A Surprising Revelation When I Began Treatment For My Eating Disorder

This blog is the fifth part of a nine-part series chronicling Iris' 46-year battle with bulimia. To read the first, second, third and fourth parts, go here and here and here and here.

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There are a few things that catch my attention during the initial days surrounding my decision to seek professional help for my disordered eating.

The psychiatrist at the treatment center is willing for me to try outpatient therapy, though she doubts I can break-up with ED (Eating Disorder) without inpatient care. That observation stops me cold. Not only is that reality horrifying to me, it is simply not doable given my family situation.

How do I just disappear without anyone knowing the truth? Like my parents, my five children, my siblings and close friends? And I am not ready to spill the beans -- at least not until I have experienced a modicum of success. And who knows if that will ever happen? Better to keep my struggle under wraps for now.

And I have a full-time job.

No, residential treatment for me is simply not a viable option. I feel comfortable with the idea of working out the kinks in my wrinkled body and mind while returning to my own bed and my own routine after each weekday session.

But I know the clouds of change are gathering. The daily onslaught of guilt and remorse that washed over me every time I stuck my fingers down my throat to throw up have finally outweighed and overruled the benefits of staying with ED. He is an adolescent crush that needs shredding and shedding. He has long outlasted his usefulness.

For the first time in a long time, I want to believe in myself and take back my power. Most significantly, I want to be on the inside what I have for so long appeared to be on the outside: healthy, in control and charting my own course. I carry that warrior-like demeanor into treatment. I will need it.

I decide to go to outpatient therapy and one night early into the course of my treatment, the group leader at the treatment center boldly announces the agenda for the evening: Living in the Moment.

I groan. That concept is something I have been working on for a long time -- especially living in the not-so-stellar moments. The not ideal moment, The imperfect moment.

I think back to a past Thanksgiving weekend when I was wracked with misery. My favorite aunt had passed away. My oldest son was 1,000 miles away. My middle son, his wife and new baby were moving away. And I had a helluva week coming up -- mostly filled with things I wasn't particularly keen on doing.

I tried to force myself to shed the past and shed the future and look at the day in a vacuum: my parents were here and healthy -- my husband and four other sons were upstairs sleeping -- my sister and her family were in from Virginia. Our Thanksgiving table would be full. If I looked at the day without the context of the past and without the lens to the future, there was no reason in the world not to feel wonderful!

That's when I began to understand what Living in the Moment entails:
  • A mindset of "Wherever you go, there you are."
  • A practice of wakefulness and mindfulness; not cruising on automatic pilot.
  • A state of being on the playing field, rather than hanging-out on the sidelines
  • A celebration of what is, not what was and not what you wish it to be

When I return home from Group that evening, I plow through my stash of past "Incidentally, Iris" columns. Aha. I find it: a column on living in the moment, written in 2001. It is as follows:

I realize I devote no time to reading novels. Magazines take their place. No time to leisurely cook a meal from scratch. Carry-out makes a ubiquitous presence. No time to take a purposeless walk with a friend -- I just pedal furiously on the newest exercise machine at the gym, while checking text messages on my phone.

I live my life always anticipating the next deadline, rushing to meet overlapping obligations. I perform every task as fast and efficiently as possible, with little regard for experiencing pleasure or satisfaction while doing so. I deprive myself of things in the past that have brought pleasure and grounding.

I draw inspiration from the late Erma Bombeck, who said if she had her life to live over, "I would have eaten the popcorn in the living room ... and would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains ... and burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage."

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I think of the guest towels and the fancy soaps in my first floor bath. And how irritated I get when my youngest son and his friends use them. And how we have lived in our house for 11 years and never once burned logs in the living room fireplace.

This evening I vow to loosen up a little -- to gently rotate my shoulder blades and breathe deeply. To stop myself from checking phone messages, emails, and snail mail. To leisurely start dinner preparations. To stand still and look straight at the man I married. And listen as he speaks.

I am going to try hard to live in the moment. To isolate each event and celebrate it fully -- without looking back or projecting ahead. I am going to allow time for sighs of contentment and yelps of triumph.

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The next time I see newspapers scattered all over and spot an apple core on the table beside the couch and dust on the blinds and couch pillows astray, I vow to close my eyes and re-work the scene. I will focus on my husband and children, sit down near where they are sitting, take part in what they are doing and relegate what still needs to be done for a later time.

My New Year's Resolution is to abandon the title "The Sultan of Busyness" for good.

Maybe this year, 15 years after the above New Years resolutions were written, with ED on the way out, I'll finally succeed.


As always, I welcome your comments, your feedback, your thoughts.

If you want more information about Iris's forthcoming book Tales of a Bulimic Baby Boomer, or to sign up for her weekly newsletter, visit www.irisruthpastor.com or follow her on Twitter @IrisRuthPastor.

You can find more from Iris on LinkedIn.

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