I Need Time
**Trigger warning: this story mentions eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your own discretion and speak with your therapist as needed. This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond.
Katie Monsewicz is an avid writer and practicing journalist who has been through The Emily Program’s residential treatment program. She wants to help others who have struggled with eating disorders and those who are still struggling through her writing and as an advocate for eating disorder recovery.
“I swear I stopped for that school bus,” I say to my husband.
I’m bundled up in a jacket and long, thermal fitness pants, my legs shaking like crazy out of pure habit because I. Can’t. Stop. Moving.
Of course, he looked a little upset. If I get a ticket, I have a fine, and the car insurance we can barely pay now – with him losing his paycheck after leaving the military – will go up.
But his frustration was immediately alleviated when the waiter finally arrived with his fried chicken, french fries, and macaroni and cheese. Good ol’ comfort food.
Then there was the broiled fish and peas and sweet potato casserole; the fried pork chop and glazed carrots and fried shrimp and mashed potatoes with gravy.
And I’m shaking. I still can’t stop moving. I’m running now, my feet above the ground, swinging back and forth, back and forth, as I wait for my food to be served: my salad with apple slices, clementine slices, pineapple bits…oh and no walnuts (oh, the fat!) and no dried cranberries (oh, the carbs!) and fat-free Sweet N Sour salad dressing (let’s be honest… fat-free is never gag free.)
It’s been five minutes. And I’m still shuffling. And everyone is eating – but me. My husband looks around and is hesitant to dig into his chicken leg, looking concerned for me. He says it bothers him that everyone has their food but me.
It bothers him? Isn’t that supposed to bother me?
It doesn’t bother me. At all, actually. Because, regardless of how hungry I am, I am consciously trying to fend off the food. It doesn’t matter how many months or years I’ve been “recovered.” I still get very anxious when eating around a group of people I don’t really know. And I know more than half the table have no clue I ever had an eating disorder.
So I sit.
Finally, after shuffling my feet for so long I could create a cloud of static electricity, the waitress comes out with my food.
And a heaping cup of full fat Sweet N Sour dressing.
She goes to set it down, and I give her “the look” – you know, the look of “oh, no, I can’t eat this!” or “what the hell did you just try to give me?”
Her hand isn’t even off the plate before she says, “Oh, wait, you wanted fat-free….and no walnuts…”
“And no cranberries,” I finish for her.
She apologizes and leaves with the full plate of food.
And I’m still waiting. I’m having flashbacks to the days I would go out to eat with friends or with family and wouldn’t order a thing. Like that time at Cedar Point with my best friend and her family and I complained of a “stomach ache” and didn’t order anything. (The waitress brought me tea and crackers anyway.) And then those countless times my husband would pick up food at a gas station and we’d sit here while he gorged on chicken tenders and a hamburger stuffed with mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce and I’d just sit there, shuffling my feet, taking large swigs of flavored, calorie-free water.
She eventually brings out the right dish. I eat most of it (all of the sweet, sweet fruit) and completely avoid the fat-free Sweet N Sour (once again, I gag).
The whole time I’m eating, I watch as my husband’s friend inhales his fried shrimp and mashed potatoes and gravy and then stares – almost as much as I do – at the unfinished food on other people’s plates. He keeps asking my husband, “Are you going to finish those fries?” He asks if the friend beside him is going to eat his carrots. He takes my husband’s mashed potatoes and gravy and inhales that, too.
Everyone is finished – me last. I set my napkin on my a-third-full plate to show I am done.
The same eternally hungry friend asks, “Oh, you’re not going to get a box for that?”
“No,” I say.
“Can I finish it?”
“Um, you probably wouldn’t like it. The dressing is fat-free.” I try to save him. I really do.
He shrugs and reaches for my plate. I hand it to him and, as he eats, we continue conversation. (All the while, I’m stealing glances at the man eating my salad.)
“What kind of dressing did you say this was?” he asks.
“Fat-free Sweet N Sour.”
“I don’t like it,” he says as He. Keeps. Shoving. The. Salad. In. His. Mouth.
I’m utterly confused. He doesn’t like it, yet he continues to eat? The only thing he refuses is the brownie dessert because he’s allergic to chocolate.
“Is this unusual?” I asked myself.
And then I came to a realization: No. Not at all.
Why? Because I was the unusual one. I picked and plucked at my food and tried to turn it, essentially, tasteless, and now someone has realized how absolutely strange my eating habits were.
It’s one thing to ask for fat-free dressing, but to ask for one you hated just so you wouldn’t finish eating your food? That was self-sabotage. That was odd. That was weird. That was wrong.
I want to eat normal. I truly do. I never said I didn’t want to enjoy some macaroni and cheese or fried chicken. That’s good stuff! I’m just not in the point in my recovery where I can. Despite going through residential and countless medical appointments and therapists, I’m still not at the moment in my recovery where I can stop picking and plucking at my food.
That doesn’t mean I won’t get there.
I just need time.
Time that’s probably going to be a little bit longer than the time I had to wait for my salad.