A very dear friend of mine asked me the other day, “How are you doing, really? With everything?” Knowing her and knowing that she had been facing similar struggles to mine, I understood what she meant and truly wanted to know: Are you fully recovered? Was it worth it? Are you still sick? Do you still have an eating disorder? Trying to answer these kinds of questions is always difficult, because there really is no one answer. Things change, time passes, and life throws more and more challenges at you in the wake of your attempted healing process. I began by explaining to her that I take things day-by-day and that my life and mentality look a little bit different with the rise of the sun each morning. And while I admitted to still experiencing a lot of complications and struggles with food, eating, and finding a “healthy” balance of it all, I also told her this:
I remember being so cold everyday that I feared my bones would break or crumble if I moved too quickly. I remember being so uncomfortable in my own skin that I would experience panic attacks while out in public because I knew that people would likely glance my direction. I remember wanting to do nothing but hide, being scared of crossing the street because that required calling some sort of attention to myself, dreading hanging out with even my best friends because I knew that in one way or another, food would be involved. I remember often having to stop in the midst of exercising out of fear that my heart would simply stop beating. I remember my hair thinning and how easily I would bruise, somehow finding pleasure in my own self-destruction. I remember lying about having “already eaten,” hiding food and refusing to communicate about what I was going through, and all of the secrets I allowed myself to keep in order to protect the identity I believed was serving and protecting me. I remember not even looking at any form of carbs (let alone eating them) and going vegan, something I was able to use to my advantage in cutting out more and more food groups masked as an ethical endeavor. I remember those 6 almonds and half of an apple I allowed myself to eat everyday that I believed was enough to keep me alive. I remember all of the exercise, all of the “running off the calories” that left me with nothing inside, all of the laxatives I took to feed my obsession with feeling empty, and how much I harmed myself through it all. I needed to feel weightless, frail, weak, and small. Because disappearing and shrinking myself meant that I could learn to feel less. It meant that I could fade away and ignore my own existence and the pain of reality.
I remember waking up everyday hating myself and my body so much that I couldn’t even manage to stop the tears from streaming down my face, let alone successfully complete all that I needed to throughout the day. I remember the thousands of cancelled plans, lies told about why I couldn’t make it to dinner, relationships lost, and dissociation from myself that I experienced, all of which have caused immense pain and have forced me to reconcile with people and things I have pushed away and perhaps even hurt along the way– including myself. I remember becoming so depressed while away at school after isolating myself so much that I lost the ability to reach out and ask for help, all of the classes I skipped and excuses I made for not being able to make it places when I was really just ashamed of how I looked, fainting in classrooms, enjoying being ill, and how often I would make myself sick just from looking into a mirror. Anorexia took so much from me, and working to reclaim all that I have lost over the past 2 years has been the most challenging journey of my life. I did not die, and yet I had lost all of life’s breath.
As life goes on and time continues to pass, I find myself being asked by more and more people about where I’m at currently, especially when it comes to ED recovery. I always start by telling them that I am better, and I am so much happier. I feel freer than I have in a very long time, and I often tend to forget how far I’ve come, because I know there is so much more work to be done. Still, I know that I owe it to myself to recognize the growth I’ve incurred and how far I have been able to push myself since leaving treatment last summer. I can now wake up in the morning with a variety of thoughts in my head, the majority of which are not surrounding food and exercise. I can now decide that if my body is exhausted, I don’t have to run or exercise as hard as I would normally without hating myself for the rest of the day and needing to punish my body for its inability to do what I asked of it. I can now ingest more than just coffee in the morning, and if I need more later, I can allow myself to have another cup. I can now eat a cookie without having to “make up for it” in the coming days. I can now have something other than a smoothie for dinner, and I can even allow myself to eat after dinner if I want to. I can now survive without intermittent fasting and don’t even think twice about what time I can and can’t have food, because I’m learning to trust my hunger cues again. I can now find it in myself to want to be strong and healthy, not frail and faint. I can now (mostly) go out to dinner with my family or friends without having major anxiety about what I would eat or how I would get out of having to eat. I can now say “yes” to my friends when they ask me if I want to go get a snack in the middle of the day just because, and I can even manage to have frozen yogurt with them on a hot summer day. I can now be out tanning and swimming with my friends without thinking about if I looked thin enough, changing my outfit 27 times, or worrying about what they might think of me. I can now travel across the world and eat gelato with my best friend on the trip of a lifetime and not miss out on part of the experience abroad. I can now make it through the day without measuring my waist or my wrists, trying on clothes to make sure they still fit the same or were slightly looser than the day before, feeling every bone on my body just to make sure that I still could, and even stepping on the scale. I no longer seek my own demise, for I know I am worth more than that, and life is a gift to be lived and enjoyed. I still remember that girl, but I am no longer her.
These all appear to be the tiniest of successes and may even come off as insignificant to anybody who has never experienced the harrowing destruction an eating disorder causes, both physically and mentally. But for me, all of these things seemed more than impossible to me even a few months ago. I never thought I would again find myself in a position where I could manage to have thoughts in my head that didn’t revolve around food, compulsive exercising, restriction, etc., or that I could dedicate my time to people and things other than the size and appearance of my body. I truly thought I had reached the point of no return, but the acknowledgement of these small steps as progress towards a happier and healthier me help me realize that no place I find myself in in this life is permanent. A small step is still a step. I can always change, improve, better myself, and learn how to love and care for people, things, and myself each and everyday. And so is the case for everybody. In case nobody has told you lately, the small things you are doing in your life matter both to yourself and others. Your hard work and intentions don’t go unnoticed, and you deserve to be proud of yourself, your own story/journey, and how far you have managed to come.
I know that despite the progress I know I’ve made, I still have a long road to go. But, the road no longer scares me, and that’s the key. I’m no longer afraid to ask for support if I need it, I’m not terrified of returning to old habits if I have a bad day or even a bad week because I know I can get myself back on track, and I no longer feel trapped in my own body and in this life. That’s what keeps me going and allows me to continue expanding my horizons and pushing myself in spite of whatever setbacks may appear.
I knew that telling my friend all of this and having a conversation with her about my own experience as well as hers could have either tremendously helped her or not at all. Through it all, though, I reminded her that I was in no place to offer advice, nor do I think that my experience is equivalent to hers. I can only share what I have gone through and learned from, and hope for everyone to do the same with their own experiences. I often find it hard to talk about my own struggles with people or constructing posts like this one despite having lots of questions and suggestions to do so, because I know how difficult it can be to separate our own selves and experiences from those of others at times. However, I know that the messages I’ve received asking me to continue writing about it, answering questions, etc. are important and may have the potential to help someone, so I always try my best to articulate what I wish to tell. That being said, I remember our conversation ending with me offering a brief outline of the steps I took and even the logical reasoning and even apologetic behavior I had to practice in order to really begin healing myself.
I told her that if hating myself could have made me happy, I would have gotten there already. So, I tried something different. I gave myself care when all I wanted was destruction, and that’s when my healing began. I convinced myself that I had spent enough time at war with myself, and that I had forced my body to engage in battles it never wanted to fight. I mentioned that I find it all to be unfair. The way I’ve treated myself, the way the world grooms us to believe that we’re never enough and projects this vision of idealism and perfection, the way capitalist corporations and a population of people profit from the insecurities of women (and men), and the way I see so many people struggling to be okay with themselves and find peace with existing in their own bodies. It’s all so wrong in so many ways, and I’m sorry that this is the world we live in. For me, recovery has never been about learning to love my body. Though that would be amazing, putting that kind of pressure on myself in aiming to be able to look at myself and know that my body is 100% beautiful all the time is just not something I’ve set as a goal/wanted for myself. Rather, I am learning how to give myself permission to fully exist in peace regardless of how my body looks. If that comes in the form of finding myself beautiful, then so be it. But, if it comes in the form of simply loving myself enough to not harm my body, work to change how it exists, and feeding it (no pun intended) only positivity and light that contribute to my overall well-being and the maintenance of my heart and soul, then that’s okay, too. I’ve taught myself to understand that “pretty” and “thin” is not the rent I must pay to exist in this world as a woman. I’ve had to apologize to my body and myself for all of the damage I caused and all of the falsities I enabled myself to believe, and for losing so much time. If I understand anything about the universe, it’s that it waits for no one. Life is short, and the inevitable passage of time only makes it harder for human beings to keep up. That’s the human condition. And as tragic as it is, it is equally as beautiful. Don’t waste time hating yourself. Or your body. You deserve better than that. Take a break. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. Eat the freaking cookie. And the ice cream. I promise you that you won’t look back in 10, 20, or 50 years and regret the fact that you allowed yourself to enjoy the food, people, and experiences life had given you. You owe yourself that and so much more.
You are not alive to pay bills and lose weight. Your body is not your masterpiece. Your life is. Remind yourself of this everyday.