Fragility and Resilience

There are just some people in life that ‘stick’ in memories.  Even after decades of no contact, and then with a reconnection on FaceBook, they bring back all of the good stuff that they’re associated with. Not just a fun afternoon, but the totality of the experience they were a part of years ago.  For me, that was an incredible experience as a camper and then a summer staff member for a total of 10 years at Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, Wisconsin (USA). Even though I went to a ‘solid’ church as a kid, Timber-lee has always been my spiritual foundation. People there live what they believe. It’s not lip service, and it’s not ‘on’ when people are watching only to be turned off when the kids leave. It’s legit.  It was 24/7 immersion in Christianity that was good.  Not the negative stuff that can be associated with Christians, but an authenticity that is hard to find. I couldn’t get enough of the place, and wanted to live there permanently (they didn’t have any openings for full-time campers…).

One of the people I first met when I was 8 years old became very ill this week, and her heart stopped. She was somewhere that provided her with near immediate CPR, and EMS was called. They got her heart restarted, and the ER she was taken to figured out the problem and opted for induced hypothermia (dropping her body temperature) and a coma to minimize any neurological complications (that nobody hears about with CPR). It’s assumed by most non-medical people that when the heart is restarted, all is well. That is the outcome in a very few cases.  Recovery is a process- not an event.

A couple of things have stood out in the four days since this happened.  First, I have learned an entirely different level of prayer.  I’ve prayed as long as I can remember, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever had someone come to mind as often as this incredible woman has, or that I’ve actually pleaded to God on behalf of someone else. I’ve prayed for healing for other people, but this has been different.   My sincerity in the past has been just as strong, and I’m not sure that I can really describe how this is different. It just is.

Second, I’m realizing how important those years at Timber-lee have been.  I’ve always been so thankful for the experiences I had there- whether the week long  sessions as a camper, or the 3 month sessions on the summer staff for 2 1/2 summers.  The people I met there are entwined with the experience.  They can’t be separated, and that’s  wonderful.  When I think of one, I’m flooded with the memories of the other.  It’s a package deal.  The feelings of safety, love, fellowship, and acceptance have never been replicated. Ever.

The fragility of life smacked me in the face four days ago (as it did much more so for those who are closer- her husband, and friends and family).  The experiences at camp have been my ‘go to’ memories to ferret out good days when I was going through rough times.  This week, there is part of that whole picture that is in trouble.  The reports come in daily, and I can’t get to them fast enough. I spread them to other pages where people are waiting for news. And we’re all praying.  There is hope.

I’m not sure I’m explaining myself all that well.  I’m  a bit overwhelmed, and in some ways I don’t feel entitled to that level of emotion, as we didn’t have contact for so long.  But it’s Timber-lee and one of the handful of people that has had an impact on me since 1972.  I even wrote a ‘report’ about my first week at camp when I was 8 years old, and she is in that ‘report’.  I got to see her in July, and it was so great to be back at the camp and see people who made it what it has been in my life.  And now she’s in a coma.

As a nurse, I know the possible outcomes. I worked in a coma stimulation unit at a brain injury rehab center many years ago. I saw some horribly sad situations. But I also saw some amazing stories and recoveries.  The people I took care of had been in comas for many weeks to months before they started showing signs of improvement, and the injuries were often because of external trauma (accidents). The damage had been more extensive, and intense. They started out in much worse shape, at least structurally; many had parts of their brains or skulls removed because of the damage.   My friend has already been reacting well to commands, and her reflexes are good. That gives me much hope for her outcome. Yet, I also know that there are no guarantees.  SO, while I’m thrilled every day with the updates, I hold back because of what I know and have seen. And yet, to the part of me that is still seeing Timber-lee as only existing with the people I knew there still like they were, I can’t allow myself to accept anything less than a full  recovery.  And that’s what I pray for, as do many, many others.  This woman is cherished.

I guess when I remember Timber-lee, I’m transported in time to the age I was then, and the feelings I remember when I was there.  It’s technically just a ‘place’…but it was much more than that to me.  I saw how Christians live in a way that I wanted to emulate.  When I’ve been in situations that were literally life-threatening, my first thoughts  often go back to something from camp.  That’s my feel-good place. It’s where I felt the most freedom to be who I really was during that time in my life.  And, I learned so much from the people I met there- either as a camper or on staff.  It also played a role in why I became an RN.

My friend who is sick is one of those examples of being a Christian that has been a role model, even in the 30 years we had no contact.  Her life has had an impact on tens of thousands of lives as she’s worked at the camp for decades. When I’ve thought of her over the years, I smiled.  When I hear music that she taught the music groups, or camp songs we sang, I smile.  When we’ve had FaceBook contact, I smile.  She’s a ‘feel good’ person.  That’s a quality I respect and admire so much. And she’s a very solid Christian, in ways that encourage and inspire- not judge or demean.

So, this is a hodgepodge of words that may not make sense.  That’s OK.  I just needed to write this.  I’m praying that her recovery exceeds expectations, and she can resume her life with this being just a blip in the totality of her life.  I can’t express what Timber-lee and the people I associate with it really mean to me. It goes beyond just a ‘place’.  The experiences were  heaven-blessed.  So many times the good I got from there helped  get me through some really lousy stuff. I can’t really explain that either, except to say that I felt that the God I saw in the people I met there was more real to me because of having been there.  Maybe that’s it- they showed me God.  They made Him more real.  I knew about God from the time I was very young, and believed in Jesus as a young elementary school kid…but I met Him at Timber-lee, through people like this friend who now needs Him to surround her with healing and restoration.

This one’s for you, MK.

Gratitude- The Single Most Important Thing In My Eating Disorder Recovery

Sounds nuts, eh?

When I returned from a treatment facility in California where I’d been sent for eating disorder recovery, I was still a mess.  The facility was really a drug and alcohol rehab place that took eating disorder patients, but they didn’t have a real eating disorder program.  The few of us ED patients were hauled to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting once a week, and given a table in the dining area away from the staring addicts who were only too glad to have more food for themselves; many of them had also been starving, though for other reasons. While I did start to eat while I was there (the ticket to go home), my attitudes towards food and the world at large were unchanged for the most part.

I had to get better.  I’d been an RN for 11 years at the time, and decided to get every professional eating disorder treatment book I could find.  I read them cover to cover, and decided that my best hope was to act as if I were dealing with a patient at work when having to eat and make changes in my overall interaction and thinking about food.  I had to remove its power over me, and only I could do that. I had to make it a mechanical process for quite a while. And I didn’t have to do it all at once- baby steps mattered. It didn’t have to be perfect.  I could fail, and then just pick up and keep going.

Food became ‘medication’, and I kept a chart of servings of different food groups, and checked them off when I ate them.  It was a process that took several years, and eventually I was able to eat around other people without the panic and tyrannical thoughts going through my head. Food was simply fuel. It wasn’t my moral compass, or an indicator of my personal integrity.

But I had to look at my overall thought processes, and get rid of the victim-y, negative core beliefs that affected everything I did.  I decided to start a gratitude journal, and made myself write down five things every night that I was honestly thankful for, with no duplicate entries.  At first, things were pretty sketchy.  “The milk in the frig isn’t chunky”, “My socks match”, and other such things- but soon I had a greater understanding of what those things meant indirectly.  I had a home with electricity, I had feet to put in socks, I could walk down the sidewalk on those feet, and so on.  I was focusing on such insignificant things when I gave in to the eating disorder obsession, and I was really so much more selfish and superficial than I could imagine being.

Once I ‘got it’ that my focus on food and weight was so amazingly narrow-minded and selfish, I wanted to change.  I didn’t want to be the person I was discovering.  I remember the first time I felt joy for someone else; a co-worker won $1000 on a scratch off lottery ticket, and instead of being resentful that I didn’t win such great prizes, I was happy for her !  I was changing, and that made me want to keep going on the path of expanding my world, and reaching out to others. Being able to connect with other people in their joys and pain was incredible!

Eating disorders are selfish.  They are so incredibly superficial when it gets down to the behaviors- even though the core of self-worthlessness is incapacitating and very real.  But when I was able to get out of my own head, I was able to find so much more satisfaction in relating to other people in a deeper way- not the lip service I knew to be socially correct.  I was replacing the hollow responses with genuine feelings. And they felt good !

What I looked like, how many calories I ate, and how much I weighed became insignificant when I saw the blessings I had, and how I was wasting them.  But first I had to be willing to be thankful for what I already had.  Now I could list hundreds of things I’m thankful for- no matter how small.  There are a lot of things that make my life better, and starving isn’t one of them.  I’m overwhelmingly thankful that I discovered gratitude.