Crying when I see an ambulance…

I’m driving south on Interstate 5 and an ambulance, with lights flashing, in the fast lane, is headed north on Interstate 5.

I watch it come closer and then start to cry. Fighting the tears. Biting my lip. Willing the tears to just.go.away.

Then I cry.

Ugly cry.

It happens the exact same way EVERY SINGLE TIME.

My mom’s been gone 8 years and I still have this gut-grief reaction to seeing an ambulance. It always startles me for a moment.  Then…. bear with me… it oddly comforts me.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I continue to get more comfortable with the fact that grief never leaves me.  And I finally understand that deep grief comes with deep love…

I’ll try to explain what I mean…

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We live in a small(ish) valley. The major hospitals are North of us, in Portland. An ambulance driving north with lights on means someone from a smaller hospital in an outlying community in our valley is critically ill (not lifeflight-ill, but small-hospital-can’t-handle-the-complexity-ill) and headed for help.

My mom was in one of those ambulances in January about 8 years ago.

And it was the last time she was ever on Interstate 5.  It was a one-way ride. None of us ever entertained the thought that she would never see home again.

I remember when our Corvallis hospital made the decision to transfer her to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) and there was a scurry to get her moved.

My mom had a MRSA infection in her blood. She needed infectious disease management for a really complicated health-profile. She was super sick and needed more help than our local hospital could give her.

They loaded her in an ambulance, paramedics reassuring us they would take the very best care of her, closed the doors and took off with lights flashing headed for OHSU about 90 minutes away.

I remember my dad driving behind the ambulance, upset because he couldn’t ride with her, trying to stay close to the ambulance. I was following in another car. I could see glimpses of the paramedic in the back with her and, true to his promise, you could see him holding her hand and talking with her the entire trip. Comforting her. I was driving and trying to fill in details via the phone with my sister, asking the neighbors to take care of the farm, calling to let work know I’d be out.  I was hoping my dad was paying better attention to the road/rules/drivers than I feared he was…

I followed that ambulance terrified for my mom, heartbroken for my dad and HOPEFUL we were headed to the help that would figure out how to save my mom.

It never occurred to me how the story would end. I was clinging blindly to hope.

OHSU was incredible. They tried everything, experimented with brand new drugs, never gave false-hope, FOUGHT as hard and smart as they could.

MRSA won.

My mom died 3-10-10.

Driving back down Interstate 5 that day was as traumatic as it had been going up behind that ambulance. This time my sister and I were driving away mom-less daughters, with a dad so grief stricken he was compliant and numb and totally lost.

Our world was totally, inexplicably, irrevocably changed.

Forever changed.

And I would begin to understand grief.

And over the next few years I would come to view grieving in a whole different light. Not shameful, with a time limit or mandatory sadness that would disappear.  I began to view grief as a permanent part of who I was, expanding my empathy and teaching me critical lessons about the honor of being able to lean-in and embrace someone else with a breaking/broken heart.

Where at first my grief was raw and dangerous and soul-deep hurt…  Like…  steal your breathe and literally throw you to your knees. Now, years later, grief is this ever-present reminder that while something good is gone and life is different; I can remember that it’s only because I had something so good, that this sadness actually has grown, for me, into an odd form of comfort and reassurance that I was blessed with a deep love.

Kind of like ‘Hello. Yes, grief, I see you; you’re kind of hard to miss. Yes, grief, of course I remember my mom is dead and gone.  I don’t forget. Not for a single moment, except sometimes when I first wake-up; but I always remember within seconds… I promise. But yeah, thank you for reminding me how special she was and how lucky I was to have had her in my life…’

‘Grief is just love with no place to go.’ 

Someone who has just lost someone — will not understand any of this. They’ll be bewildered and possibly offended. I sure as hell would NOT have understood that I would come to a place where I could accept that my mom was gone and not be a puddle of incoherent tears. But if you’re a few years out from a loss, you might accept that grief is actually a permanent part of who you are now and you can begin to embrace it as proof of love…

You might understand why I cry when I see an ambulance.

As I’m driving this weekend watching the ambulance approach on the other side of the interstate, I’m automatically scanning the other cars behind the ambulance wondering if there are loved ones frantically following the ambulance.

I send up a quick thought of healing and peace and prayers for the person, their family and most importantly for the ambulance crew trying to transport, comfort and save this person… I always wonder if this ambulance contains one of the lucky ones and they will get to drive their loved one back home.

And then I cry. I cry because my mom is dead. And I miss her every day. And I’m a better women for having had her, her abundant and persistent lessons in grace and love and kindness at the center of my life.  I cry because she shouldn’t have died so young.  I cry because she would be so proud of me and what I’m trying to do with my life and I want her to be here and be in the middle of it all and know my friends.

I cry.

I don’t rationalize or hold back or even get embarrassed when other drivers passing by notice the streaming tears.  I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks about my grief.  Hell.  If they had known my mom — they’d be crying too. I sob and choke and cry my grief almost as rawly as the day she died…

Eventually the tears slow and dry.

Gratefulness emerges and fights for my attention.

I am flooded with reminders of how lucky I am to have been given someone I would miss so much. How lucky I am to have had this woman as my mom.  Of ALL the women in the world — I had her for 42 years.

And grief just kind of crawls back in the passenger seat, waiting for the next ambulance.

I keep driving.

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Binge Eating Disorder. (Getting things in order…)

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Thirteen weeks since I last grappled with a binge. There’s been many subsequent days of battling the compulsion and feeling ‘frantic’ about food.  But it’s been a solid three months since I actively binged.

I am now working to face emotions instead of feeding them.

Turns out that’s a 24/7 project.

Bottom line? It’s messy and not linear and kinda scary and yet it’s going well.  Honest.

Now that I know what I’m facing, it’s easier to fight back.

I will openly admit that there have been days of ‘white knuckling it’. Days of constant annoying/low-level struggle around food and more intense binge-compulsion feeling from sun-up/sun-down. Moments of laughter, realization, grief, melt-downs and giddy successes.

And *whew* an increasing number of recent days that I really do feel sane and balanced.

Some really wonderful people have reached out offering support, encouragement and telling me their stories as a result of my blog about Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

I quickly figured out I was not alone, not a whole lot of people talk openly about BED and not everyone knows how to help someone in their life struggling with BED.


I wanted to figure out what caused or triggered this episode, so that I can avoid a repeat.

I reached the conclusion that it was no single thing; it was the perfect storm of a whole bunch of stuff that unleashed this specific binge.  I had BED hidden, pretending fervently that it did NOT exist anymore and tightly controlled with rules/habits/’should’s’.

And then it was loose. And running wild.

It was there all along, no matter what I thought.  I just hit the right set of conditions and it roared to life.

I’d had an off year running (4 races, 3 DNF’s), was burned out on running/routine/journaling food/watching the scale, work stresses and successes.  I have some big, exciting life changes I’m working to make happen. Lots of good and some not so good.  Not all of it in my immediate control.

Uh… Life.

You know.

Just life.

Stuff I’d been dealing with for a long time and convinced I was balancing quite well. Suddenly ‘it’ was the straw that simply broke this camel’s back…

After a four day binge on trail mix, I found myself sad and panicked and needing help to battle this really big, pissed-off demon.

So I have been working on getting the help I need.  This is roughly what my recovery plan looks like at this point…

 

  • Found a new therapist. We meet weekly.
  • Reached out to friends in recovery from eating disorders and asked for their support and accountability.
  • Took things out of my eating/living environment that were just not helping.
  • Changed some of my shopping/eating/snacking habits.
  • Avoided high risk situations until I’m feeling more ‘in control’.
  • Food journaling before I choose to eat anything (MyFitnessPal) and food/emotion journaling if I stumble or struggle (Moodnotes).
  • Meditation in the mornings.
  • Mindful running.
  • ‘Feeling my feelings’ and not hiding my tears or joy or fears.

All to keep from cramming fistfuls of trail mix in my face.

Learning to identify and face my emotions, appropriately.  Learning to feed my body, lifestyle and running, appropriately.


I mistake or mask pretty much any emotion a human can possibly experience as ‘hunger’ and then eat my emotions.

Have for as far back as I can remember. Decades of experience acknowledging/denying/ignoring an emotion. Happy or sad — doesn’t seem to matter. Then deciding eating is the best possible solution to dealing with fear, happiness, anger, sadness, joy, lack of belonging…

Food is comfort, problem and ‘answer’ all in one.

I’m rudely breaking them the hell up.

Figuring out what emotions are, how they feel, how to feel them, how not to feed them.  That’s what I’m learning.

I was standing in front of the frig the other day.  Opening, closing, opening, closing, opening the doors….  Trying really hard to figure out if I was TRULY hungry.  I looked like I was fanning myself with the door.

“Am I hungry (open), or am I feeling sad (close)?  Am I hungry or am I feeling anxious?  Am I hungry or did I get my feelings hurt?”  I couldn’t figure out the answer.  I grabbed some water and walked away from the frig. Sat myself in a time out. Did a really quick scan from head to toe to see if I was feeling the emotions ANYWHERE else besides my belly…  I’d had a pretty big run and was increasing mileage for the week.  Thought carefully about the stresses of the day/week. Scanning my food journal…  Decided that I really was truly, belly-hungry.  HAHAHA! ALL of that thinking and pondering and wondering — I really, truly was hungry for some calories.

So I ate. One portion of something healthy and filling. 🙂

While this is funny and I highlighted it in detail, on purpose — this decision making about hunger/feelings is something I’m suddenly very aware of. And I’m going through the exercise of thinking about hunger a WHOLE lot these days.  A whole lot in a single day.

A study by Cornell University estimates that ‘normal’ humans (most of you!) make over 200 food related decisions a day.

200 decision. A DAY.

Go to bed, wake up, start making another 200 decisions…

WHEW.

No wonder fighting an eating disorder is EXHAUSTING work.


To those who have BED… Don’t suffer alone and don’t hide. BED loves it/thrives/GROWS when we hide and suffer.  Do NOT give it that edge, do not give it that power over your life… Do NOT feed it. (Get the pun?!)