I was a chubby little girl. I had pin-straight brown hair and endless energy. I did cartwheels and handstands on the grass hoping to impress aunts, uncles, and cousins. I made dandelion bracelets and drank kool-aid on the front steps of my grandmother's porch. I rode my bicycle all evening long until the sun began to set and fireflies crept out from the trees that lined our street. I was happy. I had thick little legs, chubby little cheeks. But I was happy.
The hatred and discomfort I felt toward my own body started when I was 8. Until then, I had never cared, or realized even, that my body was different from anyone else's. At eight 8, my two best friends were cheerleaders. They weighed less than me. They were prettier than me. They could do better cartwheels and handstands than me. They looked different in their bathing suits. I remember realizing that and being very upset about it. I understood, even then, that food was what separated fat from thin. I asked my mother once why I couldn't just chew my food up and spit it out again without swallowing it, since the flavor was all I wanted anyway, and the flavor wasn't the part that made you fat. I've never been able to forget the look of horror on her face-- the same look she gave me when she saw me skipping meals years later, when she watched me lose 80 lbs, when I admitted to her that I threw up 8 times a day. When I admitted to her I didn't want help.
Throughout the rest of my childhood and young adulthood, I continued to struggle with my weight. My mother was always present in this battle, hovering in the background and shaking her head with that same look on her face. She had always been a thin woman who could eat whatever she wanted to without gaining any weight. On several occasions I recall her telling me that she would gladly trade me places-- that she felt guilty I wore larger sized clothes than she did. I remember how helpless she looked each time we went shopping. I always wanted the cute outfits and the cute outfits never fit me-- or, if they did, they didn't look how they were supposed to. Each shopping trip led to me holed up inside a dressing room crying. Crying and hating the person I saw reflected in the mirror-- the chubby girl standing in her underwear with a pair of cute jeans that wouldn't pull up any higher than her chubby thighs. My mother always said the same things:
That I was beautiful.
That she loved me just the way I was.
That God did, too.
That he made me this way for a reason.
That I needed to respect myself.
That I needed to love myself.
That I was just as good and as worthy as anyone else.
That I was just as beautiful as all my friends.
That I was gorgeous.
That I was perfect... just as I was.
Although everything my mother told me was true, I never believed it, even when I told her that I did. It took me gaining and losing mass amounts of weight, starving myself to the point of exhaustion and physical collapse, fighting for recovery, relapsing, wanting to die, repenting, wanting to live. It took a whole decade of downward spiral and victory and sorrow and happiness and triumph and defeat and I still haven't been able to fully believe all of what she said to me. I know that I should believe it. But how do I make myself?
I've learned that recovery from an eating disorder-- and from anything else, I guess-- is like this. There is so much space between saying and believing-- so much space. I know that I need to rid myself of my eating disorder forever. I know that. And I say that. But do I believe it? My first instinct is to say yes-- of course I believe it. But do I really? If I really believed it, wouldn't I be working harder toward making it come true?
I've realized that recovery with good intentions is a beautiful thing. That's how I started-- with all the best of intentions. With a whole new outlook on life and living and loving and existing. That was pure. That was real. Somehow my definition of recovery has shifted. Maybe I've been at it too long. I wonder to what extent I am hiding under the umbrella of "recovery" because I'm too scared to step out into the rain. As long as I say I'm in recovery, then people will leave me alone and start believing it. As long as I cling to recovery, people will pat me on the back each time I falter and understand that I am trying. But what if I'm not trying anymore? What if I can't believe it myself?
I have to step back out into the rain and face the storm. I have to put the effort into recovery that it requires. It's like going to the doctor for a sore throat. He gives you medicine to treat it. What if you don't take it? Just because you've seen the doctor doesn't mean you'll get better unless you've done all that he's asked of you. Recovery is no different. It takes effort. It takes cooperation. It takes commitment and dedication and passion and determination.
Honestly, I've been running low on all of those lately. After my last post, several of you reached out to me, whether in comments here or through facebook and e-mail, telling me exactly what I needed to hear. It really touched me to hear all of your heartfelt words and it helped put things in perspective. No one else in my life knows what I'm going through right now in terms of my eating disorder. Honestly, most of them never have. They don't understand. It feels good to be honest, and it feels good to know so many people care.
Somehow I feel like the worst of this is over. That by coming clean I can exhale and slowly start to move forward-- that I can stop excusing my negative behavior and own up to it for what it is-- that I can take a step back, be honest with myself, refocus, rebuild, and set off again in the right direction.