Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm or an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here. For eating disorders, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.
One month in the dark.
I sat in the parking garage outside of the treatment center and cried for an hour when I ate my first meal in a month.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
I hugged my knees to my chest, took a few deep breaths and wiped away a layer of tears with my sleeve.
It had taken everything inside of me just to drive there that morning and this felt like more than I could handle. I still wasn’t even sure I wanted recovery in the first place — what was I doing at a treatment center again? Why had I reached out for help?
Recovery had come to symbolize everything I was most afraid of: it meant becoming solid, giving up being a ghost-girl. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to trade haunting lightness for presence and weight and substance.
I stared at the building in front of me through tear-blurred vision and wondered what part of me thought that going back to treatment was a good idea.
* * *
Relapse is not what I had in mind when I left my last treatment center. I signed recovery contracts, set up aftercare appointments, taped motivational quotes around my apartment and prepared menus each week according to my dietitian-approved meal plan.
But it was always lingering there — the desire to be sick.
It didn’t take long. It was surprisingly simple actually, deciding to dance with the devil again. I let myself be pulled back to the Land of Shadows, to the familiar, terrifying terrain of self-denial and frail non-existence.
When my body survived off of caffeine and adrenaline, I felt invincible. “Look at how powerful I am,” I would say, stepping on the scale to find that the number has gone down again. “I am so powerful I can make myself disappear.”
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.
I would suppress my hunger and reward myself at the end of each day with a small, obsessively-measured allotment of calories.
My body was in agony, but as I entered a foggy haze of starvation again, the Real Pain, the one that never let up, began to thin out. It seemed to shrink in proportion to my shrinking body.
“This is what you wanted,” I would remind myself when my stomach growled too loudly and the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet was the only thing I could focus on. “You want to be numb to the pain.”
And I was right. It was what I had wanted.
But there was always a pause after those words.
* * *
One week in the light.
I had survived another day of treatment, showing up even when I didn’t feel like it. I did not want to eat. At every meal, I was faced with a plate full of food and a mind that was resisting.
Emptiness had been a welcome relief. Starvation had felt preferable to the pain of being.
While I might have gone back to treatment, I still didn’t know how to stop wanting The Monster.
* * *
Today, in the shadows.
I cannot tell you for certain if the real Me, with a capital M, still exists somewhere in this ghost-shell of a body.
Most days I cannot hear anything in my head except The Monster.
“Are you even in there?” I whisper to her in the darkness, huddled under layers of blankets in my bed. “Have you managed to survive the war?”
And from some deep, buried corner of my soul, I think I feel her stirring.
Me with a Capital M doesn’t respond. If she were to speak, I don’t know I would even be able to distinguish her voice from The Monster. But it is something, knowing she is still in there after all of this time.
* * *
When I eat, The Monster begins to roar in my head, telling me there is a deep dirtiness swimming in my veins. It rages and screams that the only way I can atone for the “crime” of existing is to starve, purge or bleed these tainted parts out of me.
But I am beginning to feel her in bits in pieces now, “capital M” Me, and she is pushing for something else.
And I begin to wonder: what would happen if the gods did not get their sacrifice this time? What if I were to stop punishing myself endlessly to satiate their bloodthirsty appetites? What if She were allowed to stand and speak more often instead of The Monster?
Would the foundations of the earth shatter? Would the planets collide?
And I am so afraid —
Not of planets colliding or earth-shattering disruptions,
I am afraid of life and happiness and freedom.
I am afraid of change.
I am afraid of losing the ghost-girl I hide beneath and beginning to fill in with Me.
I am afraid of losing my power,
And of gaining it.
I am afraid of the anger of the gods when I stop offering up my body as a sacrifice.
I am afraid of healing when it feels so very much like the last thing I deserve.
I am caught now between wanting to listen to Me, with a capital M, whose words feel more authentic and true and resonate in my bones, and giving in to The Monster, whose abusive voice is set on replay. This is the unholy tension in which I live, and for which I do not yet have an answer.
But there is a weak sliver of light shining in, barely enough to see in front of me, that is keeping the shadows from swallowing me whole. In the light there is a glimmer of “maybe” and “what if” that will keep me getting up in the morning, showing up to treatment, facing that plate of food again and again and listening for when “capital M” Me begins to speak at last.
The truth is, I don’t know how I’m going to get through each meal every day. It gets overwhelming if I think about it for too long. But for whatever reason, that Space In Between, that sacred hesitation after “I want to be numb,” is holding me back from falling headlong into the darkness.
Follow this journey on Recovering Lindsay.
If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.
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Thinkstock photo via djedzura