I met my friend Dan last November at Brandywine. We shared stories, secrets, and walks out to the old, beautiful house that lay just beyond the hospital doors. We played in the leaves. We laughed. We ate together, three times a day. The funny thing about treatment is that you make the best friends in the world.
Since last November, Dan and I have seen each other sporadically, maybe once every two months. We met up for coffee on Friday and instead of meeting my beautiful, once happy friend Dan, I met his eating disorder. I heard it, speaking directly from his mouth, the self-hatred, the denial, the absolute loss of self. The way he mentioned his weight, as if it were inconsequential, explaining that his current low, his lowest, wasn’t low enough. As if buying vitamins to replace food and drinking lots of water before doctors appointments is okay. Normal.
Quietly, I sat there, remembering my own pain. Remembering how the eating disorder once had the same, unwavering hold over me. I know. I know the fear and the exhaustion of waking up in the morning, praying that today will be the day that I don’t get sick. Praying that it will be the day that I stop. I know the dreariness with which he views the world. It’s a constant challenge, once you’ve been to treatment, to face the eating disorder head on, to look it in the eyes, and to give in. Being unconscious to your true self and mind, because it’s easier to give in, to steal cafeteria food and drown in it, in front of the computer screen, not thinking, just reading, just eating, just letting the disorder take over and numb you out. Numb me out. As if turning the sink on could drown out a thing, much less the wasted, stolen emotions spilling from my gut.
There was a time when I starved. When I felt “good,” and sometimes even “proud.” I counted out spoonfuls of trail mix and felt full after a container of yogurt. I ate half a grapefruit for breakfast every day for several months. I looked at my mostly empty stomach, and wrapped my hands around my waist, enjoying the lines that I’d created. I screamed, and I cried when my parents decided I needed help. I was crazy. I was scared. How could they take away the one thing that helped; the only thing that mattered?
I lost that pride and sense of security the first time I threw up. I grew to know the limits of my body, and I discovered physical exhaustion. I also discovered the bloat, the shame, and the absolute disgust it was to live with an eating disorder. Sure, I could eat an entire apple pie by myself. But that didn’t make me happy. It did not make me feel good. And within less than a year, I was within hospital walls.
“How do you do it?” Dan asked me. How do I do what? Not purge? Not starve? Not let the eating disorder take control, anymore?
It took nearly five years of treatment to get where I am today. It took acceptance, and fear, and guilt. Loads of guilt. It took a willingness to change. It took exhaustion. It took months of three meals a day, sat right down in front of me, learning to eat. Learning to live. I can’t say that I love my body. I can’t even say that I like it. But with fuel, it grows stronger. It can do more things. Now that I’m not starving my body, my mind has rediscovered rational thought. I have won back my mind. Yes, won.
As I type this, my stomach feels bloated, full up to my throat. But I will not take those steps into the bathroom. I will sit here, and read. Maybe do some homework. Probably fall asleep. I am making the conscious decision to be kind to myself. It is a decision those of us in recovery have to make, three, or five, or however many times a day. If you’ve been in treatment, you know how to eat. You’re just deciding not to.
Rack your brain for who you were. Rack your brain for who you want to become. Is this it? A walking skeleton? Does it make you feel good? Should I feel guilty when I look at you, because I am doing well, and you are not? You are not okay. Wake up. You are not okay. You are not fine. I love you, and I will hold you until it’s over. I will stay with you, I swear. You are so much more to me than that frightened boy with lost eyes, the one I met on Friday. I have seen the light inside of you. I hope so badly to see it again.