Start the series from the beginning here.
January 2002 — Present
Anorexia is a truly ugly disease that destroys your body from the inside out. Once you’ve conquered control of food, the mind looks for new challenges—things that need to be perfected. Otherwise gross habits become acceptable behaviors or tasks. These are mine.
As it commonly happens, I developed obsessive compulsive behaviors with the onset of my disease. When I was 13 years old, this meant that I had to make sure everything was tidy and in its proper place before I allowed myself to sit down for dinner — my only meal of the day. All dishes in the sink had to be washed, cabinets and doors closed throughout the house, toiletries fully stocked and put away, etc. It was only then that my anxiety leveled off and I could enjoy my meal.
However, once my parents knew about my disease a few months later, I realized I needed to find new, more disguised outlets to exercise my need for control. Known for being a literary nerd, I decided I would exert all of my energy into reading. I would read a book a week — no less, no exceptions. At first, I thought the idea was brilliant. I love reading more than anything else. But soon enough my favorite past time became a dreaded task; another rule that I needed to live by.
This, in turn, created restlessness within me — a restlessness that could never be quenched as long as I spent all hours of my day sitting and reading. And that restlessness began to take hold of my hands, which I could not for the life of me keep still.
So I started routinely cracking my knuckles, one finger to the next. Pull, push, pop. When that was done I would move down to my toes. Pull, push, pop. Next was my ankle, knee, back.
But that wasn’t enough. I still had 76 pages to go, and my hands were nowhere near relaxed, and my body was still covered in things that needed fixing.
That’s when I started pulling the skin on my face. I started with my lips, picking the dry skin off the corners, hoping I wouldn’t pick so much off that it would bleed. When that was done I would trace my hands along my scalp, scratching off any dirt that had fallen behind the strands of my hair. If that was finished, and I still had pages left, I would move back to my face and up and around my nostril. I would pull any dry mucus out and pop any pimples on my forehead. My last resort would be my hands themselves, as I would use one to pick the skin off from around my finger nail on the other. I would pick it until there was no dead skin anywhere on my body. I didn’t stop compulsively reading until well into the 11th grade, but the habits never subsided; as a matter of fact, they only intensified.
The gum chewing began in my junior year of high school and worsened as the years went by. By the time I was 19, in order to stave off hunger, I would chew a new piece of gum every 30 minutes, totaling to anywhere between two and four packs a day, depending on the day’s length.
All of these things became so routine for me, however, that I failed to acknowledge them as gross or disturbing. I’ll never forget how a coworker of mine at an odd job in college was always trying to get me to stop, telling me I was weirding people out. My reaction simply was, “Well, that’s their problem.”
Because there was no way I was ready or willing to deal with them as my own.
Sunday, November 8, 2015 12 p.m.
L.A Fitness, Boca Raton
As I enter the gym, I am approached for the umpteeth time this week by one of the personal trainers asking me the same thing.
“I see you in here every day. I’ve noticed you have a routine. Can I ask, what are your fitness goals?”
“Umm…I umm…” To not thoroughly and completely hate myself.
“Let’s set you up with a fitness intake. We’ll find out your body fat percentage, and from there we can come up with a plan to get you to your goal weight.”
Confirmed: I’m fat and gross. “Sorry…I can’t do that right now. Thanks for your interest though.”
I make my way to the back of the gym and take a seat in front of the mirror because I know that I will be here for awhile. I turn my phone on airplane mode so I’m not disturbed during the validation process. I cover every inch of my body, starting at my ankles, and work my way up to my eyes, where the corners remain stained by the remnants of last night’s mascara. The happiness experienced in New York was a dream, and this is my reality.
New York was great, there’s no doubting that. Everything you felt and experienced, it was wonderful, but it was a bubble. You took yourself away from the battlefield. It’s as though you were taken off antibiotics. Now you are back, and you’ve weakened. And while you weren’t paying attention, you were ambushed.
In the two weeks since I’ve returned, my therapist has witnessed my fall from grace. She has heard me go from telling stories about outings in New York where I felt strong and confident, to hearing my recent social outing attempts in South Florida that left me feeling unattractive and worthless. She has listened as I confessed to falling back onto a structured regime of life: eat only this now, eat that later, work out these many hours.
She is not surprised by the turn of events. I, however, am surprised, disappointed, confused, saddened and disheartened.
“The progression of recovery is anything but steady, and as you know, it’s unpredictable. You must remember that even though you feel you have fallen off track, you are not doing anything wrong. As long as you are observing, you are healing.”
To help me learn how to listen to my body for hunger cues, and not my mind, my therapist gave me a hunger scale, which I study each morning when I wake up.
“Your eating disorder wants to be on either side of the scale, either in starvation mode from denying yourself sustenance, or so full that you hate yourself. It’s your job now to be aware of that, and go against the grain by listening to your body. Saying no to your eating disorder is going to feel wrong, and uncomfortable. But you must remember that each time that you do, you gain a piece of your soul back.”
I look back to the mirror and consider my options. The eating disorder voice is very loud today, telling me I must double my workout.
You felt the way your thighs were rubbing together this morning. That’s just not okay!
I look at the clock and count the hours. If I listen to the voice, I won’t get home until 4 p.m, and I’ll miss being able to go out with my friends. But if I don’t, I might be too distracted and uncomfortable when I am out with them anyway.
Saying no to your eating disorder is going to feel wrong, and uncomfortable. But you must remember that each time that you do, you gain a piece of your soul back.
I get up off the ground, take my phone off airplane mode, look myself in the mascara-stained eye, and ask myself, What will it be?
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