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Holding On

I need to walk, I thought to myself as I gingerly climbed out of the car, my muscles feeling like they might snap as I unfolded my body into an upright position. My husband Marc and I had just returned from dropping D off at a week-long business camp in Corvallis, a ninety-minute drive from our home outside of Portland and I felt a pang of guilt for how much I was looking forward to D being gone. Despite the progress in my ability to sit still, three hours in the car pushed me out of my comfort zone, especially as of late. The stress of trying to find peace and sanity in my house left me constantly edgy. My body was feeling that familiar desire to move. Before getting distracted with the usual weekend chores of grocery shopping or folding laundry, I ran into the house, popped on my walking shoes, and headed out into the 90-degree heat, dragging my stiff legs through the winding paths up the hill to the top of Mt. Sylvania. The heaviness of the summer air was thick, making it feel like I was breathing through a paper bag. Why am I doing this? I asked myself.

I already knew the answer.

"When you stop trying to control your body, it will settle," my therapist Kirsten explained to me once again during our session. I had confessed to her my heat walking outing, knowing it was an old anorexic behavior that had nothing to with enjoying nature.

"I am afraid to sit still, Kirsten," I said, frustrated that I was back in this place of anxious restlessness. I was afraid the chaos in my household was proving to be more than my year of treatment could manage. The skills I had learned as a way to regulate my body physiology in a healthy way had disappeared from my mind like an eighth-grade math equation.

Sherri," she said when I was done rationalizing and justifying my actions, "you are getting in your own way."

I was afraid I was going to lose this. ( Family portrait by artist Diane Russell, 2017).

I spent my time tiptoeing around D, never knowing if he would be explosive, sneaky, or sweet. I was fighting with my husband over the best way to set boundaries in our house while trying to keep my youngest son, B, from slipping between the cracks of our fractured home. I could have easily derailed and backslid into anorexia. I was on my way. Days spent keeping my body distracted with cycling and tennis only to find myself hungry mid-afternoon, yet refusing too eat and forcing myself to wait until dinner. Nights nervously waiting up to hear D creeping in the back door, craving a big bowl of my beloved Ben and Jerry's to soothe my nerves yet only allowing myself a carefully measured half a cup. I could hear the old narrative creeping in. Being indulgent means, I am out of control. I desperately felt the need to control something to fill the void of being unable to fix what I felt was so broken—my family.

My year in the treatment had given me more than a few added pounds. It brought me an awareness of my anorexia. It helped me decipher when my Anorexic Brain was taking over and taught my Sherri Brain how to talk back. In a year, I gained new coping tools, developed a stronger self-esteem, and a healthier outlook on life. I didn't need my anorexia, but I couldn't seem to find the courage to toss it out. Like my favorite ragged grey sweatshirt, I felt the need to hang onto it.

Just in case.


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