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.
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’s 5 lbs lost?”
“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.”