As promised, here is my essay. It's kind of awful and incoherent and I'm really not sure that he's going to understand it but maybe i'll proof read it tomorrow if I'm a little more lucid. Or make any changes that ya'll suggest (if you do it before 1 pm NYC time!). We had to put a Huck Finn quote at the beginning as a sort of epigraph. Mine is the moment where Huck decides to help Jim get away, even though he's terribly conflicted.
Warning: It's kind of terribly long for a blog post. Feel free to skip if you don't feel like being bored out of your mind. ;)
“It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because, I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied it for a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ – and tore it up… and if I could think of anything worse, I’d do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog” (Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 223).
There is no one moment that I can say it all started. No single glance towards the mirror. No stinging comments. No terrible, abusive father. I can’t give you a concrete answer to the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, or ‘when’, and certainly not the ‘why’. What I can give you is a lot of blurs. Blurs that mesh together and go from dark to light to dark to lighter and back to dark again. And the blurs eventually meander over to the lighter side, hopefully to stay, each step precarious, toes checking for quicksand or faulty rocks, just waiting to slide off a steep cliff.
It’s hard to remember most of the facts. I can remember the feelings, or the lack thereof- the numbness. The pain. I can remember the frenzy to get out of the pain. I can remember the knots in my stomach as I sat in classroom chairs, staring blankly out at the world, counting the minutes until I could escape. My stomach would be twisting and turning in knots, my brain obsessing over food, my body begging me to eat something with all the power it could muster. I would watch the clock and jiggle my foot and anxiously wait until I could run out and do what I knew would help me escape. I could buy food -- lots and lots of food, and eat it as fast as I could and then throw it up. I’ll go back and forth from the mess of the kitchen to my sticky bathroom floor until my skin is pale, my temples are pounding, and my heart is racing ba-doom, ba-doom, ba-doom. I'll go and lie face- down in bed, exhausted. Other days, I would sit alone in my room and makes lists and charts of calories, fat grams and pounds on the scale and obsess for hours. I’d make scrapbooks of pictures of anorexic models. I’d spend hours on the Internet looking at images and reading stories about girls who were sick and sad and didn’t eat. I’d stare at the mirror in disgust, seeing all the things that were wrong with me. I’d run to the scale hidden in my bathroom to hop on and hop off, clenching my jaw, hoping to see the numbers go down. I did anything and everything not to be in the world, to find a way out, to build a reality separate from everything I was afraid of.
I remember those days in a blur. They were pain and sorrow and neediness and fear all wrapped up in my mind and made a little bit more tolerable by the insanity of an eating disorder. I don’t like thinking about, or writing about those times. Something about it feels unsafe. I don’t want to get to close. I fear that closeness may leave me teetering on the edge of a building and I can’t look too far down, or I might loose my footing, slip, and fall. It would be a long, long way down.
What I want to talk about is the world where I live now. And how I stumbled all the way here. These days are different. And it’s taken a lot to get here. I still have a ways to go. I guess I’ll start at the beginning, although, to be honest, I’m not sure I know where exactly that is.
The thing about recovering from an eating disorder is that it is, in fact, simple: you eat. The thing that is not so simple about it is everything that happens when you do. An eating disorder was the way I kept a precarious grip on life. It held me together, albeit minimally. When I let it go, I felt everything fall disastrously into pieces, and I was back exactly where I started, and with a few more wounds to show for it.
I knew that I didn’t want to die, but I also wasn’t particularly sure I wanted to live. I thought I’d give living a try, though, and if it just “wasn’t for me” I could go back. So, I ate. I ate and ate and ate. Eventually, I cried. The food filled me up and there was no more room inside me to hold back the tears.
I remember the day that I looked at a slice of pizza and burst into tears. Rachel, a woman who was only a few years older than me, with a sweet smile and a borderline-cheesy-happy disposition, but who inspired me nonetheless, was my therapist. She sat with me when I curled up in a ball of agony, thinking of the pizza in my stomach, imagining it spreading to all the parts of my body and making me fat, as I had always feared I was. (I will learn later, very, very slowly, that “fat” is actually, in my case, a synonym for “unloved, undeserving, and fundamentally "wrong") I wanted it out. Stupid pizza. I wanted it all out. If only I could just throw up, just this one last time, I begged, I’ll never do it again. She came over and gave me a hug. She sat with me and rubbed my back. She braided my hair and told me that I was going to be okay. Eventually, I believed her.
Maybe this was the moment where the change happened, where the tables turn and I finally took the right fork in the road, or crumpled up the proverbial letter. I don’t know. What I do know is this: recovery, for me, was about love. It was about needing love, wanting love, and wanting to love others. In first grade, my teacher sent home a report card to my parents that said that I while I was shy, I gave the best hugs of any student in the class. I knew why this was. Whenever I hugged someone, I really meant it. I loved people so much that it scared me. I wanted to love all my friends all the time and get the same in return. When I grew up, and realized that this wasn’t “cool” or acceptable, I learned to cut down. Cut down on the love, and cut down on the food. What I’ve learned now is that I need to tell people I love them and show that when I want to, ask for the love I need in return, and eat and keep all of my food.
Every time before, when I had wanted to return to the darkness, the black haze of sickness that had cradled me for so long, there was no one there to stop me. Now, this time, I had people who cared about me. Rachel, I knew cared about me. This scared me tremendously, I was afraid of caring back, afraid that I would lose her and be left more desolate and alone than I had before. But it was in those moments, where someone was there again and again, to rub my back because she didn’t want me to hurt myself that I learned to choose the love over the sickness. It was being loved that allowed me to eat my food. That made all the difference.
After meals, my friend Laura and I used to go out into the backyard of the house we were living in, stand on the porch, and scream. We’d hold hands and wail until our throats were hoarse, trying desperately to get something out of us. We wanted some kind of release, because everything we were feeling was so intense. We knew we had to do this though, to let it all out, even if the neighbors wanted to kill us. It was this, or go back down below, to the numbers and voices and mirrors and porcelain. I think I’ve always been an intense person, and this probably won’t change. I don’t scream out my New York City apartment building now, though, because I’ve gotten used to all the madness that comes with eating, and with living in the world like a real person. Some days I still feel pretty insane. I can feel the intensity well up inside of me like a knot in my stomach and my head starts to go around in dangerous circles. I either find a way to cope with this or I slip and return to the obsessions and the loneliness on a cold, hard, bathroom floor. The thing is, now, when that happens I know how to get back out, I’ve learned how to peel myself off the floor, and go and ask for a hug.