So, okay. It’s eating disorder awareness week, right? True, some disorders/afflictions/ diseases are honored with a month-long dedication, but we’ll take what we can get. In some parts of the country, organizations are gearing up for marathon walks to increase awareness and raise funds for sufferers who can’t afford treatment, etc. Noble? No doubt.
Yet, I have to admit that I find this highly amusing, and some of the participant’s motives slightly suspect. I can picture anorexics and bulimics lacing up their sneakers and bouncing on their toes eagerly, two or three days before the event, READY TO GO! It’s for a good cause, after all. It’s fine. You can smile at the visual. Chuckle even. Because I’m saying it and I was one of those people, therefore it is allowable (if not entirely politically correct).
My treatment friends and I toss around more suitable options. Bake sale? Pie eating contest? I wonder how far the community’s altruism would reach then. I honor ED awareness week my own little way. Everyday, on my Facebook Wall, I post statistics regarding dieting, warning signs, body image, and eating disorders. I implore those struggling to speak up. Ask for help. Encourage anyone reading to love their body at its healthy weight. (Hello, pot? Kettle here. You are so black.)
It’s not that I necessarily think that someone reading my posts is hiding an eating disorder. I keep my pool of Facebook friends relatively small and I know everyone pretty well, (although everyone has secrets), but I’ve notice my statuses get re-posted and then re-posted again by several different friends. That’s the stuff right there. Get the word out, baby.
What’s strange about this week is how triggering I find it. Is it strange? I’m not sure if it’s just me. I have noticed some of my friends slipping here and there, but I can’t be sure if they had been and are only reaching out just now, or if being confronted with the onslaught of images and numbers and reminders of how much we’re supposed to still be suffering, are taking more of an emotional toll than even the daily reality of living with this proverbial monkey on our back. Thorn in our flesh. Devil on our shoulder. Sigh.
Let me use yesterday as a ‘for instance’. I had a late lunch driving home from work. See now, I love the way I’m able to say that so casually. I didn’t sit and stare at a cup of yogurt and then push it away, or put off fueling my body with half a dozen diet soda’s. I was hungry. And I ate. I should revel in that. Meaningless to many. A huge triumph for some of us.
Except, by the time I pulled into my garage, I was crawling out of my skin. My hands had been maniacally banging the steering wheel for the past ten minutes. I was methodically clenching and unclenching every muscle in my body. I could no longer hear the radio for the noise in my head pounding out a steady beat of “gotta purge, gotta purge, gotta purge.”
What on earth? I hadn’t binged. I hadn’t even overeaten. And what if I had, so what? I had learned from my experience in recovery over the past two plus years that my body knew what to do with occasional extra food. That I would be just fine. That my body had settled at its natural weight and when I listened to its cues of hunger and fullness (dietitian’s buzz words), I could have fun with food and should I happen to overeat one day, or for a couple of days, nothing would happen. Completely counter-intuitive to everything my ED had told me for 20 years but I had undeniable proof.
As difficult as it was to accept, my body has not changed much since the day I arrived home from treatment. I eat. I keep careful watch over my exercise even when this means doing only the simplest, daily activities of life. I constantly argue with the lies I know my reflection is throwing back at me. I’m doing it, you know? Walking the walk. So, it’s no small surprise that here I was sitting with an average size lunch lodged like a brick in my belly, contemplating pulling my car over and puking on the shoulder of the road.
Having not used my “emergency safety number list” ( compiled near time of discharge specifically for just such a situation) for well over a year, I was hesitant about whom to call. Whom to risk triggering. I sent a message to a non-ED friend that read simply: “wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge”. She responded quickly with one word. “Don’t.” Well, she certainly cut to the chase. It wasn’t what I needed though.
I rapidly ran through my mental list of the suggestions I learned over my months as an inpatient. Come on distraction skills, don’t fail me now.
Let’s see, I could: Light a candle, write a poem, paint a picture..Hmm. These sounded as inane as the first time we went over them in group. Take a bath. I thought of looking down at my unclothed body. The faint rippling of the water magnifying me from the neck down. Who comes up with these lists?
I remembered one of my favorite options. Hold an ice-cube. I found this perplexing but my friend Stephanie was genuinely irked. “How is that supposed to help? That’s such an unnatural act! Don’t they think at some point you might stop and think ‘Why am I holding this ice-cube? Ohhh..that’s right. I want to vomit.’ ”
I walk clumsily into the house feeling that old, familiar tug. And I’ll admit, it’s not altogether unpleasant. It rarely starts out that way. I’m a marionette just like the old days. Let’s just get this over with. Then I’ll start fresh and it will be like it never happened. Quick and dirty.
Only I don’t head to the bathroom. My brain and my body seem to be having some battle that the rest of me (what is the rest of me..spirit?), was not invited to join. Probably for the best. Temporarily unfit for combat.
I find myself in the family room where my children have flung themselves in various states of post school day lethargy. “I have to…walk the dogs.” “I walked the dogs when I got home, mom.” Oh, now? NOW my teenage daughter decides to do, voluntarily I might add, a chore that almost always requires employing a threat or a bribe. ( I never claimed to be a perfect parent.) I drop the leashes I snatched up and am halfway out the door. ” I’m walking myself then!” “Mom! It’s cold..”
My daughter’s admonition. She’s right. It’s probably in the thirties outside and I’m the type who still needs a hoodie six weeks after the community pool has opened. My internal warmer seems to constantly be on the fritz. But my coat was still in the car. And to get to the car, I’d have to walk past the bathroom. I can’t stop now. I have to move.
Havetomovehavetomovehavetomove. If I blow it now, it’ll be bad. Somehow I sense this though I’m not capable of coherent thought just then.
For the record, I hate the term “slippery slope”. Doctors and therapists and dietitians and shrinks and anyone who is part of your support system? They all seem somehow contractually obligated to use it repeatedly. It’s overused and unimaginative and so cliché by now, that it’s lost any effectiveness it might have once had. It’s like the term “avant-garde” on “Project Runway”. Okay, already. We get it. If I never hear it again,( either term, really),….
only… now? Well, I can all but see that damn slippery slope in that instant. It’s not as far a fall as I had always assumed. And it’s grim near the bottom. Then pitch dark. And sinister. It’s warmer outside than it is down there. So out the door I go.
I didn’t go for a jog or a hike. I walked to the lake and I sat. Talked to God. Watched the sky. Threw sticks in the water..considered throwing them at the geese because they’re hateful creatures and I don’t like them. Later, I wondered who would find my body when my butt froze solid to the rock I was perched on and I developed hypothermia and expired, but my point is, I made it through yesterday.
I survived. Even had dinner. Another triumph of gargantuan proportions, and one that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. Even if I had managed to keep lunch where it belonged, yes belonged, it would likely have been through self soothing talk in the vein of “I can skip the next three or four meals”, or “I can exercise all night”. I might have used self harm to calm the irrepressible anxiety that sometimes threatens to overtake me if ever I let myself drift into the old damaging habit of calorie tallying. Cut. Let my blood wash away the sin, the weakness of eating.
STOPSTOPSTOP. I did. I did… recovery.
People often ask about my recovery. It’s important to know that I’m extremely open about my eating disorder. Where I was. Where I am now. But I wouldn’t be true to myself or my comrades, if I were to reply with a canned “all better now” and a painted on smile. Surprisingly though, nobody seems to want to hear my hour-long discourse on the complicated nature of ED’s or the difficult twists and turns one’s climb back to strength and sanity will often take.
There’s a continual debate in this community regarding the use of the terms “Recovered” versus ” In recovery”. Ultimately, I don’t believe it’s what word you use that’s going to make or break your success, but rather how you use it. I believe in complete healing. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Am I there? Read some of my posts. I am not. I am however, living in recovery.
I do not consider myself an eating disordered woman. I am a survivor. Medically, I should not be here. I’ve seen my chart. I wasn’t given such stellar odds when I left for treatment. I am a miracle. Until very recently, I had to wonder then: Why? Why still the strife? The distortion? The battle? Why am I not one of the ones who can put this (albeit, decades long) chapter far behind her, and rip off that rear view mirror? Why is this still with me everyday? Every. Day.
I think I know.
Here it is. And it’s simple.
I talk to people. A lot. Young girls. Women. I write. I speak out. I pray. I encourage. There’s a plain wooden cross that hangs in my bathroom. A sad little recreational art project that I made one rainy Saturday afternoon while still in treatment. An artist, I am not, and many of my masterpieces never made it into my suitcase home, but this one I kept. Brushed lightly with water colors long since faded, a few enamel hearts hot-glue gunned around the edges for that elegant air, it’s with me still for one reason only. In the center, a word I cut from one of the approved magazines.
R E M E M B E R.
Written in Sharpie underneath is the date of my admittance. The date I decided to try to not die.
And if I was “all better”, as so many who hear my testimony want so badly for me to be?
I might not.
After a while, it would fade. As so many unpleasant memories do.
The agony of hunger. The heartache that accompanies self-imposed isolation. The head spinning, and the frailty. That constant, bone-numbing chill, and crushing exhaustion. The brittle but determined imploration towards the end to anyone who might have stuck around, who might not have thrown up their hands in helpless defeat and decided that they were so done with me, “leave me alone, let me die, just please let me die..” No. No, I remember. I choose to remember. Better still. I pray to remember.
In 1998, Marya Hornbacher wrote a now famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) memoir, “Wasted”*, chronicling her life with anorexia and bulimia. In her words, “For the vast majority of eating disordered people, it is something that will haunt you for the rest of your life. You may change your behavior, change your beliefs about yourself and your body, give up that particular way of coping with the world. You may learn, as I have, that you would rather be a human than a human’s thin shell. You may get well. But you never forget.”
So, I’m asking. Where are you? You, who are reading this? Are you suffering, still in the hellish torment of it all? Recovered? Recovering….but still haunted? And if you’re living in that unsettled stage of restoration with me, what are you doing with it? Can you, too, accept that maybe, maybe we’re still here so that our pain will have some value?
Yes, it all sucks and many days it’s really hard and many days it feels like going back, quitting, would be easier. And it might be. Would be, probably, for a time. Let’s keep it real. But is that all we are? A number, a size, a body, a disease? All we’re here for? I’m not letting an eating disorder take me down. So don’t you. We’re talking and doing and fighting and remembering for something. Someone. Many someones. We may never know what God is doing behind the scenes. And that’s okay. Because He is, you know..He’s doing.
I encourage you, this week, as ever. You are worth far more than any mirror, any scale, any size tag on your jeans could possibly reflect. Someone loved you enough to die for you. And is still loving you. You are not alone. Not in this fight. Not in this world. Press on. Chin up. Pray. Remember.
* This is not an endorsement. Though it is one of the most poignant and beautifully eloquent books I’ve ever read, if you have any connection to the ED community I challenge you to find someone who hasn’t used “Wasted” as their how-to guide. Their bible. Their “thinspiration”. For me, reading it is like holding a loaded gun and I no longer own a copy. Should you choose to read it as one SOLID in recovery, I urge extreme caution. Please.