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Untangling the Mesh

One step forward, a mile back.  We’ll make it someday.

~Tanner Olson

Today marks my 731st day of “freedom.”  It has been two years (one was a leap year) since my discharge from Residential Treatment at Roger’s Memorial Hospital.  On this day two years ago I reluctantly yet exuberantly walked out of the doors of the Eating Disorder Center with my fiance (now wife) and my mom.  I was ready to take on the world.  I was ready to move on with my life and take charge.  I was ready to kick my anorexia in the butt.  There was to be no more meal cards, snack compliance checking, or technical workout restrictions.  I was not yet going home but to a partial hospitalization program; however, my nights were mine and I was in charge.

Or was I?

I had not been out of Roger’s for more than 5 minutes when I began crying.  I missed my home.  Roger’s had become my place of comfort, my home, my dwelling place.  I wanted to go back.  It was a magnetic attraction that continued to pull me inwards.  My eating disorder thrived on the comfort the hospital provided me, the support it gave, and the never ending acceptance I received.  It was a place free of judgement, void of real world responsibilities and a place where I could face my inner demons safely.  I was facing them, but challenging them was another issue.

Roger’s was my home and it has taken me almost this full two years to realize where my home truly is.

Every year Roger’s has a reunion to celebrate recovery.  Past patients return to Roger’s from across the country to support each other, share success stories, and get a “booster” for their recovery.  During the reunion this year a common theme among alumni was “I feel like I am home” and “This will always be home for me.”  Regrettably I kept my oppositional mouth closed.

I do not think that we should consider the hospital home.  Home to me is a place of security, love, and peace, where I go daily to relax, recharge, and unwind.  It is serenity marked by the people that I love and spend my time with.  It is spending time with my wife wherever we are wallowing in our adoration for each other.  It is more than a structural shelter it is an emotional umbrella and a guardian for my heart.

This was not Roger’s.  Do not get me wrong Roger’s helped save my life, but there comes a point where we cannot deem this wonderful place our home.  When I went to my first reunion a year ago Roger’s was still home to me.  I desired so badly to be re-admitted.  I ached to return.  I had to leave the reunion early for fear that I would check myself in because I missed my home so much.  I was not ready for a reunion.

This year was different.  I had finally accepted where my home was.  I had finally chosen to live my life above and beyond the ties of my eating disorder.  Not that I was, or am, recovered by any means, but I am here and I am fighting, and I am going to live my life the way I choose to live, not according to a programming schedule put in place by therapists and residential counselors.

I began this post with the above quote because that is how I view my recovery.  The first 15 months out of treatment were some of the hardest times of my life.  I had to face old friends, confront old enemies, and, most difficultly, see myself for who I am.  There was more to T. Ben than I had ever allowed myself to see.  Suppressed memories had been resurrected, self-hate was disappearing as self-acceptance was on the rise, journaling was my outlet, and honesty had become my guide.

Life was exhausting.  I was constantly fighting to remain compliant with my meal plan, not over-work-out, plan a wedding, spend time with the friends who had stuck by me, and re-establish who T. Ben was.  

I battled demons I never knew where there.  It is funny how I went into treatment for what I thought was a “basic” eating disorder.  ”Make me fat and let me leave” was my initial mindset, but there is much more to treatment to that.  An eating disorder, as odd as it may sound, is not about the food.  Food is a source of control, of normalcy, of security, of power.  Inside I was chaotic.  I was unfocused.  I was a mass of mashed up mesh metal wires.  Treatment started untangling the mesh, but it was up to me to continue the unwinding.  This is what treatment is about.  Unwinding the mesh of self-hatred, sexual confusion, abuse, confusion, fatigue, anxiety, acceptance, and so much more.

It was not easy.  It is not easy.  Some days I feel I eat the one snack to only skip a meal later in the day.  Step forward: mile back.  Other days I eat lunch only to purge it afterwards. Step forward: mile back.  Still other days I am totally compliant but I choose to work out longer and harder because my body image is bad that day. Step forward: mile back; I’ll make is someday.  The point of this paragraph is that recovery is not always forward motion.  It is hard and set-backs happen.  But that does not make someone a failure.  One of my biggest dilemmas was understanding that a set back does not mean a total relapse.  It means taking a step back, analyzing the situation, and improving for next time.  It is a learning process.  Like school.  You can’t get a college degree in a month.  It takes years to culminate enough knowledge finally live as a college graduate.  The same is true for eating disorders: learning how to live life after an eating disorder takes time, studying, and work.  Persevere and do not give up.

I am not there yet, but I am making significant strides in the right direction.  At the physical level I am maintaining my weight, monitoring my working out, and feeling strong.  My body is functioning and I am physically able to live.  More importantly, at the emotional level I am honest with myself.  I am fighting the lies of hate and despair.  I am confiding in my wife.  I am honest with my struggles and celebrate in my successes.  I am two years out of treatment and I finally home.  Home is where the heart is and my heart lies with my life, my trials, and my wife.

Take a Leap today, where is your home?


***Roger’s Memorial Hospital has treatment programs available for men and women of all ages with eating disorders from all different backgrounds.  The staff at Roger’s saved my life and I owe my ability to recover and live my life to them.  Yes, I had to take charge to life, but they provided me with the tools and skills I needed.  For more information on Roger’s and its programs click on the following link: