Celebrations really are a mixed bag. While there’s no 12 step group to offer judgment free support, there are some whose compulsions to break out the flimsy crepe paper and cloying confections the moment they catch the faintest whisper of a marriage proposal or spot a subtle baby bump, border on the need for immediate intervention. The more workaday observer might fire up the barbecue upon a long holiday weekend under the pretense of honoring some long dead president’s birthday, or grudgingly pony up a few dollars towards that notoriously specious gold-plated timepiece in recognition of a job promotion/firing/rehiring/retiring.
As a country, we’ve become so accustomed to multiple motives for occasion of some sort, I’m sorry to say, I harbor a cynical suspicion that our worshipful celebrations now outnumber the actual amount of religions that are actively practiced. The lengths we’ll go to for a good dessert…
As a society, we’ve grown inured to the scads of contradistinctive observances and expect everything from mailers offering discounted oil changes to “THIS WEEKEND ONLY!” white sales. But then there are the other days. Days that might not matter to many people at all. Days that might matter only to one. Cupcake-less days. Still, these are every bit as important as the commemorations that take place on a national scale. This past Monday? A big one of mine. It marked three years to the day since I gave up the fight. Wait, no. That isn’t right.
It was three years ago that I began the fight. My greatest to date in fact. A full on, knockdown, drag out, make it or break it, battle for my survival. Because I had known people throughout the years. An astounding sector of our society who nonchalantly dwelt among the rest of us. Those of us who went about our daily activities trying to hide our indisputable damage.
These were the people who were somehow able to live without the afflictive abetting of an eating disorder. I don’t mean merely exist, no, not this bunch. Truly live. Such characters always struck me as the real super heroes. I had seen them for myself and yet.. the very possibility that I might one day join their ranks? That had never seemed like much of a possibility at all.
I believed in living without an ED about as much as I believed in unicorns and mermaids, but exceedingly weary from dying by degrees, the slightest prayer that I might..just might ride one of those unicorns to a disordered-less world? It began to haunt me. I hadn’t (no pun intended…maybe intended a bit) much left to lose.
If it was attainable for some, could it be for anybody? For the chance, however unlikely, to live free, I owed it to…well, I owed it to someone anyway, to let myself dream. And if I could dream it, then maybe I could try it. And put in at least as much effort as I had put into learning to shuffle convincingly with the dual shackles of restriction and purging. Okay. Marginally convincingly. Okay, okay. Temporarily marginally convincingly.
For the great strides made in recent decades with educating the masses about ED’s, we’re still barely emerging from the metaphorical dark ages as far as sensitivity and true understanding are concerned. For example, you know, don’t you, that eating disorders are about vanity. Oh yes. And control. And sometimes about wanting to regress back to childhood. Freeze the female form into a prepubescent and somewhat asexual shape.
Oh! And they’re funny! Have you seen the T-shirts that are sold in sizes XXL (and larger) that proudly bear the words “I BEAT ANOREXIA”. Let the hilarity ensue. Give me a moment to collect myself. Self starvation by a tormented soul? That’s just good comedy right there. Heaven help me if I ever see someone wearing one of those. I will walk right up and clock them….and then probably get my bum handed to me in numerous fragments. (I will have made my point though.)
One of the hardest misconceptions to get past is the notion that treatment or hospitalization (or even intensive therapy), is a cure. It’s disheartening as well as damaging, the plentitude of loved ones who expect that money can buy a miracle. The richer the resources remunerated, the quicker we can all be fixed and just move on with this foolishness already. Sigh. If only.
Shortly before I left for treatment, I was presented with a check from my father-in-law. The down payment necessary for my extended stay. Mostly anonymous donations from concerned members of my church family who had silently watched my ephemeral withering and set aside precise funds, praying for the day I would seek help. “I’ll never be able to pay this back..,” I was astonished. Moved. Awkward. How could I ever say ‘thank you’ to people who didn’t want me to know who they were?
“Just go. Take care of this…get it taken care of.”
Message received. His words weren’t of cruel intent. There was no harsh tone. He simply said what made sense to him. You go to the hospital with a broken bone and they put a cast on it. It mends. Antibiotics are administered to clear up infection. Something about me was broken. I was being sent away to be fixed. Curiously enough, I think I believed this too for a time. Or I just really wanted to.
Somehow I imagined that when I came home, I would be all patched up. Cured. As it would happen, one of the first things explained in group therapy was that this precise view was a widespread error. That recovery is often an uphill battle. Lifelong. I surreptitiously stole glances around the room at the other patients. Was anyone else caught off guard with this news? Disheartened? Why else was I here if not for a magical panacea? What a gyp.
So what could treatment offer? Self nurturance for one thing. A foreign concept for many of us. We were taught a way of facing the world that didn’t involve self-destruction but rather self consideration. That is, if the decision to actually treasure oneself, (body, soul, or spirit) was too cumbersome a load to be carried. If it seemed just too extraordinary. Too vain.
I didn’t,.. well,… if I’m being completely honest, I don’t always choose the path of being kind or easy on myself, but I can’t say now that I don’t know it exists. I met staff members that summer who were long over, and I mean done with their anorexia. Their bulimia. Such diversity was there in contour and construct among their frames, that it was surprising to me how simple it was to find the beauty in each one. Perhaps it was their quiet strength that so drew me. Their lack of self-contempt. Something I had never seen in a woman before. As time passed, I was able to recognize that beyond what I had already seen, something even deeper prevailed. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. What was it? Could it be?
1095 days later, I find myself in a position that brings about a great deal of introspection. Some unflinching honesty. How far I’ve come. How much further I really want to go. Much has changed. I’m unrecognizable from the woman I once was and some days that’s all the motivation I need to get back on that proverbial horse and put my slips behind me.
Most of the time my weight is stable. And most of the time my head is not. Continually swirling with thoughts of calories and fear foods and ‘should I or shouldn’t I buy that magazine that shows me how to exercise away my “trouble spots”?’ But I have moments of stillness now. Of calm. Moments of ‘Shut the hell up, Ed. I have more important things to do than deal with you right now. Like, everything.’
And it even works for a while. Maybe one day it will work forever. Maybe not. But I celebrate the day. I feel like it’s so much bigger than just me.
In my mind’s eye, it’s all of us.
Living and gone.
Walking tall or drowning, it’s all of us.
So I’ll keep doing it.
Because it matters.
If we know each other, if we don’t.
At least one day a year I make a conscious decision to nod to you. Keep going. We’ll get there. I make the day an occasion for all of us. A holiday. No offense to George Washington, but we’re the ones who are owed two-for-one movie tickets. And on one of these anniversaries? We’re all going to eat cupcakes.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3