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I'm 'Sitting Shiva' for My Anorexic Body

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When you’re recovering from an anorexia relapse, there are both visual and spatial components involved in the weight restoration adjustment period.  Experiencing, and dealing with, a new, larger body feels difficult and distressing. Through each recovery interval, I’ve struggled with the discomfort of both elements. Of the two, I find visual stimulus more triggering. Even as a starving “skeleton,” I would not, could not accept myself.

In my own estimation, I have never been thin, skinny, fit, toned, lean, “good enough” for my eyes.

For me, it’s less about comparing myself to others, a societal standard or media images, and more about self-flagellation.

Yes, every so often, while reviewing photographs, I’m able to recognize a more accurate judgment of my appearance; the rose-colored glasses slip down and my eyes get a reality-check, however brief.

But then. There are mirrors. Ubiquitous. Unavoidable.

And body-checking compulsions. Continuous. Uncontrollable.

The mirrors at the gym, at the stores, in reflective surfaces of windows, toasters, friggin’ serving spoons.

And I am triggered. I cannot, cannot close my eyes.

However… Just like I cannot control what people say or think about my cellulite or any other physical characteristic, I cannot demand that the outside world accommodate my neuroses. Eliminating all reflective surfaces is both impractical and impossible.

The other day, I was reminded of a former therapist’s unconventional suggestion for my dealing with weight restoration. Her idea was that I temporarily place either sheets or towels over all the mirrors at home, thusly eliminating the visual stimulus triggers within my immediate, personal environment.

At the time of her recommendation, I wasn’t all that interested in coping. I wasn’t interested in recovery or adjusting to my weight-restored body, because at least subconsciously, I thought I’d just get sick again.

When thinking of the strategy a few days ago, I considered it with much more enthusiasm. Interestingly, it reminded me of the Jewish mourning tradition, observing Shiva. “Sitting Shiva” is a term used to describe the practices and traditions to honor a loved one who has passed.

One action is to cover all the mirrors in the house which remain covered with the intention of evoking a period of self-reflection. Appearance is not a priority or concern at this time. I’m of neither Jewish heritage or faith, but my step-family is. Being part of a blended family means sharing traditions, such as religious holiday observances. Researching Sitting Shiva, I was interested to learn that step-relatives are permitted to participate in these practices.

Pulling away from my intimate relationship with disordered eating by restoring weight and taking psychiatric medicine feels tantamount to severing ties with a dear, albeit abusive, friend. Revisiting the concept of covered mirrors, I’m wondering if this strategy could simultaneously reduce “body-checking” compulsions while helping me mourn the behaviors and say goodbye to them. Ironically enough, a few weeks ago I accidentally broke the mirrored door on my bathroom vanity. I pulled it open to retrieve something, and, as I did, the hinge snapped away from the worn plastic. The mirror fell directly on the counter and shattered.

This was, of course, unintentional, but as I carried the mirror out to the curb, I couldn’t help but think, in regard to Sitting Shiva for my anorexic body, it’s a start.

Originally published: July 29, 2016
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