A Moment in Time

A letter from my present self to my future self, a snapshot of a moment in time.

Thursday, November 21, 2018:

Dear Bella:

The odds of your forgetting this moment are slim, as you have a stellar memory (although I cannot predict what might become of it in the future), but I shall recount the moment for you anyway so that you will know when you read this exactly where you were at the time of composition and will be able to teleport back to this moment.

Here are the given circumstances:

You’re at Pavement Coffeehouse at 1334 Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts.

It is 12:41 PM and you just took your last bite of bagel, a multigrain everything bagel with veggie tofu spread (which after much contemplation you opted for over hummus) and your choice of 2 vegetables, which for you were arugula and roasted red peppers, for a whopping four-and-a-half dollars.

You considered getting overnight oats because this is both lunch and breakfast, but the barista said they’re quite filling and come with a rich fruit sauce and you realized that’s not what you wanted. You realized you’d prefer a savory bagel, which this cafe happened to be known for. You reminded yourself that you are in recovery, and that bagels don’t have to be scary. You used to eat bagels every Thursday in rehab. Or was it Friday? Thursday may have been Surprise Breakfast.

Let’s see if you can try and remember the rotating breakfast menu:

Monday: French toast stick day?

Tuesday: Frozen waffle day?

Wednesday: Cereal day, which could mean yogurt & granola day?

Thursday: Surprise day? One of these days was Surprise Day. It may as well have been Thursday. One time we had a nice Greek yogurt parfait. Another time we had that egg burrito that everybody hated but you secretly liked, though of course you couldn’t say that because when you’re in an eating disorder treatment center and all the girls are talking about how they hate a certain food, being the one to admit you like it is suicide. Not social suicide–the girls themselves wouldn’t judge–but your eating disorder would, which is far more dangerous.

Friday: Bagel day? (I could be getting this order all wrong.)

Saturday and Sunday must have been repeat days. I’m sure I have all of the menus written down in the journals I kept during treatment. But those are on my book shelf in my childhood home.

We always chose our breakfast order the night before, within the confines of the given meal, so that the RC’s (Recovery Coaches, who were licensed nurses) could prep while we did our morning routines. Every meal had dairy, fruit, and spread. Dairy choices were milk, vanilla yogurt, strawberry yogurt (no, raspberry, I think), and cottage cheese. That’s where I was introduced to cottage cheese, and I truly grew to love it, so much so that I kept eating it at home.

Fruit could be a banana, an apple, a pear, or whatever berries we had, if we had them. It varied week to week, depending on the inventory we got from “Ship.” (Apparently Ship was our food supplier. I have no clue why it was called that.)

Spread could be peanut butter, Nutella, plain cream cheese, or strawberry cream cheese (which was actually pretty good). On French toast day and waffle day, spread was maple syrup.

Dairy, fruit, and spread were up to us, but our “entree” was predetermined. A meal might look like this: anywhere from one half to five French toast sticks, depending on the size of your meal plan which depended on your current weight and the rate of your metabolism (all constantly changing), with a side of vanilla yogurt and banana, or a pear and a glass of milk, and of course, the required maple syrup (and if you didn’t catch it all on your stick, you’d prepare to lick your plate.)

Our apples were always “pre-cored,” to make sure we ate them all and to prevent ambiguity as to what this meant.

On Bagel Day, we could choose between plain or cinnamon raisin bagels with one of the aforementioned spreads and our obligatory dairy and fruit. We still had to choose a side of dairy, even if we chose a dairy spread. A cinnamon raisin bagel with Nutella and banana was a nice choice if you could get past your “judgements.”

Cereal Day was my favorite. I’m pretty sure it was everyone’s favorite. Probably because it was the easiest. I would offer that Bagel Day and Cereal Day were the best, and that French Toast Stick Day and Waffle Day were the worst. Our Cereal options were plain Cheerios (which for me was a childhood binge food), Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes, granola (a sweet, sugary granola), and oatmeal. (There may have been another option. There have been a few other options. I don’t recall.) Plus dairy and fruit, same as always. This meal was easy because you could condense the components. For instance, you could choose oatmeal and make it with milk, so that entree and dairy were all in one. I don’t think we had a spread. Because what would we spread it on? They probably “bumped” one of our other components, like dairy, to make up for it.

After I stepped down to PHP (“Partially Hospitalized Patient”), I had a breakfast at my aunt’s house of half a bagel with almond butter and banana and a side of two boiled eggs, and my dietician was pissed.

She was in my dream last night. And the night before that. The night before that, she watched me pick a macaroon from a massive macaroon selection and she said, “well, you’re really challenging your eating disorder, aren’t you?” And I said, “yeah, right down to the exact macaroon I picked.” (I chose one that had glitter on it, or something, which I suppose made it more “difficult” than the others). She said, “I know,” and I swooned from the approval.

I remember thinking in this dream that I wouldn’t have eaten the macaroon if she weren’t there. I fall into this trap a lot, of feeling like I need to eat certain things to prove myself. I fell into that trap last night. But I won’t go into that now.

Anyway: she was pissed because I had half a bagel instead of a full bagel when a “typical breakfast” would consist of a full bagel and a side of dairy and fruit. I told her I replaced the top of the bagel for an egg and the dairy for another egg. But that didn’t cut it. Boiled eggs are “orthorexic.” Couldn’t we (my mother and I) see the concern?

I remember being dead silent throughout this conversation, which was less of a dialogue and more of a confrontation. It was a couple weeks before I went home. My mom and I sat on a couch opposite my treatment team, who sat on another couch roasting me. (I didn’t really use the word “roast” before treatment. But the term became popular among us girls to describe the way we were treated.)  They loved to roast, those three. They were also fighting with my parents to keep me there longer. I swore I was ready; they insisted I wasn’t. And I wasn’t. But I’m making peace with that. 

I’ve been romanticizing rehab lately. I’m craving contact with my team (or more likely their validation), and I have reached out, but to a fruitless end. Thankfully, some of my friends have brought me back down to earth, weakened the rose-colored glasses. I visited with one of my friends last night who reminded me that before I left they implemented “policy changes” that made it more and more like a prison. Although they did give us more bathroom privileges, as in, people on level 3 could take the key themselves and flush their own toilets. I never reached that point.

I told another friend recently that being there took a toll on my confidence. I told her about my sessions with my dietician during which she’d look at me in moments of distress and say, “Hmmm, I hear eating disorder, eating disorder, eating disorder.” She offered no compassion, only mocking and condescension. I felt dehumanized. It was emotionally and psychologically abusive. My friend pointed out that anytime you’re feeling abused, something has to change. That brought me comfort. 

How in the world did I get on this topic? Wasn’t I writing a letter to my future self about my morning? Somehow this shifted into a direct address to an audience. That’s what happens when you hand a pen to your subconscious; you learn what’s really on your mind. I can’t go five minutes without thinking about rehab, and that just made itself clear.

But now it’s back to our regular scheduled programming! Back to you, Bella, and this LETTER to your SELF!

You are drinking a “Winter Solstice” iced coffee which you accidentally ordered when you meant to order cold brew, but your recovered self told you to “fuck it” and you did.

It’s now 1:28 and you’re feeling damn good because you slept from 2 AM to noon. You rose slowly and hit the hotel bathroom, admiring your armpit hair under the shower head’s fierce pressure. You even splurged and used two towels. Then you walked ten minutes and wound up here for Self Time.

You were up late finishing “Cam” on Netflix, followed by a murdery episode of ABC’s 20/20, which was then followed by one hundred pages of The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman, the 522-page page nonfiction anthology you checked out from the library two months ago and accidentally hurled into a mud puddle while trying to hock a loogie.

You love the way he moves seamlessly between the phrases “Speculative Fiction” and “Science Fiction” because it proves the fluidity of genre and the subjectivity of labels. You adore what he says of Stephen King, that some of his writing and great and some of it isn’t but that’s ok; he trusts him. It says that you can write things that are bad.

You’re wearing the army green denim jacket you bought at Urban and the black and gold mani you got on Halloween is somewhat-but-not-really holding up. You’re in awe of Boston’s coffee prices which seem to beat New York’s, or maybe that’s just at the cafe you’re in.

You went to By Chloe last night and ordered a burger, a vegan burger but still. You never order burgers. You probably haven’t ordered one since you’re “burger exposure” with Mom in Miami when you had major acid reflux before the food even arrived because you were so damn scared. But now you know that you can order a burger outside the context of treatment. A milestone. 

You’re old barista friends at CC’s are salient in your mind. Especially Sharon, who greeted you warmly every day for about three years. She even wanted to see me perform. One day she left, and you didn’t know why, and you never saw her again. And you’re thinking about anonymity and how in this day and age all you need in order to find someone is a search engine and their last name, but that without last names you retain anonymity and experience real nostalgia and longing.

You like the music they’re playing in this café. It’s been a while since you listened to Panic at the Disco and you associate it with your roommate from last year who still has your microwave. You also like the cacti on the wall.

You’re overwhelmed and stressed at large and you feel it in your body and you’re thinking that for Christmas you will ask for a massage, but in this moment you don’t care about that. You’re basking in the glow of the Winnie the Pooh exhibit you saw at the Museum of Fine Arts yesterday and in this moment you feel free.

And now you’re signing off, with a sense of fulfillment, and heading to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum where your first name will get you in for free.

From yourself to yourself, all the love in the world.

-Bella, one moment in time.

In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here are entirely my own and may not resonate with everyone; take what you like and leave the rest. If you liked what you read here, I invite you to share it, as these messages are for all.


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