The woman walked towards me with her racquet in hand. I guessed her to be about fifteen years older than I, in her late fifties. With a support brace around one knee and feet the size of snowshoes, I assumed she had walked onto the wrong court, taking her for a doubles player, not the opponent for my singles match. But as we introduced ourselves, I realized she was indeed there for me. Her name was Blanche.
OMG, this is going to be an easy one today, I thought to myself, relieved. I considered myself a pretty good tennis player. Still, I had no real weapon except for my endurance, which was surprisingly endless despite my low weight. It's how I won most of my matches, getting every ball back across the net until my opponent got tired and made mistakes. With her arthritic knee, big feet, and more advanced age, Blanche posed no real threat to my runner's lungs or my winning record.
She ended up beating me 6-1, 6-3.
I had no idea what to expect when I stepped onto the front porch. The initial conversation with Gretchen, the dietician Kirsten had steered me towards, was brief, just long enough to set up an appointment. I had learned that Gretchen was a meditation teacher and liked yoga. It didn't exactly scream hard-ass, which was fine by me. Despite my courageous plea in Kirsten's office the week earlier, I wasn't completely ready to dive into recovery with both feet. Regardless, the lies I told myself, that I could recover without changing my lifestyle, I knew that recovery would mean letting go of many of the behaviors that had become an essential part of my existence. Like breathing, I couldn't imagine waking up in the morning and not exercising for hours. Cooking without weighing out the right amount of protein and eating meals when I felt hungry, not when I was "supposed to." I had become envious of my friends who could live more flexible, less structured lives. Seemingly free of obsessive thoughts about food, exercise, and extra pounds. But I couldn't see that for me. Over the years, I had tried so many times to free myself from my obsessive, anxious, rigid, rule-bound life, to no avail. I didn't think I could do it, and I was pretty sure a zen, hippie-like dietitian was not going to be much help.
I took a deep breath and pasted a smile on my face as Gretchen answered the door of the beautiful old Portland home in which she had her office. We politely exchanged pleasantries while I took in every inch of this new dietician. Her petite frame and spunky short red hair contrasted against her pale skin and delicate features making me think of a fairy, like Tinkerbell. She wore a knit purple dress with a red leather jacket, making her look hip, slightly edgy, and younger than what I estimated to be her sixty-ish years. But it was her eyes that caught my attention. Like a veteran of war or wise grandparent, they held the wisdom of a person who had seen a few things. The way she held my gaze, direct but welcoming, stern yet compassionate, throwing off my "read the room" radar that I'd come to rely on in new situations. Something told me Gretchen had been at this game for a long time, and once again I allowed a feeling of hope to swell through my body. My anorexic brain, however, was panicking, making it hard for me to focus, trying to convince me to do an about-face and walk and walk out the door.
In both hope and fear, what I suspected was, in this woman, I had met my match.