I cried in my therapist’s office yesterday. Such as I cry, that is. My eyes welling up and my voice getting froggy is akin to a more emotionally evolved person flinging themselves on the floor and raking their fingernails on the carpet in abject despondency. Or, that’s what I imagine people do. People who aren’t me.
I could undoubtedly benefit from a good weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but unfortunately my range of emotions often wear the uniform mask of ennui. Even those I’m closest to have been flimflammed by noncommittal shrugs and whimsical one-liners. See? Incontrovertible evidence that I am, in fact, fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…
But my personal curtain has been fraying as of late. I’ve been quick to tell myself that I’m oh-so-busy. Much to do. I’m quite necessary, in point of fact. I’ll patch the worn bits later. After all, said curtain has withstood significant strain in the past without tear. It’s fine. I’m fine. Things are fine.
That’s what I was saying when I caught myself doing leg lifts in the shower. And when I noticed, to my surprise, that I was filling up my nightstand with gum to distract me from nighttime hunger pangs. And when I began pinching red welts on my arms to bring the world back into focus when I stood up too quickly and gravity briefly released its grip on my shoes. And again when the tactic could no longer be relied upon for consistent efficacy. And now? I’m tired. I’m just so very, very tired.
I woke up this morning aching. A restless series of naps rather than true sleep. For brilliant physiological reasons, if you don’t eat, your brain won’t let you hit that blissful REM state. It stays alert, firing on all cylinders. “Get up fool!”, it shouts at you. “You’ve forgotten something!” I dragged myself to the bathroom, wondering how on earth I was ever able to live this way. My head was pounding. I was shaking. I was cold. I was tearful. I was hungry. Ah, yes Ed. There you are. Found me, did you?
I retrieved my scale. I stared. A new weight bracket. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d see this number again. So I stared. The team of doctors who worked with me during my inpatient treatment had told me my “goal weight”, my natural “set point” was probably about fifteen pounds more than the digits blurring before me now proudly flashed. On I stared. Well. I was sure showing them. Ha! All right, so, I felt like hell, true, but still. Fifteen pounds. I was a rock star. Definitely.
And there it is. That. That right there is why eating disorders are so insanely scary and addictive: I was thrilled. I felt this rush of adrenaline and disproportionate elation, and if I didn’t currently have those pesky aforementioned balance issues, I’d for sure have done a little happy dance right there in the altogether. The pain and hunger and exhaustion? In an instant, totally worth it… but was it? Truly? Is it? And if so, to what end?
Dear God.. am I going to do this? Again? Because right now I’m only gripping my pitiful, worn curtain. It’s my decision whether or not to make it a shroud.
So, I lay myself bare before you. I’m confessing. Telling on myself. Because Ed thrives on lies and secrecy. Because there is strength in numbers. Because this is unacceptable. No way to live. Because I believe in the power of prayer.
The how-to question of life-long recovery is day by day and individual, and I know that. For me though, it’s always been pretty simple. I look forward. If I were to relapse, my options are treatment or death. It really is that straightforward. And I absolutely do not want to die of an eating disorder. It just smacks of defeat and isolation and suicide and self loathing so rapacious in its need to annihilate, that the voice of the Lord would merely whisper like so much static amidst the din.
As for treatment? Wonderful as an experience as it was for me, overall, that opportunity has come and gone. It was a life saving, life changing, precious, God-ordained period in my life. Specifically ordained people brought to a specifically ordained place. Not something that can be duplicated. Not what I had. It felt like an escape from real life. And in many ways, it was.
But I can’t escape real life again. Not through treatment. And not through anorexia. And ultimately, what would it do for me? Having to start at square one? Just the thought..all the pain of re-feeding, the digestive enzymes that must be taken to remind the body that food is not the enemy… the nasal-gastric tube that bloats the stomach every morning, making breakfast a Herculean task. And those laborious stomach cramps that seized the body in the early days after a simple meal of chicken soup and crackers. (I’m supposed to eat ALL of that?! )And after months of trying to find some reasonable, livable, brand new type of normal, (whatever that is,) I would end up…right where I am this moment. That’s one wearying (and costly) boomerang to ride.
No. No, the only option that has ever made any logical sense is the one that has me living my life well. Living as I have been since the day of my discharge. My foot on Ed’s neck, my face towards the Son. Remember I said simple. Not easy. Never easy.
What happened? As I see it, I lost my vigilance. This is a war, my compatriots. In our complacence, the enemy prowls. He hisses in our ears to run a little farther, skip dinner, purge dinner, binge the contents of your freezer, compensate for the calories that have managed to hold tight by restricting most of the following day. Do crunches in bed when sleep eludes, have sugar-free candies for dinner, skip your snacks, run one more mile, down those diet sodas, just one more mile, brush your teeth excessively to distract from the aching need of breakfast, step on the scale, chew and spit at lunch, do lunges while you’re blow drying your hair…how bad do you want it? And “it”, is always just out of reach.
I am not an anomaly. We are everywhere. We must speak. Scream. This torment is no way to live. This is death in increments. This is not what we were created for. Jennifer. This is not what you were created for.
The Bible says that our enemy roams about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Are we overworked? Undernourished? Then we are no more than lame gazelles. Might as well roll over and offer our soft underbellies. Game over. See, I had forgotten the most important part of all this. Forgotten that it is a war that I am fighting. That we are fighting. And fight we must. But in this war, it’s only when you surrender..that you win.
Sigh. What now? My therapist wondered this aloud and not unreasonably. The puzzle pounded at my head in pictorial fractions of numbers and sunken eyes and mildly jutting clavicles. This woman who is a powerhouse and the best I’ve ever worked with, knows me well enough to probe carefully. Handily avoiding kicking in my over active fight or flight response, and with a warmth that brings me perilously close to wells and frog territory once again, she challenges me to take back my health.
Reclaim my recovery.
I also have made an appointment with my dietitian. Though the thought of following a meal plan again is daunting and more than a little scary, I know from experience that should I continue to drop weight, my distortions will escalate, and the thought of food and consumption will seem a more and more insurmountable undertaking.
I have my family. And my use of that word is anomalous. When I say “family” I’m not referring to the people who raised me. Not the names that would precede mine on some genealogical tree. My clan is a magnificent mishmash.
In it you will find my husband, truly my better half. My anchor. My great love. The four funky small people this man and I brought into being together, and a circle of intimates who are so deeply ensconced in my heart, that to call them mere friends can’t begin to characterize our connections. Soul-mates in the truest sense of the word. And then. Above all else. I have Him.
Oh, how He loves us. He told me when I was fifteen and my world was in tatters. I heard His voice while praying in the woods. “Be strong.” I never spoke of it, concerned that as a new Christian, I would be doubted. Even mocked. But I knew. He knew. And I held tight to that. “Be strong” flutters like a caged butterfly just below my sternum. And it’s that time again.
My very first memory verse was Isaiah 41:10: ” Fear not, for I am with you. Be not afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Truth? I am afraid. I’m afraid of getting bigger. I’m afraid of eating. I’m afraid of seeming needy or weak or vulnerable. But God told me to be strong. And He didn’t ever give me an expiration date on that direction. I guess that means He’s not done with who I’m going to be just yet. And I guess that means that I still need to reach for His Hands when I feel myself start to slip. And I guess…no. I know, that there is freedom in that dependency. Peace with perseverance. In knowing what you cannot and should not try to do alone.
And that’s okay.
In fact, it’s fine. Everything will be fine.
“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” – Dorothy Bernard