I wrote in a recent essay that recovering from my eating disorder is my greatest accomplishment, and my higher self believes that. But my other self, my darker self, sees the opposite as true. It sees my greatest accomplishment as my eating disorder itself.
I’ll never forget the moment—I must have been eleven years old—when I sat on the attic steps with two family members and told them a blatant lie. They may not remember, but I sure do. For some reason, we were talking about eating disorders; I must have been learning about them in school. We reached a point in the conversation when I heard myself say, “I would rather be fat than anorexic.” What I remember most about that moment is not the comment itself but the thought that ran beneath it, the awareness that I was lying.
The Thin Ideal: deny it if you dare. It dominates our culture, and it seeped into my subconscious at a very young age. At some point during lower school, I developed an obsession with anorexia and an unconscious desire to be anorexic. This desire grew during puberty, onset of which coincided with the onset of my binge eating. My body changed rapidly; I could not stop eating, and I put on pound after pound.
The comments, to this day, still sting:
“You sure are a carnivore, aren’t you!”
“Bella, that’s you’re tenth piece of king cake in the past 24 hours.”
“Bella, you have a big butt!”
That last comment took place when I tried to squeeze into a scrambler car with two friends. The second I tried to sit down, one friend went “Oooooh Bella,” then, “Bella, you have a big butt!” I could have died on the spot. My butt, at that point, was the highest physical manifestation of my shame. I used to only face forward, hiding my butt from company to the best of my ability so that no one would see it. It was my least favorite part of me for the longest time, other than my stomach. I used to imagine taking a butcher knife and slicing it off like a block of ice. The thought of doing so is still so satisfying.
In seventh grade I became obsessed with dieting and quick weight loss tips. I followed one disgusting pro-Ana site called skinnytips.com. I would tell myself that I would not eat for two days, or that I would swear off carbs, etc., but each inevitable failure resulted in a binge. I kept binging, and I kept gaining, and with each new fat cell I desired more & more intensely to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. I don’t know when I released this desire, but I must have at least compartmentalized it, because when it came true, I was shocked and devastated.
Beneath this devastation, however, were exaltation and pride. I had done what I’d finally accepted was impossible. And people noticed. People cheered. Read that again, please. I demand you. I lost 40 pounds in 3 months and people cheered. I can’t count on two hands the amount of people who asked for my “secret.” Who would want to recover getting feedback like that?
Yes, a vast majority could tell I was sick. But for every twelve “Are you okay?’s” there was one “You’re beautiful,” and that one “you’re beautiful” was all it took to feed the beast. It doesn’t take a lot to fuel an eating disorder. Malnutrition is our bread and butter.
Our society validates sick, self-destructive behavior. And it makes it very hard to let go. Even now, stable as I am in recovery, I can’t shakes the feeling that anorexia is a virtue. And I’m scared. I’m terrified. Of the eating disorders around me.
Anytime I meet someone who has or had one, I panic. When I see someone who is obviously anorexic, sick as it is, I feel jealous. And angry. And competitive. You can’t see it, I think, but I was just like you once. I am just like you still. I swear I am strong. I am stronger than I look.
I wish my initial reaction were one of empathy and compassion, even solidarity. Yes, those are present in my recovered self. But my eating disorder likes to drown them out. It’s scary to share a space with other eating disorders, not knowing how active they are. You have to wonder, who am I talking to? The person or the monster?
I’m realizing, through writing this, and through my recent upset, that I am lacking support in my recovery. I miss the group support I got in treatment, but I’m hiding from support groups because I’m ashamed of my body. Being around sicker girls makes me mourn what I had. At the same time, I’m protective of my recovery and I don’t want to be triggered by people who are still actively struggling–visibly struggling. Some eating disorders are invisible. In ways, those are the safer ones to be around. But they can also be the most sneaky.
What makes eating disorders different from other illnesses is their competitive nature. You’re constantly striving to prove that you’re better, stronger, than the eating disorder beside you. Which is why sharing a space with other eating disorders is so dangerous. Notice I say other “eating disorders,” not other “people with eating disorders.” When it comes to eating disorders, the people disappear.
The eating disorder is completely related to the ego. Some of the worst parts of recovery, where the sickness still remains, are the thoughts of you have proof. The weight logs, the medical records, the osteoporosis, the “skinny pics”–these are evidence of my journey and strength. And I need them for validation, shameful as that is. I’d like to dress up in a skeleton costume and put a sign around my neck that says “I’m still here.” That can be my next Halloween.
Just like there’s a “Me too” with sexual assault, there is a “Me too” with eating disorders. They are everywhere. I become more and more aware of this prevalence day by day, and it makes me want to go back to treatment. It’s so much easier to discuss recovery in a safe, insulated space.
My jealousy of anorexic girls makes me hate myself. It makes me want to kill myself, at times. I am disgusted by this darkness inside of me. Where in the hell did this disease come from?! Not mine specifically, but the disease in general? There is no way to win with an eating disorder. The only enough for it is death. Thus the competition that arises between them? It’s a sick race to a sicker finish.
Sometimes I wish I could die so I would never have to encounter eating disorders again. Their constant presence is so triggering that it makes me want to disappear entirely. It would be easier that way. I wouldn’t have to confront my demons or speak out for accountability. I could just not deal with it at all. I could die. Sometimes, sometimes, I wish I could die. And sometimes, sometimes, I wish I did die. But more than anything, I wish this disease would die. Go ahead and die, disease, just fucking DIE! I hate you I HATE you and I want to kill you so bad!
I long for a world where eating disorders do not exist.
To live in that world is my dream.
If I had to devote the rest of my life to one cause, it would be abolishing eating disorders. My work is here, because this is the thing that makes me burn more than anything else. God, oh god, I wish I could do it. I would cut my left arm off to do it. I would sacrifice myself completely to create that world, the one where eating disorders don’t exist.
One day in treatment we watched a documentary that featured Katie Couric saying she didn’t want her daughters to be around “a bunch of anorexic girls.” That hurt. But it also gave me hope. If she sees clearly, others can too.
Will I get to a point where eating disorders don’t trigger me? Where I won’t seethe simultaneously with rage and jealousy and anger and compassion when I meet someone with anorexia?
I believe in full recovery. I truly, truly do. But it’s a road, a journey; and something that stewed and boiled for 15 years cannot disappear in 2.
I can’t plan the trajectory of my healing; all I have to work with is now. And right now I know that I need more support. So right now I’m choosing to get that support.
In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here are entirely my own and may not resonate with everyone; take what you like and leave the rest. If you liked what you read here, I invite you to share it, as these messages are for all.