Just One Thing for Today: Beginning Eating Disorder Recovery
By: Michelle Wells
“The statistics are grim,” a therapist had once said, “1 in 5 of you will die.” I sat in the dining room that morning, each table a circle of women, hollow and broken just like me, and accepted my fate as the sacrificial lamb. I would die and save four. It was early in my stay at Remuda Ranch, perhaps only two or three days in. I knew where I was and why I was there, but the gravity of my situation had yet to register. I was too numb, too thin, and too near death to process much of what was going on around me. My eating disorder had done its job well. I no longer felt anything.
I was in my mid-thirties, a wife and mother of five when anorexia tightened her vise-like grip. Two years of doctors, therapists, a dietitian, and an intensive outpatient program had not provided the support I needed to find healing, so at the insistence of my treatment team, I found myself in Wickenburg, Arizona. Aside from that moment in the dining room, I do not remember much from the first week. After years of fighting, I was tired. So exhausted, as a matter of fact, I had forgotten to pack my hairbrush. I was distraught and near tears. Dying did not bother me, but not being able to style my hair sure did. The next morning, my nurse gave me a brand new, still-in-the-package brush. “Someone,” she said, “wanted to surprise you.” Between intake assessments, I often curled up into a ball and fell asleep. I could be anywhere: on the couch, on a chair, or on the floor, but every time I woke up I was wrapped and warm. “Someone” had covered me in a blanket. It was the small, quiet acts of many “someones” that began to breathe life back into my soul.
Because my life at home had become so structured around my eating disorder, I had no idea how fearful I had become. After a couple of days of tossing meals, begging for grace, and declining snacks, I sat down to lunch. An MHT (mental health technician), her presence quiet but constant, sat down next to me. I picked up my tray, sat down, and stared at the plate in front of me. The half-portions stared back at me, mocking me, daring me to eat them, and I froze. Tunnel-visioned and overwhelmed, my body quaked. Karen patted me on the leg and whispered in my ear, “Choose one thing to eat…just one thing for today.” I glared at that piece of a banana as it morphed in size and quadrupled in calorie count. Karen whispered, “It’s alright. You can do this.” Tears of disgust and guilt cascaded down my cheeks. “You’re okay,” she said. I picked up the piece of fruit. Centimeter-by-centimeter I peeled back the skin. I broke off a piece and placed it in my mouth. I choked down every single slimy and florally bite of that banana. I slammed the peel down, rested my head on the table, and sobbed. “Great job,” Karen said as she cleared my tray. I had been brought to my knees by a banana.
My journey to recovery began that winter of 2004. Decisions, big and small, made with the support of a community, people who loved me and let me love them, led me toward health and healing. The unconditional and often rambunctious support shared by the staff and residents gave me the courage to live. Someone once asked me what made the Remuda Ranch so special. “No matter what I did or where I ran,” I said, “there was always someone to love me.”