I want to dedicate this post to the ladies I shared a table with for the last several months! I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a life-changing experience with a group of people, but it is a bonding experience difficult to explain because the emotional attachment “just happens.” This post is about where things got real for me. All of my coping tools were outsmarted, all of my rules were broken, all of my fears surfaced. And it happened not once, but multiple times a day without fail because I chose for it to. But I wasn’t alone. Not for a moment. This is not a writing to exclude anyone, but the people I ate around 350 meals with during in-patient treatment deserve a shout out. They are courageous and loving and selfless. Picture this…ladies going through a line in a small restaurant setting, facing food. Sounds enticing if you love food and aren’t afraid of what different foods will do to you, but we are afraid because of the messages the media crams down our throats. Combine with that fear the eating disorder relentlessly yelling in our heads, telling us we are weak and giving in if we take a bite of the pasta or chicken fried steak or cinnamon roll, and you have the potential for a perfect storm.
Why? Because we go to intensive inpatient treatment to face those fears over and over so that maybe…just maybe…we will discover our fear is an illness, not a reality. But it’s not only that. If you are in this level of treatment, the eating disorder is so loud our health is greatly compromised and there is a window of time to get nourished.
So…we spent a great deal of time eating at a table…like most people do, but we hadn’t. Facing this fear six times a day is the hardest thing I’ve personally done. Not getting to carefully control what I put my mouth, was emotional - at least for me. I cried through most of my meals and that’s okay because I had professional and peer support. We ate with trained technicians, nutritionists, and therapists. Our anxiety was usually “at a 10 out of 10,” but if I wanted to get nourished, this was the deal. The most important part of getting through each meal, which had been prepared by a chef and staff who cared deeply about the quality of the food and about our recovery, were my peers who sat on either side of me.
These ladies were cheerleaders as well as patients, once they reached a certain point of their care, and their mindset was to go for a level closer to freedom. When being re-fed, I was scared because of my many food rules but, more than that, because my stomach wasn’t used to food and at first it wasn’t a welcoming host. I felt pretty bad. But this is why I was away from my family. I absolutely couldn’t do this on my own, and God provided amazing support. Those around me, and I with them, got to where we could read the outward signs of struggle and extreme stress - a shaking leg, a shaking hand trying to hold on to something as basic as a fork, not picking up a utensil at all, and for me…tears. I never rejected the food. I wanted to show the eating disorder it had taken enough from me, and I was not going to continue to surrender to it, but the tears just flowed.
As we would sit there together and progress through the meal at a reasonable pace, which was and is a struggle for me, the bites would become more delayed and those around me would begin to talk to me and remind me of why the struggle is real and why I was going to get through it. “Stace…Doug loves you and wants you to be healthy.” “When you eat you’ll get strong enough to go watch Rylee dance and take her to and from school.” “Hasn’t Shelbee been asking you to come to see her at college and meet her new friends?” “Stacee…when your brain gets fed over time, you will get to write again.” There was nothing enabling about my soul sisters. Nothing. With few exceptions these gals wanted to get better, and they weren’t going to leave me behind.
I miss my peers every single meal because we got each other. And those called to often take the brunt of the sickness and anxiety and the killer in our heads, are often in a thankless position. But they see more in us. They see potential in our lives if we will just choose to take one more bite and then the next. God foresaw who I would need and most certainly who they would need as we coexisted in this vulnerable position. There were no coincidences.
I am better for knowing them and laughing with them and crying with them, and loving on them and them loving on me. God is more than good. He is the gifter of all good things. So putting people in our lives when we just can’t struggle alone one more moment, is Him. I felt guilt at first for needing more than Him. I beat myself up relentlessly for this, but then I was reminded we are made for community living…and this was the community I needed. The therapists’ hugs which made me know I could get through this and the hugs from peers who didn’t let go until we were okay to do so. This was God showing me survival was within my reach…our reach.
You don’t have to live in a group like this for 4 months to be changed to the degree that you can continue to fight a battle. Who surrounds you now? Who reminds you and cheers you on and unconditionally reminds you that God isn’t going anywhere and those who love you who don’t want you to go anywhere? If there is no one, that’s my prayer for you. That God will put you in the direct path of those precious people who want you to do more than survive. They won’t stop praying and reassuring and loving until you thrive! This, my friends, is why I fight and let others help me do so. Let there come a point in your life, where you just want more.
So here’s to those who worked, served, and temporarily resided by my side. And to those who prayed for all of the above from home. You are my kindred spirits, my inspirations, my motivators so I could come home to my loves. Ladies…“ You are so worth saving.”
“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4.13