“But WHY?” I was fully aware that I had now stooped to bleating like a petulant child, but this merry-go-round of a conversation had proven stupendously unsuccessful. It’s extremely tough to dupe a dietitian who specializes in treating eating disorders. They are formidable opponents. The same way that the staff of a good treatment center can espy a patient cloaking her pat of butter into the folds of her napkin (on the table) or stealthily anointing the underside of her chair with (gasp! full fat) mayonnaise, dietitians anticipate some level of deception and for good reason. As those of us who have been at war with our bodies for any length of time can attest: We become tremendous liars. It’s the only way to protect our disorder when loved ones close in. We lie to them. We lie to ourselves. I’m fine. Everything is all right. It’s just a diet. I’ll stop once I lose five more pounds. Six. Okay,twenty-six but that’s it. Surely, everyone’s heart must beat this fast sometimes. Gum can totally be a meal. Throwing up once in a while can’t hurt. Some exercise is good for me, more must be better. Lots of women stop their period, dream of food, eat laxatives by the handful, spit up blood, lose their hair, faint whenever they stand, become deranged, erratic banshees because they’re always HUNGRY….
My dietitian, Anna, is kind of terrific. I’ve been seeing her since the week I came home from my months-long life detour into treatment for anorexia. We’ve locked horns over the philosophy of “no good foods or bad foods”, and she’s tolerated many versions of my oh-so thoughtfully constructed rationales for lowering my target weight range. Just a skosh. Er..skoshes, possibly. Over the past two years, Annie has vetoed my enthusiastic suggestions to explore any unconventional meal plan. ( Notice I did not say “diet”. I’m no fool.) The alkaline acid plan? Colon and liver detoxing? ( Fine. I knew that one was a long shot. ) Raw foodism? Every time , “Jen..how much of this is you and how much of this is Ed?” “What?!?” Adopt cast of righteous indignation. “This is me wanting to be healthy. A renaissance for my soul, if you will..” Hmm. Too far. “So, you’re saying if you drop weight on this plan..”, Anna doesn’t need to finish her thought. “Oh. Well. If it happens organically of course, who are we to ..” “Jen?” “What?” “No.”. And that brings us back to my huffy “WHY?” entreaty.
Her terse response was somewhat discomfiting. “Because you’re anorexic.” Now, here’s our point of departure. Medically speaking, I most certainly am not. The DSM-IV ( the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) has specific criteria that must be met to satisfy a clinical diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, ( though thankfully, these will be expanded ..yuk,yuk..in 2013 ). The two biggies are weighing less than 85% of your expected body weight, and amenorrhea ( absence of the menstrual period) for at least three consecutive months. So, I guess it begs the question : Can your mind be anorexic, when your body is not? When you’ve been blackballed from the emaciated club because you no longer belong. You “quit”. Gave up and went to the other side. Chose life. And now here you are. Stuck floating somewhere in this ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’ land. Feeling like you don’t really belong anywhere, anymore. Too outwardly comparable now to non-ED people to be conspicuous, but in that secret place that we all have? Therein lies the knowledge that we are markedly different. And we feel the sting of those marks.
There are “Celebrate Recovery” meetings and ED support groups around town. I don’t participate. Not anymore. I didn’t like averring week after week that I was: “Jennifer. Anorexic/Bulimic/Cutter.” Because that’s not who I am now. I don’t think it’s productive for me to deliberately stay in that place of sickness. I know those meetings can be deeply restorative for some people in recovery and I am in no way disparaging them, but I needed a fresh identity. One entirely divorced from my proficiency at self annihilation. Tough one. Because I was. Proficient. Was.
Though I’ll go longer between sessions sometimes, I still rely a lot on Anna’s guidance. Every so often I’ll try going it alone, thinking I have enough time invested in the outside world to be able to accurately imitate a regular human being. Thus far, these forays of autonomy have been mission : unaccomplished. I guess I’m not ready to fly without a net just yet. And that’s all right. It’s not a bad thing to sit down with a person who can instantly see the fractures in your facade. Call you out on all those aforementioned lies. I catch myself telling them still.
I remember an analogy my youth pastor was fond of using twenty years ago. It had to do with a broken bone that was never tended to and thus healed incorrectly. Sometimes, the doctor might deem it necessary to re-break the original injury. The pain seems unnecessary and intolerable, but in the end it’s clear that without those measures, there would always be a limp. God has to do the same thing with us. Up until now, we’ve been content to merely exist. To limp. But once we’re malleable, He can truly restore us to wholeness. God doesn’t want us to stumble. He wants us to dance.
I should confess something here. A lie of omission. And it’s not something I’m proud of. When I cited my reasons for not attending ED meetings, I failed to include one of some significance. The perception of others. I have genuine distress. What might they see when they look at me? I don’t think I’d be welcome. Because really? Who wants to look at a fat anoretic?
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” -Robert Frost