Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pray for Recovery

I know that it has been a few days now since Thanksgiving, but I'm just now finding time to write about it. My boyfriend and I made the 9 hour drive to Kentucky to see my family. My brother and his wife and kids were out of town, so my mother prepared Thanksgiving dinner for my boyfriend and I, herself, and her new fiancee. It was my first time meeting him. But I'm not writing about that. Since I'm vegan and no one else in my family is, (not to mention a recovering anorexic) any situation where food is involved singles me out. No one knows how to cook for me, except my boyfriend, so we made some vegan lasagna the night before and brought it over so I could at least have something. Before I met him I would have eaten nothing. I've spent 25 out of the 26 Thanksgivings I've lived through with an empty plate and a room full of family staring at me. It isn't only because of my eating disorder, although when I was really sick, I did enjoy Thanksgiving because it was an excuse not to eat. But even before that, I didn't eat on Thanksgiving. I've been a vegetarian since I was a little girl, so even then I would eat nothing but green beans and maybe a dinner roll. When my eating disorder began, I wouldn't even eat that. This year I had the lasagna and green beans and bread, which may not sound like much, but it's the most I've ever eaten on Thanksgiving in my life, so I'm counting it as progress.

Every year I look forward to spending Thanksgiving at my grandmother's house, but this year, given the 9 hour drive and all, we arrived too late to make it. My boyfriend and I visited her the next morning instead. My mother wouldn't come with us. I don't know why. She promised me twice that she would, and then she went back on both promises. It had something to do with her fiancee, but I don't know the full story. 99% of me wants to be a baby about it and get upset because she's putting the needs of this man over my needs. But how can I blame her? I'm a grown woman, not a child. I made my decision to pack up and move away from home, all the way to Las Vegas, literally putting the entire United States between us. Can I blame her for doing the same thing?

Needless to say, family issues abound. Our entire family structure is cracked and shaking. We all love each other but the atmosphere is more than tense. No one really speaks anymore. It's awkward being around my mother, and it's awkward being around my brother. It never used to be that way and I wish that it weren't now. It all happened after my father passed away, my mother couldn't pay for our house, and my brother moved in to take over payments, and we moved out. My mother dating again also has a lot to do with it. But that's not all of it. I know my eating disorder plays a part. Back when it was first developing, I pushed everyone away. I locked myself in my room and spoke to no one. I declined dinner invitations, all invitations really. I pushed everyone away and turned into myself. And now I'm unfolding for the first time, six years later, only now realizing the bridges I burned won't be rebuilt easily. But I want to rebuild them.

On the way back home on Friday my boyfriend and I stopped to see my brother at his wife's family's house. I wanted to see my nieces. I love those little girls so much and I don't get to see them very often. They didn't know I was coming. My brother told them someone special was coming but they didn't know it was me. When I rang the doorbell and they answered it, their little faces lit up and they stared jumping up and down screaming and hugging me. I only spent an hour with them but it was so good to see them. My oldest niece (she's 10) hugged me before I left and said, "Seeing you for only a few minutes was better than not seeing you at all." She's so sweet. A few days later my brother sent me a text that said basically the same thing. Maybe bridges can be rebuilt. Here's to rebuilding them.

Once we left and were on our way back home, my boyfriend drove and I sat in the passenger seat feeling sad and miserable. I was glad to see my family but I was also sad to leave them. And I was still fuming about what happened with my mother. My boyfriend wanted to stop for lunch but I lied and said I wasn't hungry. In reality, I was starving. It was 3:00 in the afternoon and I hadn't eaten anything all day except a banana and some black coffee. I was letting my eating disorder feed off of my unhappiness and anxiety without even realizing it. A few minutes later we passed a church just off the interstate. There was a billboard out front that read in big, bold letters:


It was like a punch to the stomach. Had it been put there just for me?

Pray for recovery.

That's exactly what I did. We stopped for some sandwiches and soy lattes.

I know that I have a lot to be thankful for, and I'm eternally grateful for each and every blessing in my life, big and small. Even when things get crappy and I get depressed, I have to remind myself there is so much to be thankful for. It sounds cliche but it's true.

I have a roof over my head.
Food and water.
People that love me.
Breath in my lungs.
A heart beating in my chest.

That's all I really need, but I have so much more. I've come very far.

God is good. Life is beautiful. We're all beautiful.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Open Your Heart

I'm glad to say my boyfriend is finally back from his business trip to Boston. He was gone for two months, leaving me here alone. In other words, the ultimate test of my commitment to recovery. It's huge for me, eating on my own. He (next to my faith in God) has been the most crucial part of my recovery. For the last five years he has taken the time to understand my eating disorder and to help me beat it. Even long before I was ready to get better, he was in my corner, fighting for me to get better. When he's around not eating or restricting is never an option. He simply won't stand for it. But, as I've said before, I can't depend on him to make me eat. I have to do it for myself. I can't be better when he's around and then fall to pieces when I'm on my own. Though I stumbled more than once while he was gone, I'm proud that I didn't spiral into a dark, dark place. There were days when I didn't eat nearly enough, but those days were rare. Most of the time I managed to eat properly and healthily. In other words, I love my boyfriend, I'm happy he's home again, and I want to be healthy for him, but I'm glad to know without a doubt that I have what it takes to be healthy for myself.

We went to the gym tonight after he got home from work. I don't like working out with other people and he doesn't either, so we do our own thing and meet up again when we're ready to leave. I was on the elliptical when I noticed a girl two rows in front of me on a treadmill. Her ponytail is what caught my attention, actually. It kept bobbing up and down as she ran. I wasn't staring at her on purpose, but I found my eyes going back to her over and over again. I felt some kind of connection to her that I couldn't explain. Something told me she had an eating disorder. I don't know why. She was doing nothing to suggest it. She was only running, steady, methodical, determined. Maybe I saw a bit of myself in her actions, the way she ran, the way she looked from side to side. She was thin but not overly thin. She looked normal. Was she? Did I look normal? Was I?

I wondered how many people around me had or have had eating disorders. It's hard to tell by looking at some one. Even people who are very thin are rarely thin because of an eating disorder. On the other hand, people who are a normal weight or even overweight could be suffering from an eating disorder without anyone knowing. Like me. At one point in my life it was obvious that I was sick. But now, no one would ever know. I'm just like any other girl there, the one to the left of me, the one to the right.

We came home and made spaghetti. I ate a lot. My brain kept telling me that I needed to burn some calories off regardless of my workout earlier, but I didn't listen. I wanted to have soy ice cream but my brain reminded me I already ate enough today. And then the ticker tape started up, the calories, ticking. 100, 200, 300, 400. I could see all the day's calories rolling out in front of me. It's tempting to add them all up and know exactly how many calories I've had. In the past, that was my only option; I had to know the number. It was the most important part of the day. It measured my progress and determined my plan for the next day. I could close my eyes at night thinking of nothing except that number 700, or 300. 900, or 0. Regardless, that number was the most important thing, next to the number on the scale, of course. Now I couldn't care less.

I'm not afraid of a stupid number.

I am thankful for how far I've come.

I hope that girl at the gym has never had an eating disorder, and I hope she never does. I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

But, for those of us who have to go through this, I just want to offer a reminder:

There is a way out.

There is life on the other side.

There are more important things than calories and fat grams and the size on the tag inside your jeans.

And you're beautiful, no matter what size, shape, weight, age, race, height, gender, nationality, religion, sexual preference.

We're only ugly when we open our hearts to hate.

So open them to love.

I'm opening mine to soy ice cream.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A quick update

It's been a while since I've written. I can pretend it's because I've been busy with school (which I have been) but it's more than that. For the last week or so I've been fighting my eating disorder hard. My head has been flooded with negative thoughts about food and about my body. I thought anything I wrote would turn out negative as well and I didn't want to drag anyone else down with me. In reality, I think it was ED's way of keeping me under. Not writing here means not consciously and actively thinking about recovery. Not thinking about recovery means a higher chance of relapse. The point is,

Recovery is a full-time commitment.

And I'm okay with that because it's worth it.

I don't want to be sort-of recovered. I don't want to be partially recovered. I don't want to be recovered only when I feel like it. I'm tired of 75%, 80%. I want to be 100% better; 100% ED-free.

And, like anything worth having, that takes dedication.

So, this is my re-dedication. This is my chance to regroup, refocus, and NOT relapse. That's the worst possible thing that could happen and I'm not going to allow it. I've said it before but it holds true: there is NO room for an eating disorder in my life.

There's no room for one in your life, either.

There's no room for negativity.

Life is too short as it is. Life should be enjoyed!

I went out this morning and bought myself new shoes: a really cute pair of black boots and a pair of pretty ruby red pumps (which I'm wearing now even as I type this) I am so picky about shoes. I rarely find any that I like, so, for once, I don't feel guilty about buying something for myself.

It's a beautiful day and I'm off to enjoy it.

My eating disorder will not be joining me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fighting the ordinary

All men should strive
to learn before they die
what they are running from, and to, and why.
- James Thurber

Each day is becoming progressively colder which has prompted me to do something I dread each and every year: swap out summer clothes for fall/winter clothes. I keep out of season clothes tucked away in the guest room closet, so I've spent the last couple of hours dragging out sweaters and jackets and belts and scarves. I've had some of these clothes for so long. Some are too big. Some are too small. Winter after winter I pull them out and hang them in my closet. Some of them I never wear. Each year I tell myself, "I'll get rid of this one soon." But I never do. Why can't I let go?

Is it because they remind me of the past?

I have this purple sweater I used to wear when my eating disorder was at its worst and my weight was at its lowest. It doesn't fit anymore but I refuse to get rid of it. I suppose I feel like parting with that sweater means letting go of those memories, that time, that struggle that existed when I used to wear it. They aren't the best of memories. That was the lowest point of my life. Shouldn't I want to shred anything up that reminds me of it?

I want to be free from my eating disorder.

But does that mean I want to forget it?

I have no problem letting go of my anorexia. I don't want to be sick anymore. I want to be healthy. I want to be better. I want to stay better. I don't want to be defined as the anorexic girl. But I also don't want to forget that girl ever existed.

I guess I could argue that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? That by remembering how bad things used to be I can appreciate how good things are now? While those things are true, deep down, I'm not sure those are my real motives for hanging on to the past.

Maybe it boils down to identity. For a long time I struggled to define myself as anything other than "anorexic." Now, I don't consider myself anorexic. But I used to be. I'm a former anorexic. A recovering anorexic. An on-the-mend anorexic. Maybe I like that identity too much to part with my past completely. In other words,

Maybe I'm afraid of just being normal.



But I know in my heart that healthy and ordinary are not the same thing. They cannot be conflated into one pathology. Healthy is healthy. Ordinary is ordinary. They should not be made interchangeable.

There are still things about the healthy me that makes me unique. There are things that set me apart from other people. I don't have to count on my eating disorder to make me different.

And I shouldn't worry about labels or parameters or definitions.

And neither should anyone else.

I've been told my entire life it's okay to be me. I am unique. There is not another me. There is not another you.

Let that be enough.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The war still rages

There is something about the cold weather that makes me remember how it felt, the hunger, the rush of starvation. The revelation of doing something secret, something sacred, something all mine.

Maybe that’s why I moved to Las Vegas—to forget it all. The heat is uninspiring. The desert, barren and expansive, roused nothing in me. But the cold, the chill drifting into my lungs, makes me feel.




Today was the first day since I moved to the east coast that the earth felt truly cold. It really feels like November. The trees have changed. The cardinals can be seen again, crimson and proud, sitting on limbs void of leaves. Autumn has broken. Winter stretches its fingers. The sky is open and empty of clouds, bleached white, crystalline. I bury myself under layers of clothes and sweaters and jackets and boots and scarves and can’t help but recall a distinct and painful desire to disappear.

When my eating disorder first started to manifest, six years ago, it was early December. The sky was the same familiar color of smoke. Snow fell and dissolved. Christmas lights twinkled in slow motion. It had been almost two years since my father’s death. I had gained thirty pounds in the time that followed his passing. The heaviest weight of my life, I was miserable. Still grieving. Still broken. I remember sitting on the picnic table outside of our old house alone. It was midnight. The grass was brittle and frozen. The breath spilling out of my lungs materialized and hung in the air.

“Something has to change,” I thought.

The next day I started a diet. I had no intention of starving myself. And I didn’t, at first.

I cut out soda.
I cut out bread.
I exchanged full-fat dairy for fat-free.

Within the course of a few weeks I had seen progress. I was shrinking quickly.

I cut out flour.
I cut out sugar.
I cut out dairy altogether.

I started counting calories. I started skipping meals and setting goals.

1000 calories a day quickly became 800.

Then 600.


People didn’t recognize me. I had lost the extra weight and then some. I was flying through clothing sizes. 9, 7, 5. Pants were too big before I ever had the chance to wear them. I was buying new clothes almost every other weekend.

I realized in February that I had a real problem, but I didn’t want to admit it. I was barely eating at all. I was losing so much weight people were alarmed. I counted calories until there were none left to count.

I felt good. Strong.

I was a skeleton.

I felt happy. In control.

I felt like I was accomplishing things.

By March, I barely had the energy to go to class. I went to a university on the opposite side of the state from where I grew up. I would visit my hometown on Friday evening. When I left to return to campus on Sunday, I wouldn’t eat anything all week long until Friday when I was back home again.

Things started to change.

The happiness didn’t last.

My hair was falling out by the handfuls.

I made the mistake of trying to eat.

Until that point, I was under the impression that I could stop this whenever I wanted. I could turn it off, flip the switch. I could say, “Okay, I’ve had enough” and walk away without paying the price. I was wrong.

One Saturday in May, I was at my mother’s house. Some family friends had stopped by to pick up a clothing donation for the fire department’s clothing drive. I donated all that I had because it was all too big for me. When I went outside with the boxes, no one could believe it was me.

“Oh my God! You are so skinny! What are you eating?”

“Nothing,” my mother said.

It was the first time she had acknowledged it. It was the first time I realized I was hurting more than myself.

Later that evening I decided I would eat something. I battled with myself, a full-on war waged over a bowl of cereal. I poured it into the bowl. I added milk. I got out a spoon, all the while raging internally. Part of me was desperate. Hungry. Starving. It screamed out to be fed. But I couldn’t do it.

I started crying and went to my room. If my mother found the untouched cereal later she didn’t say so. I found it the next morning, soggy, mocking me.

That’s when I first realized I wanted to get help. The trouble was, only half of me wanted it—the weaker half.

The stronger half wanted to keep going, to keep shrinking, to keep starving, to keep losing weight until there was no left weight to lose. She wanted to keep driving 100 miles per hour in the wrong direction.

What else could I do but go along for the ride?

Somehow I managed to overcome her. After years of battling and fighting and gun fire and explosions and mortar and canons and blood and shrapnel. I now have the upper hand, but the war still rages.

I realized that today, the cold inching into my lungs, an overwhelming desire to freefall back into the past rising up in me. The war still rages.

I thought, “What if I just don’t eat?”

“What if?”

“What’s 5 lbs lost?”

“What’s 10?”

“I can stop when I’ve had enough. I promise.”

“It won’t be like last time.”

“I’ll be in control.”

“I won’t let myself go too far.”