The counselor was a petite woman dressed very conservatively, but I remember the color of her shirt really brought out her eyes. She had frizzy hair and wore no make up, but was attractive nonetheless. Every once in a while, you meet a person who you can practically feel love and compassion radiating from, filling the room like exquisite perfume. This woman was like that. She just shone. And she had such concern in her eyes. It was beautiful, and it terrified me, because I knew that there was nothing I could hide from someone like her. The Holy Spirit’s presence is so strong with people like this, if you can manage to lie to them it breaks your heart while you are doing it and the guilt eats away at you. You feel as if you’ve defiled something pure. They are just so filled with love and genuine goodwill towards you, and their sincerity is completely disarming. She asked me a few questions, gently, kindly. I answered honestly, heart pounding and sweating, without making eye contact. We set up the time for our first session.
In the days leading up to our session, my inner monologue changed from very controlled and demanding to one of great fear. I desperately wanted to cancel and just disappear, pretend it never happened. But I knew the memory of the counselor’s overwhelming care for me, a total stranger, would haunt me. And I knew I had to get better or die, but I wasn’t ready to relinquish my perceived world where I was DOING something, making a real difference in something. I was accomplishing something real in my body, and I liked the euphoric feelings I got after a “good” work out, or when I’d pushed my body to the limit and begin to black out. I was addicted to starvation. I didn’t know myself without it, or how I would fill my time. It was what I was best at, and hiding it gave me as much of a high as doing it. And I was terrified of getting fat, being seen, having to participate in society. People were cruel, and I wanted nothing to do with them. People let you down, but my highly structured routines and rules remained a constant for me.
The morning of our session, I woke up in a near-panic attack. I gripped my phone, staring at it, willing myself to call and cancel. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I cried. And then, a strange sense of acceptance washed over me. I went through my morning routine with a small remnant of anxiety, wondering when it would change, how many more times I would go through these same motions, and what my mornings would be like after, if I survived. I waited until the last possible moment to walk out of my dorm room, and slowly walked through the cool Autumn air to the health center.
My anxiety increased with each step. I walked in, signed in on the clipboard, and sat down to wait. My heart was pounding. I wanted to leave. And then, out she came with a folder in hand. She smiled, we shook hands and walked back to her office.
She showed me to a very small room. One wall disappeared behind two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, each stuffed with books. Her desk chair, when she pulled it out, sat inches away from the shelves, and my chair was close to her desk, right up against the back wall. Thankfully the room had two large windows (covered with sheer curtains for some privacy) to help keep the space from feeling so claustrophobic. The windows made it kind of cozy.
We spent the first session just getting to know each other. She told me a little bit about herself and her background. I liked her more with each thing she told me, and against my will began to trust, just a sliver. She had some dry questions for me just to get a feel for where I was right then, I’m sure they were partly to determine if she could treat me or if I needed medicinal aid from a psychiatrist, or even hospitalization. She asked about some behaviors and thought patterns, the severity, and the duration. Some of the questions were difficult, but they were really just facts. We didn’t really get into “the hard stuff” that day. I left somewhat relieved, appalled at the things I’d revealed, anxious about the repercussions, yet with a small sense of freedom that the first part was over.
The second session was kind of transitional. We did some clarification and filled in some details based on the results of the first session, but we also started to get into the roots of some of my thought patterns and behaviors. Slowly, my eyes began to open. I learned things about myself and my background that day, shocking things. I left the session in a daze with a lot to process. I walked around in an introspective haze that week, and entered our third session with curiosity. I only felt anxious about what I might learn about myself and my past.
After several sessions, I began to live with a small sense of liberation. I was able to enjoy some small parts of life and truly see and experience them for the first time, or at least the first time in a long time. I gained some tools to deal with some of the thoughts and patterns. Some of the disordered behaviors began to loosen their grip. But then, something went horribly wrong.