Odd Man Out
He sounds happy! I texted my sister, referring to a recent phone call with my nineteen-year-old son. He just started his sophomore year at the University of Oregon, and during the call, for the first time in a long while, his voice sounded buoyant and content. It filled my mom heart with a mixture of joy, relief, and hope that my sweet boy, who has struggled for years to find his place in this world, may finally be starting to feel okay with who is.
It is what I have always wanted for my kids. And personally, at the age of forty-eight, I wanted that for myself as well. Starting with my new recovery group.
I was the first one to arrive the night of the initial group meeting, allowing me a moment to assess the room and choose my seat around the tables set up in a big U shape. As usual, in new situations, I decided on a chair closest to the door, finding comfort in an easy escape should the need arise.
Initially, I had not asked Kirsten much about it; even when she shared, it would be "different" than the body image group I initially inquired about. Realizing participation was a condition of Kirsten agreeing to work with me, I readily accepted, confident whatever it was it would help me dig out of the eating disorder hole I had gotten into. As I sat there, waiting for the others in the group to arrive, I felt jittery with anxious anticipation, like before getting on a plane for a long-awaited tropical vacation. It was the only part of the treatment plan that I was looking forwards to. Where I was dreading the bi-weekly weigh-ins and the means I would have to employ to gain weight, I was excited for this opportunity to connect with others who were living in the same unbearably lonely world as me. Delighted for the chance to be in a room where I felt part of something instead of feeling like the odd, anxious, skinny outlier.
As the other participants began to trickle in, I took a quick note of each one. First, was the red-headed woman in her late fifties who sat right next to me. Followed by a petite woman carrying a bicycle twice her size. Then entered a tall, blond twenty-something who looked like a college volleyball player, and shortly after, a masculine-looking woman with gorgeous blue eyes who avoided eye contact with all of us. Two chatty teenagers walked in and took seats across from me, animatedly comparing their scores on a recent chemistry test. Lastly, a suburban mom type who blew in at the last minute, flustered, and apologizing profusely for being late. As we sat around the table in awkward silence, waiting for Kirsten to begin the group, I could not ignore the obvious. They did not look like me. Not one of them appeared to have extremely low body weight, tell tale signs of anorexia. They all seemed to be of average weight. Maybe the cyclist came close to "too thin." Maybe. I was instantly disappointed and a little pissed off. What kind of group is this? I remember thinking, frustration swelling and the exit door looking very appealing. I was craving a connection with other people. It is why I ultimately found the courage to reach out for help. I was tired of feeling so lonely. In this group, I desperately hoped to hear my struggle come from someone else's heart, helping to make me feel less crazy, scared, and alone. But sitting in that windowless room with these unknown, seemingly healthy women, I highly doubted any of them knew what it was like to live the dark, painful, structured, unforgiving hell of anorexia.
And once again, I found myself feeling like the odd one out.