"Mom, just pick one," my thirteen-year-old son Brennan said to me impatiently. We were in the grocery store, and I had been in the ice cream aisle for at least fifteen minutes, sweat breaking out in my armpits like I had been jogging up and down the aisle instead of slowly pacing back and forth.
"I can't! "I snapped back, frustrated, the ice cream cartons blurring together, making it hard for me to focus on any of them, "it's too hard."
"It's alright, mom, you got this," Brennan said to me, encouragingly as if it were in a game of jeopardy, and we were in the bonus round. A week earlier I had shared with my kids my decision to go into treatment for anorexia. My older son was angry and dismissive of my situation, calling it a "teenager thing," but Brennan intuitively seemed to understand I was struggling. I was grateful for him yet pissed off at myself that he even had to deal with such a mess of a mom.
"You know what? I don't need ice cream. Let's go," I said, feeling too overwhelmed to think about it any longer, my fight or flight instinct telling me to run for the car before Ben and Jerry came at me with a giant spoon.
"Okay, then let's go," Brennan said, heading towards the check stand, understandably impatient with my indecisiveness.
Dammit, Sherri, you have got to get on this, or you will never get any better, my Healthy Brain screaming in my head. Now, not tomorrow, not next week, NOW.
"Wait, B," I said, stopping my son, "I have to get ice cream, but, um, I need you to pick it out for me."
There is only one way I can describe the two years I spent in treatment. Overwhelmed.
After many weeks of weigh-ins with very little progress, Gretchen made it very clear to me. A spoonful of potatoes was not going to cut it. I could no longer dabble in the forbidden food pool. I had to jump in buck naked, and not come up for air until I was over full. It was the only proven way to dig myself out, she said. To eat until I was just past full, every meal, every day.
So there I was. Being permitted to eat anything I wanted. Foods I craved, foods I had deprived myself of for years, foods I had never even occurred to me to try—hearty, rich, calorie-dense food. I had no idea where to start.
I imagine it would be like regaining your sight after ten years. Seeing the blue of the sky on a bright summer day, the shimmering silver of the stars on a clear fall night, or the green of your child's eyes as they open a long-anticipated birthday gift. Colors you had long forgotten existed assuaging your brain, making you feel like you wanted to take it all in, yet needing to close your eyes because it was too bright.
I wanted it all, yet all of it scared the hell out of me. My two brains were fighting all the time. My healthy Sherri Brain was encouraging me to dig in and eat, to find foods I never even imagined I would allow myself to eat again. Reminding me this was the only way I was going to recover. My Anorexic Brain was holding tight to the rules I had followed for so many years, rules of control that had kept me safe and thin for over a decade—fighting, arguing, bickering, leaving me unable to make any decision at all.
But standing there in that ice cream aisle, something strange happened. As Brennan placed his choice for me, a carton of Tillamook Cookies and Cream in the basket, my heart rate slowed, and the fuzziness in my mind began to clear. I began to feel like a halfway rational woman again. It wasn't my choice, but it was a choice, and that in itself brought a sense of tremendous relief.