All my life I have wanted to change something about who I was. Sometimes it was physical, like my weight or the size of my nose or the complexion of my skin. Sometimes it was mental, like being smarter. Sometimes it was emotional, like gaining confidence or being a kinder, more empathetic person. And sometimes, it was all three at once.
Basically, I’ve never been satisfied with the person I am. Developing anorexia was sort of the ultimate manifestation of this unhappiness. I started out thinking that if I just ate a little less and exercised a little more, that I would improve myself. People would like me better. I’d be more in shape, so I’d be more inclined to be body positive and try more things. I’d meet new people by virtue of going to the gym.
Of course, none of this happened. As I ate less and less and exercised more and more, I started to waste away. I became nasty, bitter, and antisocial. I avoided spending time with friends or making new acquaintances. Instead of liking my body better, I became increasingly upset by it, resolving to continue losing more and more weight until I obtained this elusive satisfaction. I was massively depressed and anxious and wandered around in a fog, unable to see things clearly both literally and figuratively.
The past couple of days I’ve really had issues with urges to restrict. At times I’ve even given in. Lately I’ve really been struggling with negative body and self image. I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and felt a strong urge to close my eyes to try and wipe what I saw out of my mind.
But then I sat down and held myself accountable for what I did. This took an enormous amount of strength. It would be all too easy to get away with restricting. I was very good at finding ways to do it when I was really sick. I lied about everything and went behind people’s backs, all in the name of pleasing my anorexia. Which, of course, was impossible, because there is no pleasing an eating disorder, other than finally succumbing to it and dying.
And as I sat there, after having finished making up the exchanges I’d missed and feeling insanely disgusting and guilty for having done so, I was struck by a thought.
What does engaging in eating disorder behaviors get me, exactly?
Nothing. The answer is absolutely nothing. So I give in and restrict. What does that gain me? Maybe I feel slightly happy in the moment, and decide I want to recreate that feeling, so I continue restricting more and more to get that same high. And then what? I keep on restricting until my body can no longer function, shuts down, and I die.
My eating disorder often tries to compromise with me and convince me that there is a sort of middle ground. That I can just lose a little weight, that I can just eat a little less, that I can just be a little sick. But this is an illusion. There is no safe place where you can “partially” have an eating disorder. You’re either actively working every single moment to fight it, or you’re giving into the sinister whispers in your head that try and persuade you to come to the dark side. Only there are no cookies there. There is, however, a hell of a lot of sadness, depression, anger, fear, unhappiness, and a whole host of other miserable feelings.
What does sticking to my meal plan get me?
Well, the answer that first jumps into my mind like Hermione Granger’s eager beaver waving hand is “weight gain”.
Duh. I was a walking skeleton in the hospital. You could have snapped me into little pieces and used me to start a fire or something. I was a whisper, a shadow of the girl I am now. I couldn’t possibly survive at that weight.
Do I need to have gained every pound that I have? Well, considering that weight naturally fluctuates by as many as seven pounds due to water retention, food consumption, bowel emptying, and other lovely things, my weight is currently hovering around my body’s ideal set point. And this is where I’m supposed to be. Not a bag of bones. A real, actual, huggable human being.
So maybe I start exercising (note: not overexercising) and drop a couple of pounds. Maybe I shed some fat, but gain some muscle. Who freaking cares? Numbers are not worth dying over.
But besides weight, which is the obvious answer of someone suffering from an eating disorder, what else does adhering to my meal plan get me?
So many important things that can all be taken away from me as quickly as you can say “anorexia”. Of course I’m not going to be perfect. I’m not always going to be able to sit myself down and make myself compensate for exchanges I’ve missed or refuse to give into the desire to overexercise. Sometimes I will have mistakes and lapses.
But the important part is that I keep moving forwards. Recovery is not a straight line; not at all. It’s more like a wavy, scribbly mess of nonsense that eventually reaches the desired destination after a ton of diversions and detours.
The end result is what it’s all for, however. It’s going to be hell most of the time, I’m unfortunately here to tell you. Watching as your worst fears seem to come true is not at all easy. Trying to do something that feels so wrong with only a vague hope and a few people’s guarantee that it will work out how you want is damn near impossible. Having blind faith and surrendering control is incredibly difficult.
But how worth it this is. Without recovery, I would still be in the hospital. Without recovery, I wouldn’t have met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever encountered in my life. Without recovery, I wouldn’t be able to volunteer at the animal shelter or take a trip to see my grandma or restart karate. Without recovery, I wouldn’t spend my days laughing with family and friends. Without recovery, I wouldn’t even be here anymore.
I have no idea what being recovered feels like. I’ve been a healthy weight before, sure. I’ve even managed to maintain said healthy weight for quite some time. But this was with disordered eating and exercising habits. It was not free of an eating disorder. I’ve been engaging in behaviors of one kind or another since I was ten years old. I don’t remember what it’s like to not worry about when and what you will eat, all day, every day. I don’t remember what it’s like to wear whatever you want and rock the absolute shit out of it. I don’t remember what it’s like to not hear eating disorder voices whispering constantly in the back of your mind.
Sure, there’s the possibility that I get there and I hate it. I’m not going to lie to myself. But I think there’s a much greater possibility that I will end up loving it. I don’t know what recovery feels and looks like, not at all.
Why not give myself a chance to figure it out? Why not hold my head high with pride, put a big smile on my face, and take life for all it’s worth? Why not stop searching for some elusive source of empowerment, and realize that all I need is me, myself, and I?