Last night I needed to find an old photo, so I briefly reactivated my personal Facebook account to track it down. I only have about 15 people as “friends” and they are all from my rehab days. I haven’t talked to any of them in at least three years. One, a young woman who was in the eating disorder program, wrote that another (who I’ll call Carla), died late last week of a heart attack. While the odds seem to have favored someone going sooner, this is the first person I knew from rehab who has been confirmed dead.
Carla wasn’t well when I knew her. Probably around 30, she mostly kept to herself and in the morning meeting where everybody at the rehab has to say a couple of things, she never seemed comfortable. Even those who don’t like public speaking eventually got comfortable around the group of 30. She arrived sometime before I got there, was there for the entire 7 weeks I attended, and remained after I left. I have no idea how long her stay was, but based on talking to some of the other women in the eating disorder program, it sounded like Carla had among the most severe trauma and her mental health was not solid.
The place where Carla and I bonded was before breakfast. She and her only friend (who wrote the Facebook entry) were the first two up in the morning, along with me. The dining room didn’t open until 6:30, so it would usually be the three of us sitting around in a common room adjacent from around 6:15 to 6:30. The two of them would sneak out and go for a walk at 5:45 a.m. to burn calories. Apparently it was a no-no, but I didn’t subscribe to the “rat out your peers” theory until jail.
The women in the eating disorder program had to wait until 6:45 to eat breakfast, when they could be coached on what they chose to eat and then made sure to eat by a monitor. I’m not a big breakfast guy, so some days I’d remain sitting there and in those 15-30 minutes, I got to know Carla probably better than any other person, except her one other friend, and I still feel like I didn’t really know her.
She wore the same ratty, oversized sweater every day. One of the first mornings I was there when she came in from her walk, she sat down and said, “You probably wonder why I wear this every day.”
“It means something special to you, reminds you of someone, makes you feel safe, hides your body or some combination I’d guess,” I said. “Whatever makes you feel good is good with me. You don’t have to explain anything.”
I think that was the initial bonding moment. Later that morning, she told the entire group she didn’t want anyone asking her why she wore that sweater every day because if they didn’t get it, she didn’t want to explain. And then she smiled at me.
We also found that we shared a mutual disdain for the phrase, “How are you?” as a greeting. Sure, it’s just something we say, but it’s not something an unhealthy person wants to hear. We know the person asking doesn’t care and doesn’t want the truth if it’s not “good” so they can move onto the next thing.
Carla and I decided to stop saying that to each other. We thought a more appropriate greeting was, “I see you there” because that’s all “How are you?” means to most people.
I think I was the only male, and certainly the only one in the sex/porn program that she spoke to with any regularity. My guess would be that there was some kind of sexual assault in her past that made her scared of men and sex, but as she slowly heard my story she asked a few questions. Nothing too prying, but I think it was part of her trying to process her own demons.
While we both had alcoholism issues in the past, neither of us were there for that kind of treatment. We often talked about how that was a more clear-cut disease to fight. The goal is to stop drinking. With both porn/sex addiction and eating disorders, the goal is to find a healthy balance. Yes, I needed to stop looking at porn, but I also needed to develop the healthy sexuality that eluded me in life to that point. She needed to figure out how to have a healthy relationship with food.
You can’t stop having a sexual identity and you can’t stop eating if you’re going to be in recovery. These kinds of recovery are very individualized because what is one person’s demon doesn’t bother the person next to them. Healthy eating, or sexuality, can look very different to two people who have the same problem.
I never had any illusion we’d stay in touch after rehab. I talked to her friend a couple times after we were both out and she told me Carla wasn’t doing well, but I even lost track of that woman pretty quickly. It surprised me when I read her announcement of Carla’s death on Facebook, but it didn’t shock me that Carla didn’t make it to old age. It still shocks me more when an addict does. Goodbye, Carla.