When I turned sixteen, my mom took me to the DMV before school to get my driver's license. Being on the younger side, I was one of the last to accomplish this rite of passage, and I was ready. I woke up early, taking extra time with my hair and make-up in anticipation of the DL picture. I couldn't wait to recap the whole experience later at lunch hour with my girlfriends; the route we took, whether or not I had to parallel park, and if I got the DMV guy with the bad breath or the young, cute one. When my number came up, I waved to my mom, hopped into our brown station wagon with Mr. Bad Breath buckled next to me, and just minutes in, proceeded to run a stop sign. I failed the test. (A tree branch was hiding the sign, just saying). I was embarrassed, disappointed, and had no desire to retake the test. Ever.
My dilemma was that if I wanted to move forward and drive, I had to go back and pass the test.
Coming fresh from my 50th birthday celebration, I was excited for the session with my therapist, Kirsten. I spent the first half-hour filling her in on the festivities, who was there, how great I looked and how I felt renewed and reconnected to my old healthy self. I was hoping she sensed how ready I was to move forward in my life outside of treatment.
"So, have you had that burger with Polly yet?" After I finished with my effervescent party recap, Kirsten asked. She had a teasing lilt to her voice, but the message was clear.
Having a burger with Polly became a mile marker to my recovery since early in treatment. It began during a therapy session where I tearfully explained to Kirsten a dinner outing with my friend Polly. Being a beautiful fall evening, P and I skipped the pub where we met monthly to catch up and chose to sit outside on the patio of a local bistro in town. The place was pleasantly crowded, the atmosphere filled with the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses. Portlanders who were taking advantage of the last of the warm weather. But the bustle was not what caught my attention. Wafting through the air was a mouthwatering, irresistible smell of grilled burgers. And I wanted one. Badly. I anxiously waited for the server to come before I could talk myself out of ordering one. I was so twitchy and preoccupied with the food negotiation occurring in my head, and I could not focus on whatever world problem P and I were trying to solve at the moment. After what seemed like an hour, the waiter arrived with a "what can I get you, ladies, this evening?"
Polly ordered the burger. I got a salad.
For the rest of the meal, I sat, my mouthwatering at the thought of taking a huge bite of her burger, with the perfectly grilled juicy patty, topped with fresh garnishes sitting atop a perfectly toasted ciabatta bun. I wanted that burger, and I was so fucking pissed at myself that I would not, I could not, allow myself to have it.
"When you ready," Kirsten said after I had tearfully finished beating myself up over the whole burger event, "it will happen."
Over the next two years, the 'burger with Polly' question became a litmus test for progress. And there was so much progress made. Scales thrown out, running shoes donated, cake eaten, girlfriend trips taken, pounds gained, and rules lost. But I had yet to challenge a long-held food rule and have that burger with Polly. I was always ready with an excuse as to why it had yet to happen; too busy, waiting for a warm night, didn't sound good, while my dear friend patiently waited at the ready for my 'burger call.'
Each time knowing Kirsten's question was more of a statement. I had missed a step. I wasn’t ready to move forward until I was willing to take a step back.