This story is by Stephanie Helfenbein and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The last few steps always send shockwaves through my body. The beads of sweat begin to form cascading trails down my reddened face. I didn’t always have to torture my body like this. But, if I said I used to be happy, that would be a lie. The preferred method of torture in my past was quite different. Fatty foods and alcohol were the way to my heart. But, that was back then. My reward for myself after the six flight climb has always been a smooth, air-conditioned elevator ride back to my first floor apartment. The strain of the walk back down is usually too much to bear. Not today. I’m feeling particularly motivated today. Cassie always preaches to me about not squandering the “gift of motivation”. As much as I pay to have Cassie, she pays me back. I assume that’s how its meant to work. She’s been my life coach for the past five years, or at least that’s what people call her…life coach. I call her my lifesaver.
I intentionally leave my phone in another room when I have my alone time. That’s a habit that was difficult to start. Peeling myself off my couch seems like an unnecessary chore. But, again, motivation. I can feel my calf muscles straining, stretching, groaning. I have been told that’s a positive thing, fat melting away…muscles becoming stronger…something like that. Once I reach my cellphone, the ringing has subsided, but a new voicemail notification illuminates the screen. The sender is entirely unexpected. The name Sarah glows on the somber black and white willow tree of my background. As I gasp and emit an audible sigh, I feel embarrassment that I’m the only person who can hear. Also, the feeling of perpetual embarrassment is another habit I need to break.
“Hey, just checking in. A friend of mine told me they saw you in a drive-thru. I’m just contacting you to disprove it. I know all the hard work you’ve been doing. I know you wouldn’t be putting all of that in jeopardy. If you just give me a call back, we can catch up and chat. Talk to you later.”
As my heart drops, I can feel my cheeks flush a hot, red heat. The silence that follows her voice somehow sounds loud. Why does she have to be so nosy? I haven’t spoken to Sarah in months, and this is how she decides to come back into my life? I’m not doing it. I don’t care. I’m not calling her back. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t the one at the drive-thru. Just a situation like this, one that pushes my buttons so hard, is exactly the scenario that might drive me to relapse. I just can’t let it get to me that bad. Whenever I’m triggered so hard that I fear relapse, there are certain mechanisms I’ve been taught by Cassie. As much as I would love to order in a burger and go to the bodega to buy a case of beer, I grab a towel and head into the bathroom instead. Showers help me relax.
Three days go by and I can’t shake the way Sarah made me feel. Today is my day though. Today marks five years since I was told I would lose my life. I was given a choice. I was to make a change in my habits, or no longer exist. Today is also the day I go to see Cassie, to catch her up on my progress, to proudly announce my 265 pound weight loss. I love her office too. It’s like my second home. It encourages relaxation, which I suppose is the point.
We chit chat a bit about my month. About my exercise progress. How much weight I’ve lost, and how much of my life I’ve gained. Then the dreaded past gets pulled into focus.
“So tell me what bothered you the most about the phone call from Sarah?” I knew it, I knew exactly where this was going. My face flushed red, as per usual. This time it gave me a pang of anger at myself. Why did it bother me so much?
“I’m not sure. She was the one in the wrong, in the end. Not me.”
“Do you think you still have feelings for her?” There it was. I knew it was coming. I also knew exactly how it would make me feel, and it was the pain and embarrassment I’ve been avoiding this whole time. The pain and embarrassment that helps me push myself to that last step. The reason I was doing all of this.
“I know I do. I know I’m still in love with her” And there, I admitted it. I’ve made it. I’ve been lying to myself for the past five years, and its been eating away at me the entire time.
“So, you’ve been pushing all of these feelings down deep, and using that to motivate yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, it can become unhealthy. You do understand that, right? Would you want to get back together with her? Is what she did something that you can put behind you?”
My heart is now in my throat. Can I put what she did behind me? Can I put the betrayal, dishonesty, disrespect, all of the things pushed me to put my life in jeopardy, behind me? I loudly gulp.
“No, I don’t think it would be a healthy move for me.”
“Exactly, it wouldn’t. What steps forward can we decide to take from here? What do you think you can do to move on? What do you think you can do to create a better life for yourself?”
“I can do just that…I can move on. Find someone new. I’m comfortable with myself now. I’m comfortable by myself. I only need to get back out there.”
She smiles a little at me, a look of curiosity spreads across her face. It’s as if she can see the gears turning within my head. As if she can see this epiphany unfolding right before her eyes. Those were the words she’s been waiting to hear for over five years. Sarah is constantly occupying real estate in my head. I can guarantee I hold no space in hers aside for a brief phone call she probably already forgot about.
“Well done. We will circle back to this next month. I’m excited to see what progress you’ve made by that time.”
Walking out of that office felt like walking into a new life. The sun was bright in the sky and its heat felt like a warm blanket being wrapped around me with love. I pull out my phone and click over to the App Store. Find Tinder and click the download button. Today is going to be a good day. I can feel it.