensive for you to continue to stay at Remuda. They’re doing this because they love you.

“The chances of you relapsing, of never achieving a healthy weight are extremely high if you leave now. It would be twice as hard to eat 3500 calories a day at home in your normal environment. By waiting a little longer and sending you home at a maintenance weight, I can be more sure that you will work your aftercare program. By the way, let’s talk about that.”

Keri and I mapped out a thorough aftercare program. I interviewed half a dozen therapists over the phone. Finally, I settled on Hoyt Morris, an eating disorder specialist in Edmond, Oklahoma. He also led a support group and worked with a reputable dietician.

I tied up a lot of loose ends in those extra 30 days. On May 7th, I boarded a plane bound for Oklahoma, still one pound shy of my goal.

“I can do it, I promise!” I had begged and bargained.

Against his better judgment, willingly ignoring all my past failed promises, Dad agreed that I should come home. The whole family welomed me at the airport.

“Welcome home, Abby!” Rachelle shouted waving a sign decorated in pink and green crayon.

I spotted Jennifer first as I came down the ramp. Even though summer had yet to char the earth with Oklahoma’s annual drought, her skin was already deeply bronzed from hours of outdoor play. Dad was next to her, hard to miss at his height and wearing a black and orange Ditch Witch ball cap.

The generous, happy reception drew the attention of everyone near our gate. Anorexic thoughts flickered in the back of my mind.

Are they doing this all for show? Do I look bloated? I wonder what Mom’s planning for dinner, will it fit my exchanges?

I banished the intrusive thoughts. Canned, one-liners of truth, my new tools of recovery, were all I had to fight back.

I am loved by God and my family. 

I’m beautiful just the way I am. 

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

The last one I had known forever. It was only truth I actually believed. The road ahead was long, my ambition to stay well, still shaky.

But I knew that Christ was in me. I knew that He was going to have to do this because I still wasn’t sure I wanted to.

 

 

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Missing Peace, Chapter 13, Extension

Keri looked like a bleary water color painting through my tears. Long blond hair, hung like a pale sheet to her shoulders.

I never noticed how plump her cheeks are, I mused. I don’t want to look like that! How on earth am I supposed to trust a fat therapist?

I wedged my hands between my bony buns and the seat cushion. The woven material left checkered marks on my palms. My fingers felt wooden, like fine branches on a winter tree, brittle and dead. Keri’s office was always 71 degrees, but I was so cold. My dietician, Cheryl, said that I was because I had no fat for insulation, I just needed to fill out a little.

Despite the chill, my belly burned with anxiety. Heat crept up my throat and dried my tongue. I dreaded these conference calls with my parents. It was terrible trying to decipher the inflection in their voices. Dad always sounded put-out or resigned. Was Mom on the edge of tears? Perhaps they’d rather be doing anything else. I was such an imposition.

Jenny and my folks left three weeks earlier at the conclusion of our Truth in Love week. Nothing had changed. Within hours of their departure, I believed again that they didn’t want or need me.

Safely out my sight, buckled into stiff airplane seats, surely they had commiserated. “Well, I’m glad that’s over,” I had imagined my dad saying.

“She still looks too thin. I don’t know if she’ll be ready to come home in a few more weeks,” Mom replied.

I never thought this day would come; slightly more than a week away from my original discharge date. But what if I couldn’t go home?

Keri and I stared at each other across her desk. She had that aggravating, steady, therapist-gaze of a person fully zipped up internally, leaking no emotion, giving away no sentiments. Keri had the perfect poker face. I knew she cared about me, she had said so. But I was just one of her five patients, part of her job.

“Barry and Janis, are you there?” Keri spoke into the speakerphone on her desk.

My parents’ voices crackled across the miles from Oklahoma to Arizona. “We’re here,

Keri.” Dad was always brief and to-the-point during conference calls.

I took a deep breath to quell my earlier sobs and suck back my tears. The taste of an abominable lunch, chicken nuggets, canned peaches and celery, clung to my taste buds. Lard seemed to be oozing through my pores; I watched my thighs flatten wide and fat against the seat.

“One less-healthy meal every now and then won’t hurt you.” Shani had tried to assure the eight girls at her table. “I promise.” Then dug into her lunch with pleasure. Like tortured prisoners, we followed suit.

“Abby, are you there?” Mom’s voice was slightly warmer than Dad’s.

Oh how I wished she would come rescue me. I wanted to bury my chin in her shoulder and inhale her mom-scent, a mixture of Amber Romance from Victoria’s Secret and the fading fragrance of Scruples’ coconut conditioner.

“MmmHmm.”

Keri’s office smelled antiseptic, belying the homey decor. I grabbed her neon pink Kush ball and twisted my fingers through the sticky, slimy tentacles. Adult voices echoed in an alien language around me. Insurance, doctors’ notes, insignificant issues to my teenage mind. I picked the legs off of the Kush ball and wound them around my fingers watching my fingertips turn blue.

“Abby was unable to gain the suggested three pounds since our conversation just over a week ago.” Keri’s announcement of my failure brought me back to reality. “Because of her slow weight gain, her treatment team is suggesting an extension of her stay here at Remuda Ranch.”

Silence.

In my mind, Mom stepped out of the bedroom with the cordless phone so that she could see my dad tethered to the landline in the kitchen. He rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders, palms up in resignation. Mom blinked on a tear, tilting her chin up to keep the waterworks dammed behind her eyelids.

“Abby?”

Bile surged in my throat. As much as I wouldn’t have minded being rid of lunch, I couldn’t throw up. Then, they would accuse me of being bulimic and I’d never leave The Ranch.

“Whatever,” I managed. “It doesn’t matter what I want. You guys are calling all the shots anyway and what I think doesn’t really matter.”

The tension of suppressed sobs pushed tiny hiccups through my lips. I couldn’t hold it back much longer.

 

Sweet Sixteen, Chapter 12

Before you begin, I beg you to remember that this is the first and roughest draft of my fledgling memoir. Please read gracefully, knowing that it has not been fully edited. And by all means feel free to offer comments and suggestions.
Lastly, I’m still in flux as to the title. I welcome any ideas!!

Sweet Sixteen

Love is:

The purpose for living

Important to express

A hug, a kiss

Forgiveness

A compliment

Caring

More than a feeling

Healing

What you want to focus on

The solution

Peace and joy

Priceless and invaluable

Free and abundant

The shining light that guides us

###

The Truth in Love is a critical component of treatment at Remuda. It’s staged at the halfway point, 30 days into an adolescent’s minimum stay of 60 days. Parents and family members who play a significant roll in a patient’s life are invited to The Ranch for one week. It’s a time for family counseling, large group therapy and a chance for the patient to practice healthy behaviors in their family environment.

My family shared a week with three other families. Each family was given one day that week to have their Truth in Love. The rest of us sat in a circle around them, offering emotional support, solidarity and praying to learn something we could apply to our own story.

Each patient’s personal therapist directed their family’s conversation. Similar to a twelve step program, we made lists of offenses and amends. Then, according to Ephesians 4:15, we tried to share our feelings truthfully, but gently and in love.

Throughout the first month of treatment, Keri and I discussed the family dynamics that had contributed to my eating disorder. Once a week, we had conference calls with my parents, and often my sister, Jennifer was included. As our week approached, Keri suggested that Jennifer join my parents when the came to Arizona.

“I think Jenny plays a big role in all of this,” Keri tread lightly. “Remember, the eating disorder isn’t anyone’s fault. But because Jenny and Abby are so close in age, I think it will be really helpful if she’s here to be a part of this.”

Keri stressed that no one was at fault, it was simply the way we perceived each other, just the way things were. But, at the time, it seemed so easy to play the victim and pin blame on someone for making me act out through anorexia. As I made my lists of offenses and amends to share with Mom, Dad and Jennifer, I faced the impossible question: What caused me to develop an eating disorder?

My Truth in Love was scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, the day after my birthday. Dad, Mom and Jennifer flew into Arizona late Sunday night. I hardly slept. What if they were put out having to come here to help me? What if they were exasperated that my brokenness cost them money, time and energy? What if they didn’t want to be here? And worst of all, what if this was wasted, and I couldn’t get this recovery thing right?

I was grateful that Monday breakfast was always a bran muffin, cottage cheese, canned peaches, peanut butter and milk. It was a relatively “safe” meal for me, and satisfied my required exchanges of three bread, two meat, two fruit, two fat and one milk. The butterflies in my stomach were able to focus solely on the arrival of my family and not worry about breakfast.

Did they remember it was my birthday, my 16th birthday? Or had my family forgotten since for a full month they hadn’t had to be aware of me. Maybe I was a non-issue in the Blades family by now.

“Abby, as soon as you’re finished, can you come to the med window, honey?” Evelyn, my favorite nurse waved at me from the edge of the dining room.

“Am I in trouble,” I mouthed. She shook her head and disappeared back around the corner.

I liked Evelyn because she had mastered the art of being everyone’s mother. She was the supreme comforter when you had to eat all of your fat exchanges in one sitting because you had declined them earlier in the day. She was the one who would rub your back in lazy circles while you cried yourself to sleep.

Evelyn was part Hispanic. Neither too heavy nor thin, she always wore light purple scrubs and smelled like lavender. Everything about her was soft, from her deep, black eyes, to her wavy, untamed hair to her large, capable hands.

Evelyn daughter named Shani who was also a nurse at Remuda. Shani was still in school and didn’t plan to make Remuda her career as her mother had. But she was as spunky as Evelyn was maternal. Her right ear had eight piercings, including the tragus, which made her all the more daring and edgy to me.

Usually, no matter who finished first, everyone at the table waited for the slowest person to suffer through their last bite. Thankfully, Shani was our table monitor that day. With a slight nod, she released me to go find out what Evelyn wanted.

“Surprise!”

The shout came from in front of and behind me. Standing in the same hall where I had first entered Remuda, before the med window where I had first seen Alicia, stood both my parents and my sister.

“Happy Birthday!”

This time the shout only echoed from behind me as I buried my face in Mom’s familiar black jacket. All the girls, still dutifully planted in front of their plates, turned and shouted again, “Happy Birthday!”

Jenny stood next to Daddy holding a heart shaped mylar balloon that proved they hadn’t forgotten my special day. Daddy reached to hug me next.

“Happy sixteenth, kiddo,” he whispered into my hair. “I love you. When you get home, we’ll get your driver’s license first thing.”

I pulled back and grinned at him. “Really?”

“Yep! But we did bring something for you today, too.”

I broke loose from Dad and threw my arms around my little sister. In those minutes, it seemed impossible that I had ever doubted their love for me. It seemed crazy that I might accuse these wonderful people of making me sick. Of course they loved me!

“Come on in here, Abby.” Evelyn beckoned me into the dining room. “Bring your family in here so we can meet them!”

“I heard them say they brought you a gift! We want to see it, too. Open it! Open it!” Alicia bounced lightly in her chair, and for once no one shushed her or accused her of trying to burn extra calories.

I took a light blue bag from Mom’s out stretched hands. No one in our family does elaborate gift wrapping, but Mom can do a great curly ribbon bow. I grabbed a butter knife from the table and sawed through the white ribbon. Beneath wads of crushed, voluminous tissue paper, I found a small jewelry box.

I laughed, “Is someone proposing?”

I lifted the box from its cocoon of paper and pried it open. A huge aquamarine, my birthstone, gleamed from the crease in the box.

“I bought that stone and a topaz just like it in the Brazil on my last business trip,” Dad said. “I had them set in identical settings, this one for you and the topaz for your mom.”

“It’s gorgeous, Daddy! Thank you, thank you!”

“Oh, and we can’t forget these,” Mom pulled a large manila envelope from her purse. “These are all the birthday cards from your church friends, school friends, grandparents and everyone else. See, you’re unforgettable.”

I heard the truth in Mom’s words. For that day, I believed her. The lie would resurface; it was one of my grievances or offenses listed for the Truth in Love tomorrow.

I feel unimportant.

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Compliant, Missing Peace Ch. 11

My first visit to Remuda overlapped with Alicia’s third. Like an old pro, she led me around the facilities.

“This is the main house.” She swept her right in an arc around her, while her left continued to steady the pole where her feeding tube kept a life-giving vigil. “We eat here in the dining room, and then through that wide entryway, is the everything else room. Every morning, we have chapel in there, but during the day, it’s more of a den with the TV in the corner, comfy couches and board games.”

I stood with my toes hanging over the small step down into the den. Three telephones lined the far well. So much for privacy when you call home. Alicia moved on. Later I would marvel at what psychiatrists call her ability to disassociate. Pieces of her story came out slowly. On the spectrum of maturing experiences, Alicia had lived ten lives compared to mine.

At twelve years old, she stood no taller than four feet. She had wide, round stars for eyes, bright, spicy and alert. They belied the trauma of her short life. As early as three years old she had been physically abused by various men in her family. By age five, she refused to eat. Each time she had been to Remuda Ranch, she had stayed until insurance quit paying, then until her parents could no longer afford it. The third time, she was there on the support of an anonymous donor.

“And if you’re lucky enough to be allowed to exercise at all, three nights a week some of the girls do line dancing in there, or a Richard Simmons aerobics video. I’m not allowed to participate, but it’s almost more fun to laugh at them.”

The main lodge served as the hub of all life for the forty women and girls at Remuda. It was an expansive, cheery place. A serving bar, like the one in my grandma’s kitchen separated the dining room from the kitchen. The cooks were the plumpest, kindest people in the world. With forty women eating three meticulously portioned  meals and snacks everyday, their job never ended.

Heather came to Remuda three weeks after I got there. Her story was similar to Alicia’s, but she was thirteen and her eating disorder had only begun three months before. Heather was not at a dangerously low weight, but excessive purging had already torn her esophagus and her heart had begun to flutter irregularly. Depression haunted her eyes, and anger. Deep gray, they still creased with a ready smile, but storms raged below the surface.

Heather was never aggressive or violent toward anyone else, but she was on suicide watch from the day she arrived at The Ranch. For some reason, she took to me. Her assumption of my courage bolstered my own recovery. Sick, frail and shipped off, I believed that my role as big sister in my family was only another place where I had failed.

One night, the nurse came to my door, tapped a few times and then shook me awake. “Abby, wake up. Honey, Susan caught Heather with a razor blade in the bathroom. She is up at the nurses’ station now, she is going to sleep on the cot up there. But she’s really upset and is asking for you.”

I knelt on the floor next to Heather’s cot for the next three hours. My bony knees dug into the wooden floor. For once, I wasn’t the broken one. I basked in the joy of being asked for, needed. I belong here, I thought. Everyone wants to live in a world where they are necessary.

###

I determined to be a “compliant” during my stay at Remuda. It seemed the only logical way to be discharged in a reasonable amount of time. Compliants were those girls who cleaned their plates at every meal, among other things.

Each girl met individually with a dietician and medical doctor to determine her dietary needs. Based on the diabetic exchange lists, every meal was tailored for each girl so that she received a precise weight of meatloaf, or exactly 1/3 of a cup of mashed potatoes, or 1/4 of a bran muffin, or five hard boiled eggs. If a girl refused even the smallest portion of her meal, she had to drink its equivalent in Ensure.

The consequences were nonnegotiable. Dani, a tall, exotic looking girl, once sat at the table for four hours between lunch and dinner because she refused to eat her chicken nuggets. At dinner time, she was still staring at an Ensure supplement, carefully supervised by a nurse.

I was there during the final weeks of the spring semester, so as a compliant, I dutifully met with the resident tutor and completed all the homework assignments forwarded to me by concerned teachers. I worried about going back to school.

Compliance also meant attending twice weekly, one-on-one meetings with my personal therapist, Keri. On a well-refined rotating schedule, all of girls at Remuda participated in didactics, classes focused on the practical aspects of learning to function and eat again in society. We also had body image sessions and art classes.

Julynn was the body image therapist. As much as I despised her workshops, Julynn was impossible to hate. Barely five feet tall, she sported a wind-swept, short blond hair style. Her eyes were slate gray and with a knack for accessories, she highlighted her high cheekbones with a variety of glasses frames. She was perfect to lead body image classes; if any girl could imagine herself normally sized, she would be thrilled to look just like pretty, petite Julynn.

“You’re going to love body image this week,” said Karen, an older woman who was on a different class rotation that I was. She sounded sarcastic. “Just wait.”

I walked into Julynn’s office under a cloud of foreboding. Alicia was right behind me, telescoping her feeding pole out of the golf cart that transported all of the girls whose health was considered to precarious to walk the grounds. I waited for her.

“Hi girls,” Julynn grinned looking up from last minute notes. “Are you ready to work?”

“Not really,” I mumbled.

“What are we doing, Julynn? I’ve heard rumors that it’s awful.” So Alicia had heard the same warning.

“Today we’re doing body tracings,” Julynn stood and pulled a giant roll of butcher paper out from under her desk.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope, as soon as Dani, Shelly and Jenn get here, we’ll get started.”

“You’re going to need double-wide butcher paper for me,” Alicia voiced what we were all believing about our own bodies.

“That’s what this exercise is about,” Julynn’s smile dropped a bit of it’s brilliance. “Most women with eating disorders, and a lot who never develop eating disorders, really struggle with body dysmorphia.”

“What’s that?” Alicia asked.

“To be precise,” Julynn picked up a massive book from her desk and read, “Body dysmorphia is a type of mental illness, wherein the affected person is concerned with body image, manifested as excessive concern about and preoccupation with a perceived defect of their physical features. The person thinks they have a defect in either one feature or several features of their body, which causes psychological distress that causes clinically significant distress or impairs occupational or social functioning. Often BDD co-occurs with emotional depression and anxiety, social withdrawal or social isolation.”

“OK, I admit it,” I sought to get out of the exercise. “I’m body dysmorphic. So can I go to the art building to scribble out some aggression instead of doing a tracing?”

“Abby, why don’t you go first.” Julynn closed the door behind the last three girls.

I stretched out on the floor on top of the butcher paper. I knew I would fit. Somewhere in my rational psyche, who wasn’t quite dead, I knew I would fit. Julynn began to trace around my body. The room faded. All I could hear was the squeak of her black marker. It tickled between my fingers.

“OK. And I didn’t get any black marker on your clothes.” Julynn stood and then helped me to my feet.

Wordless, she picked up my tracing and hung it on the wall.

“Here, take the marker. Actually, there’s the box,” she said pointing to a chair nearby. “Pick any color that suits your mood. Now, I want you to write all over this picture. What thoughts or feelings come up when you look the tracing? What do you see?”

I grabbed a green marker. The therapist voice in my head, the one I was learning to imitate after so many hours of counseling told me that green was a good sign. Instead of red, indicating anger and frustration, my choice of green might show Julynn that I was happy, optimistic.

I started at my outline. What to write? I knew how this worked. A progressing compliant would write things like: Healthy, normal, loved by God and unique.

A more honest telling would reveal: Scared, fat, strange, average, not-good-enough. So I wrote a little of both.

Finally, I placed the markers back in the box. I had used red for a couple words, just so Julynn didn’t think I was lying. She smiled at me.

“I’m going to give each of your tracings to your individual therapists for processing later this week,” she said. “Jennifer, will you go next?”

 

 

Foundations of Fitness

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Hello Friends! I’m inviting you to join me over at Haven Journal today. Here’s a taste, follow the link to get more!

My dad was a full five bike lengths in front of me, despite the fact that his bike might as well have been made of lead compared to mine, crafted from a lighter alloy. He turned back to search for me in the slowly spreading sea of cyclists. Concern filled his eyes, but he knew better than to admonish me.

We had registered for this 60 mile bike ride in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in May, right after I returned from my first stint at Remuda Ranch, a treatment center for eating disorders. By now, a rainy, chilly, September day, I had shed most of the weight my therapists and dietitians had gently encouraged me to gain.

Malnourished and tired, I hadn’t felt well for three days, but I refused to tell my parents. If they knew I was getting sick there was no way they’d let me ride, and I would rather die than miss a chance to burn 60 miles worth of calories.

Keep reading…

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Throwing Down the Gauntlet

I am accepting the challenge and extending it to you at the same time. In the book One Thousand Gifts, A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, the author accepts a dare from her friend to name 1,000 things she’s thankful for. I’m going one small step further. I plan to name three things I’m thankful for every single day for a year.

1095 things that my generous Heavenly Father gives me

Will you join me? I’m starting today, February 9, 2012. This is the 15 year anniversary of my admission to Remuda Ranch. First, I’m thankful to be alive and to be enjoying life in a capacity I once thought was impossible.

I’m thankful that I grew up to get married.

I’m thankful coffee with carmel creamer and sitting still in prayerful quiet time every morning