162. Waves 1

Waiting for writing inspiration is like waiting for a wave to surf into shore. Many waves come by, but not all of them have enough energy to carry you on your boogie board or surfboard all the way into the sandy shallows. So you wait for a big one to roll in. I do something similar with this blogging business. I wait for a thought to roll across my ocean of consciousness and then nibble at it to see if it has depth and breadth and power enough to make it into 1,000 words. I know what you are thinking. “What about the previous 160 posts?” They did not all make it to the shore of meaning and consciousness raising. Some petered out; some crashed into other waves and turned into rip tides. Okay, I am guilty of running down ratholes and noodling with words. I can’t help it. Despite the handle of burrito special, I am Irish and will make excuses when I can. But a few meaningful waves made it to shore or you wouldn’t be reading this one.

The other day while jogging I had an idea for a movie script. I knew even as I imagined it that it could not come down the creative birth canal and live. It could and would have to remain embryonic. After I explain you will thank me for not delivering this thing. I thought of a group of stubborn eating disordered folks at a recovery ranch in Arizona. Ideally I’d want 10 vividly different ED folks who represented the spectrum of anorexia, bulimia, overeating, and any other pathologies connected to food, definitely someone with pica. They would be demanding and difficult, absolutely defiant and resistant to treatment. “There’s nothing wrong with eating 72 donuts or pencil shavings, or not eating for ten days at a time.” Sense the tension that would rise from ten of these folks demanding their rights to kill themselves. It’s nauseatingly irresistible. No, it’s Rancho Mirago.

There would be Sandy,26, the anorexic dishwater blonde from an uptight wealthy family in Raleigh who never separated psychically from her dishwater blonde mother Cinnamon, a former first runner up for Miss North Carolina. They went together to Charlotte’s Dance Studio for years. Ballet is so perfect and worth dying for. Her father Bob, a plastic surgeon, worked in the fashion model industry doing lifts and tucks and augmentations and reductions. Waiting in her father’s mirrored office as a young girl, Sandy flipped through all his fashion and plastic surgery transformation magazines. She began to hyper focus on the curves of noses and eyebrows of the models as obsessively as many teens focus on their own homegrown pimples. She would lightly touch the perfectly formed faces and whisper “Someday, one day, my birthday” to herself. “Daddy will make me perfect too.” Then she would stare at her own wan face in the mirrors surrounding her while her father tidied up with his surgical assistant, Sugar, down a darkened hallway.

Hal, 33, binge eating truck driver from San Antonio. (Are truck drivers really from anywhere but the road?) The son of a truck driver who never came home one day despite many promises to Hal to play ball or go fishing. Hal’s mom never remarried. She doted on him with food, giving him unlimited supplies of Tastykakes and Twinkies, which were easier to swallow than his Texas-tough leather lot in life. As Hal expanded in his adolescence, he made food his lover and wife and purpose in life. Driving allowed him to be alone with her every day and night. They never married but behaved like an old married couple. He wore sweat suits and untied sneakers. She wore grocery bags to cover her bulges. Everything else tended to bind and cut off their poor communication and his circulation.

Tina, a graduate student from a good university back East. She wanted to look like Sandy, but she did not have the ironclad will to stay starved. She loved the rush of sugar and flour that hit her brain after starving herself. It was like the explosion of sex and way more controllable. But then guilt flooded her neural pathways and she would go “hang herself” as she liked to call purging. Over the years she had developed other uptake and put back behaviors. The laxatives, the water pills, the toothbrush gag, the ipecac, the compulsive exercising. When she wasn’t thinking about her doctorate pursuit, she longed for food. She also loved the thrill of shoplifting at local stores. The rush of possibly getting caught was down right erotic for her. At other times she would secretly return shoplifted items, purging her guilt. Her fiancée, Ron, didn’t suspect a thing. He just thought that she spent a lot of time in the bathroom while he focused deeply on his dissertation about the 17 year locust’s reproduction cycle.

And Petey, the large 14 year old who suffered from pica, eating non food stuffs. He was too big and bold to work with the children’s side of the clinic, so he was granted an exception and treated alongside the adults, which made him feel bolder yet. Sometimes he’d eat bugs or hibiscus leaves just to prove himself powerful, invincible even. His parents were passive and never set boundaries when he was a little boy. In fact, the diagnosis originated with his school counselor. His parents simply let Petey do whatever Petey wanted to do… play videogames all day or alternative reality card games of wizards and dragons. Petey had no limits except at school. His parents tried to dodge Child Services by moving Petey around to different schools, but once he was tagged by the system, they held on and court ordered this treatment on his passive parents’ dime. He was pretty angry and ate dirt to prove it. When he smiled, his teeth were often covered in mud or some disgusting byproduct of insects or weeds.

In the center of these patients loomed Carl the soft hearted therapist. Six feet six inches tall and nearly 280 pounds, he was impossible to miss in a room. He had the gentlest blue eyes that radiated unconditional love to everyone he met. Some of the staff called him “Mr. Rogers” half joking and half as a compliment. Others called him “Carl Rogers” the great humanist psychologist. But his actual last name was Everett. Somehow Carl could just make his deep, hypnotic eye contact and Bam!… A Vulcan mind meld ensued. The patients didn’t just tolerate or like Carl; they loved him as the missing person in their bleak and tortured lives.

The problem was that these hard headed ED patients continued in their stubbornness despite Carl’s loving presence. They would tell him how they felt and how they loved their disorders, and Carl would just listen and affirm them. He never tried to stop them from their self torture. Instead he would affirm their positive attributes and endorse them. It was odd and hard to measure, but these folks felt guilty around Carl and wanted very much to give up their disorders just to please him. When they offered to make willful sacrifices, Carl would respond, “No, no. Just be true to yourself.” This went on for weeks. The treatment plans could be fudged only for so long. Not everyone loved Carl. The insurance companies began to threaten termination of benefits and an investigation of Rancho Mirago if measurable progress could not be seen.

Carl had a plan, however.

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