Like many health issues, eating disorders are sensitive subjects. Just a heads-up that this essay mentions food, calories, and ED-related behaviors. If you or someone you know is in need of support, NEDA and NEDIC are wonderful resources.
It’s 2:00 a.m. My body is covered with a thin layer of sweat; my pajamas, a floral T-shirt and long checkered pants, cling to my skin. My heart is pounding, and my mind is racing. My stomach grumbles. Thoughts of self-loathing fill my entire being. I should not be hungry.
After 30 minutes of mental anguish, I slide out of bed and make my way to the kitchen. I keep the lights off. The dim yellow glare of the fridge illuminates some of my worst fears. Peanut Butter. Cheese. Salmon. Muffins. Bread. Milk.
Heart racing, I swat away the numbers of calories, the grams of fat, and the amount of sugar flashing through my mind.
My stomach grumbles, again, reminding me why I’m here. My body needs food.
This is recovery from anorexia.
At 2:45 I decide on a glass of milk and a banana. I hover over the counter, hoping this snack will tide me over until breakfast, still full of shame for eating at this early hour.
A few months ago I wouldn’t have dared to eat these items without inflicting some sort of punishment on myself.
A few months ago I wasn’t nourishing myself. I was slowly dying.
Now here I am, fighting. I close my eyes and take my first bite, followed by a swig of milk. The flavors bring me back to my childhood, a place where things felt safe and comfortable.
After eating I lie down on the floor by the fire and curl into a ball. I spend the next few hours drifting in and out of sleep. My stomach is satisfied, but my mind continues to race.
I want to turn it off, even for a short while.
It will be at least three hours before anyone else gets up. In the past, I used to sneak out and exercise in the early hours without anyone aware, knowing what I was doing was wrong. The urge to revisit these habits returns, but I silence them.
It’s 6:30 a.m., and my parents have made their way into the kitchen to have their morning cup of coffee and watch the news. It no longer surprises either of them to find their twenty-four-year-old daughter curled up in a ball beside the fire; there is nothing they can do.
I hear the coffee machine make my mom’s daily latte; the news plays in the background. I guess it’s time for my breakfast. Yesterday, I was able to eat a full breakfast, following my meal plan set out by my dietician, but today I’m having a tough time.
“Really, just that?” My mom says, eyeing my plate. “Here you go again. You’re only hurting yourself.”
I return with a nasty snarl. Immediately after snapping at her I’m filled with guilt.
After breakfast I grab a pair of leggings, a big, oversized sweatshirt and get ready in the bathroom. As I peel off my still-damp pajamas, I glance in the mirror. A big zit on my chin. A bloated stomach. Small breasts beginning to form. All part of the weight-gain process.
Images of my old, sick frame flood my mind; I am now covered with a thin, much-needed layer of flesh. I know that I still have a ways to go, but I am so damn uncomfortable. Physically, mentally, and emotionally—all of it. I pinch the areas around my arms, waist, and thighs in disgust. The girl staring back at me in the mirror is becoming a woman. And womanhood? Growing up, making decisions, having responsibility, being attractive, being desired, having power, having choice…well, that terrifies me.
But this idea of embracing it also excites me.
I’ve lost my identity and my zest for life. For the past six years I lived hooked up to machines, revolving in and out of hospitals and treatment centers. I’ve been either completely exhausted or running on adrenaline. My ability to focus and retain information is minimal; anxiety and depression can make or break my day. I have lost a lot of friends and damaged family relationships. I was taken out of university more than once and missed the weddings and funerals of loved ones. The periods of time that I was able to work lasted no longer than several months on end, as I quickly became overwhelmed by “real life,” preferring the safety and comfort of my eating disorder.
I am finally tired. Tired of this illness being my life, tired of this illness stealing my life away from me. So, for the first time, I’m fighting. And it’s really fucking hard.
Fighting is eating in the middle of night. It’s crying as my hair continues to fall out, despite the nourishment I’m finally giving myself. It’s living in a gassy, bloated, and constipated body as my digestive system repairs itself. It is forcing myself out the door to have coffee with a friend, when all I want to do is hide under my comforter. It’s facing the fact that I have to grow up, that I can’t stay a child forever. It’s smiling when the doctor congratulates me on my weight gain, only to leave his office in tears, mentally formulating my relapse.
It’s having a day, sometimes two or three, where I fully succumb to past patterns and behaviors. Days where moving forward feels like sliding backward.
It’s also picking myself back up after these tough moments. It’s sitting with the discomfort, and grieving the things this illness has taken from me. It’s reconnecting with old friends and creating new and meaningful relationships.
I am redefining myself and my life. Recovery is my opportunity to step into my womanhood—to feel it, own it, and live it. It isn’t always easy, but it can be powerful.
Recovery is not pretty, and it most definitely is not perfect.
Six hours after my late-night snack, I stare out the window at the grey Vancouver skies. Today is going to be a tough one. But I had one of these days last week, and I survived. I had three days like this the week before, and survived those, too. So, even though I crave the end of the day long before it has arrived, I trust that I can survive this one, too.