I open my eyes, blinking in the bright sunlight shining through the window and stretching my arms above my head.
Then I stumble into the next room, feeling half blind, and put my contacts in. Suddenly, the world comes into sharp relief. I walk back into the bedroom, where a mirror rests across the room from me. I stare at it. Reflected back at me is a girl with messy hair and a tired looking face. I examine her closely from both the front and the side, hyperanalyzing every inch of her body for imperfections, for flaws. Her thighs brush together. Her stomach isn’t completely flat. Her arms are not thin enough. Her face is too round.
After this thoroughly negative daily routine, I make my way downstairs to the kitchen and begin preparing my breakfast. I pull out the measuring cups and portion out my servings. I’ve grown accustomed to eating virtually the same thing every morning.
My eating disorder has convinced me that to do anything else is dangerous and wrong. As I promised my dietitian, I eyeball the fruit instead of placing it into the measuring cup. This is absolutely terrifying; I have to rely on my own eyes, which I know from experience can often deceive me. After I’ve poured myself my daily cup of coffee, I snap a picture of my breakfast all set out on the table to send to my dietitian. This is because we agreed that I would send her a picture of every meal I ate to prove that I was not restricting, because my behaviors were starting to creep back in. Then I sit down in the same place that I always sit, setting my plate down on top of the placemats I designed to help remind myself of my motivations, take a deep breath as I glance at the clock, and then pick up the first item of food and take a small bite.
Every bite, every chew, every swallow, is a battle. The voices in my head raise in volume until they are literally screaming at me to stop; to just cease eating and instead wait for the half an hour I have to consume my meal to expire. To give in and restrict, or maybe go and exercise instead of spending my time with my food. I struggle to fight back against these voices; they are very skilled at coercing me into thinking that eating makes me disgusting and worthless.
Once the half hour has passed and my breakfast has disappeared inside of me. I return my plates to the sink and then dash upstairs to stand in front of the mirror again. Already, my eyes focus on the distension of my stomach. Fat, the voices say. Ugly.
I will repeat these two processes, the eating and the body-checking, numerous times throughout the day. After the second time examining my reflection, I then prepare myself for the day by straightening my hair, putting on comfortable clothes that I will likely change at least three times before settling on something that completely masks the recovering body underneath, and applying makeup, even though I have zero intention of going anywhere. Oftentimes, I decide not to make plans, because to do so means I have to be more flexible with meal times and food choices, which scares the living daylights out of me. Once I’ve finished getting myself ready, the rest of the day is routine: snack, body checking, meal, body checking, snack, body checking, meal, body checking, snack, body checking.
And every time I glance at myself in the mirror, the thoughts grow more and more destructive and vitriolic. Disgusting, the voices say. Waste of space.
What would it be like to not have this happen every day?
In other words, what would it be like if I didn’t have anorexia?
Would I not even think to look at myself in the mirror and take myself apart to destroy every little piece of me, every shred of happiness? Would I go downstairs and prepare whatever I wanted to eat for breakfast or lunch or dinner without worrying about whether or not I was meeting my exchanges or over portioning? Would I dress however I wanted without worrying about my appearance; instead, feel confident and secure? Would I make exciting plans for my day to occupy my time rather than structuring my schedule around meal times?
And most importantly, would I have done different things with all the time I would have had?
Anorexia has been my constant companion for the past decade, and over the course of the last year, it’s really reared its ugly head and brought me to a point where I was so medically unstable I had to be repeatedly hospitalized. Food looked like glaring red numbers; angry and frightening. I got to the point where I could barely bear to put anything in my mouth at all, and so was relegated to a bed in the hospital that was alarmed so that I couldn’t get up, because I was not permitted to do any form of movement besides the three short walks I was allotted every day and to get up to use the bathroom or head out to the hallway to face another monstrous meal. I’ve spent over the past half a year in some form of treatment or another, but in reality, anorexia has taken far more than this span of time from me. All the moments I’ve spent agonizing over a menu, trying to decide what would be the healthiest option to eat. All the minutes I’ve wasted struggling with the demons in my head that try and convince me to simply stop eating. All the countless hours dedicated to exercising myself to the bone. All the mental energy and space devoted to thinking of food in some way or another.
What would I have done with that time instead?
It makes me sad to consider this question. And if nothing else, that is the fire inside of me that motivates me to get better.
I don’t want to spend anymore time letting my life tick away to the roller coaster rhythm that is my eating disorder. I want to wake up in the morning and smile at myself in the mirror rather than beating myself up. I want to greet the day with happiness and excitement rather than nervousness; I want to have more to look forward to than the time in between meals where food doesn’t have to weigh so heavily on my mind. I want to travel and see the world instead of living in the box my anorexia puts me in. I want to make new friends rather than having an eating disorder as my constant companion. I want to sit down to eat without being terrified of putting anything into my body. I want to go shopping and not dread standing in front of the mirror that provides no place to escape. I want to go back to school and continue my education instead of spending my hours learning about DBT and positive self-talk and how to deal with urges to use behaviors. I want to study abroad and experience parts of the world that I haven’t been lucky enough to see yet. I want to feel hungry and not be scared shitless that my body is craving food. I want to be able to go out to eat and not have to scan the menu beforehand to try and find at least a couple items that meet my exchanges for fear that something won’t work out. I want to be comfortable having things like ice cream, chocolate, cake, pizza, pasta, and anything else that has been deemed “unhealthy” and therefore “bad”. I want to pursue my loves of writing and art and my passion of creating in general. I want to spend my days laughing through life rather than stumbling through it, marching to the beat of the monsters in my head.
I want to live a life without anorexia. I want to be Emma; just Emma. Not Emma, the girl who has an eating disorder. Not Emma, the little wisp of a skeleton that barely had enough energy to muster up a halfhearted smile for the camera. Not Emma, the person on a meal plan that is afraid to experiment and try new things. Not Emma, the sad human who stares at herself in the mirror and finds countless things she wishes she could change.
I want to be Emma. I want to be me again. Because I know that the real me is not the shadow that anorexia has forced me to become. The real me is vivacious and joyful and silly and strange and happy and crazy and funny and kind and caring and courageous and open and honest and brave and so many other things that have been dulled by the overwhelming glare of my eating disorder.
I want to be free.