Editorial note: The following post might be triggering for those who have a history of eating disorders. If you need help, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
May 24, 2016 (first week in the partial hospitalization program)
In a really perverse way, this place lends itself to a quirky, Wes Anderson-type film. Come to think of it, more like John Hughes, except in our “Breakfast Club,” everyone’s a basket case and no one wants breakfast.
May 31, 2016
“You’re so out of your depth that I wish you’d just drown.”
The roar of my stomach is deafening, so much so I can’t even hear what I’m saying to her. The words are cruel and they easily tumble out. When I feel this empty, I don’t understand the gravity of my insults, the harshness of my tone. I can’t imagine I could leave a bruise on anyone.
“You don’t know anything about me, about the eating disorder so don’t even… No, don’t touch me! I’m tired. I don’t want to talk to you, and I’m not eating this.”
I’m surprised she’s still down here when my healthy-self left long ago.
“I’m not eating this. I’m not eating this. I’m not eating this. I’m not eating this.”
I get into a rhythm, chanting over and over while scrolling Facebook on my computer. I’m the picture of detachment. Somewhere in me, something already starts feeling guilty.
“I’m so sick of apologizing when I calm down. I’m so done with this. I don’t care about anything.”
The guilt turns into anger, and the anger turns into resentment. The words came out with such force that I spit on the laptop screen. Mum says I should leave partial hospitalization and more time will do nothing if I continue with this attitude. She says I’m never in a mood to talk, and I won’t go back to college if I’m not healthy.
“This weight is healthy. I’m not gaining anymore! I’m not eating that. I’m staying at this weight.”
I mean it. Every cell in my body shouts for emphasis. She whispers this isn’t a healthy weight and hearing that puts me at ease. Oh thank god, I think, I still look sick.
“If I eat this, then I’m just gonna throw it up anyway.”
I don’t even believe it, but I say it just to shock her. I’m thinking about Natalie earlier, saying her bikini bottoms are too big for her now and I’m tracing the fat I’ve gained on my thighs and my stomach. I’m thrashing around in my mind, trying to get away from the dieticians and meal plans. A small part of me is thinking back to last night, when the patients (my friends now) all gathered to watch a movie. My mom threatens to call one of those patients and I finally reach out to grab a piece of the English muffin. I hate myself. I hate my body.
June 6, 2016
Having an eating disorder is like driving a car at 100 miles per hour. You know the law. You know the danger to yourself and to others, but you also know the cold thrill as your foot pushes the gas pedal. You feel the car buckle underneath you as its speed catches up with your mind. Your hands white-knuckle the wheel, squeezing the point between control and unraveling. You put the window down, the air chokes you and your heart beats for the first time in forever.
Then, recovery pulls you out of the car. You still have the pounding need for destruction, the aching compulsion to push yourself to the edge. Yet, instead you’re forced to be still. You’re forced to sit with a raging discomfort and try to convince yourself blood belongs in your body and destruction is not salvation.
You feel empty. Life is dull when the world isn’t blurred around you. Building isn’t nearly as fun as breaking. You wish you had never gotten in the car. You wish you had never tasted the tanginess of acceleration. Because when it comes down to it, a world in black and white is nothing when you’ve experienced color. Someone should have told you that.
June 13, 2016
Spiders. The whispers of contact along my arms, my back, my legs. A faint brush against my skin, crawling ever downward. This is what it feels like to lose my hair. Strands fall out like a breadcrumb trail, caught by various body parts on the descent. Each tickle shoots straight to my stomach, where dread and unwanted food ferment.
The other day I was on a patio with friends, brushing off their stares and my stray hairs. All of a sudden, my hand caught a tangled mass of hair at the back of my head. I pulled ever so slightly and the whole thing came into my palm. I concealed a gasp as I discreetly directed the handful to the ground. It’s almost like I’m molting, shedding the old hair, so damaged and abused. This transition period (recovery) is the worst. There are bald spot with no new growth and not just on my head. I feel as if my entire being is pot-marked, waiting for something as yet undiscovered to fill me.
June 17, 2016
The thought of my sisters going through this stings every nerve ending. So to them I say: Girls, there’s this one quote I always read during therapeutic lunch/dinner. It goes, “You are enough. You are absolutely enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.” Those words seem empty to me, and probably to you, too. Because we’re at a crossroads now, where we’ve grown up on heroin chic and the Victoria’s Secret angels. Yet, we’ve also been exposed to enough self-love to have at least a little respect for our bodies.
Sometimes, that respect isn’t enough though. Sometimes it just provides an awareness that every moment you starve is harmful. I want to finally lend some weight to those words. You are enough. Madeline, your laugh is infectious and your freckles are like tiny stars. You are absolutely enough. Natalie, your eyes flicker with a gorgeous intensity and your hugs leave me breathless. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.
I never want you to stand in front of a mirror, weak from hunger and pinch the places you want to disappear. I never want you to fill your mind with the lowest calorie lunch, instead of thoughts about school, friends and your future. I never want you to have to tell mom about the disorder. I never want you to have to force food through tears, trying hard to recover but failing so completely. I never want you two to think you are anything less than enough. Because actually, you’re everything to me.
June 20, 2016
Let’s say, you have a broken leg. Doctors will order an X-ray to confirm the break, put a cast on the leg and maybe prescribe some pain meds or physical therapy. That’s all. A to B to C. With the proper care, the bone heals and you’re able to walk like before.
Now, let’s say you have a broken mind. There’s the familiar flurry of activity, as for a physical injury. Therapists throw the full gamut of treatment strategies, hoping one will stick. The difference is all the commotion masks a frightening truth, no one really knows how to fix it.
For anorexia, there are a number of societal, familial and individual factors that converge to produce the disorder. Nobody’s mental illness is exactly the same, but there is one thing we have in common — a limitless capacity to survive. The women around me show a blinding strength, marked by the knowledge that they alone are their torment and their salvation. This is our only advantage over a broken bone, the ability to play an active role in healing. We wake up every day and choose ourselves, our life. Some mornings these seem impossible, with a roaring resentment settling in our gut and a dull ache in our heads. Even then, we converge at program, ravaged and wounded but ready to begin again.
I’ve noticed the choice is getting easier. When I open my eyes, it’s no longer a battle, but rather a skirmish. I long for peace ahead, but what will it look like? A world without the disorder is harsher. I can no longer run into its arms as a shield from negative emotions. A world without the disorder means I transfer my sense of self from my body to my being. It seems like a small difference, but it means everything. A world without the disorder means I get myself back. I no longer have to share my mind with the anorexia.
So that’s it. This is the secret to recovery: You’ve always had the power to do it yourself. Therapists can’t fix it. They can only arm you with the weapons to do it on your own. The eating disorder weakens your defenses by weakening your body. Starvation is the key to subjugation. Yet, when you begin treatment and your mind slowly awakens from its stupor, your fight-or-flight instincts kick in.
At first, they’re misdirected. You may want to resist recovery and avoid the meal in front of you. Eventually, you’ll realize the source of your pain is not the food on your plate, but the voice telling you to avoid it. It’s taken six weeks of consistent re-feeding for this revelation to pull me above water. For some, it may come much later. When it does, I promise your head will break through the surface and you’ll breathe for the first time in forever.
Image via Thinkstock.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.