It’s a funny spot I find myself in right now. A period of transition between transitions.
Spring semester has ended, but summer hasn’t quite kicked into gear yet.
I’m getting ready to study architecture, but I’m still declared as a biochemistry major on paper.
I’ve got about three courses left on the pre-med track, but what happens after I graduate has become so open-ended.
My family is living in China, but in a little over a month, they will be residents of Texas. After that, where would I really call home?
Well, I don’t mind most of it, and I’m certainly not complaining. I’ve had over a week to, simply put, be myself. (Whatever that means. And it’s been fun.)
I’ve been filling pages and pages of my Leuchtturm1917 with inventions of my own design on a daily basis, and now I’ve exhausted my second notebook of the year. I’ve been leaving campus, going to church events, meetings, coffee dates, and dinners. For the first time this past weekend, I even attended a wedding.
It’s been a joyful and pleasant series of events. Especially sweet was the initiation and the deepening of certain friendships. And there’s more to look forward to this summer.
But, there have been things which have been keeping me awake until the break of dawn, and which force me into bed when the sun is still shining.
A lot of the weight I lost last year from my struggle with anorexia has been restored. (I haven’t checked yet, but I’m pretty sure.) And it’s taken long enough. But like a soft shelled crab who has outgrown its former body, I feel unprotected, vulnerable, exposed.
This is because weight is not the root of the eating disorder, only a contingent symptom of it. (Recovery and relapse are about so much more than weight.)
It may very well be that the mind is sickest when the body is not.
As I lay there, I notice the spatial unlikeness between now and before, and I want nothing more than to crawl out of the fat suit I feel is trapping me in my own body.
If I happen to catch a glimpse of a body part while looking downwards, or in the reflection of a window, it is foreign and unacceptable. Terrified, I slam my eyes shut and try to sleep, but that only focuses and heightens the physical sensation of being encased in my new flesh.
Reeling, I boomerang between these two states of seeing and feeling, until I teeter on the edge of panic, for there is no possible escape. Unlike a social situation, I can’t just leave the room and come back when I am ready, when it comes to my body.
Each night, the peak of this discomfort increases from the last. And I am lucky to fall asleep before it becomes light outside. In the meantime, I put on worship music, and pray along with the lyrics to resist these unseen enemies.
Hallelujah’s in the morning. Hallelujah’s in the night.
I will wait for the Lord.
I’ve been reading several recovery stories, and it seems I have had it relatively easy. Some men and women have been put through the recovery-relapse wringer too many times to count, others have gotten feeding tubes in the ER just to stay alive. Some people, eventually, have found themselves at the opposite end of the scale, and have had to yo-yo their way back down. It seems that many eating disorders are just different sides of the same coin, and it’s not uncommon for people to flip back and forth.
Either way, I’m convinced the most important battles are still the ones waged in the mind.
I am unsure what to write here that hasn’t been said before. I am not the first, and I will certainly not be the last, to struggle with accepting my body. But I don’t want to waste any more time being a slave to anorexia, that’s for sure. I want freedom.
“In March I’ll be rested, caught up and human.”
For those of us in the recovery community, it is quite common to see “before” and “after” pictures, or to catalog the amount of weight lost or gained at various stages of the journey. I don’t believe seeing these numbers and physical comparisons will help me with overcoming the mental barrier of accepting physical change for now, and I don’t think sharing mine will be encouraging or beneficial to others, either.
It almost becomes dangerous knowing that not I, nor the majority of us who have been through this struggle, have ever looked like the poster child of that “before” image. Temptations to try again, be sicker, and become the “real thing”, line that trap. The more shocking the image, the more the public tends to ogle over it. We voice concern, barely disguising our underlying fascination, perhaps even jealousy. Nope, nope. That can be extremely triggering.
Furthermore, I am anxious that the body I am growing into will be larger than the typical “after” image, or at least what my expectations are for recovery. Most of the success pictures I’ve seen are people of normal to athletic sizes. My fear is that I won’t end up being comfortable in what is natural for me.
“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?”
To allay these thoughts, as always, I wade a bit into the literature. I end up reading about addiction in general, not even in a disordered eating context.
I’m reassured that even though I may overshoot my weight, it should return to normal, whatever that may be, within a few months, and that the weight will redistribute itself over time after that. That I won’t just keep gaining, and gaining. That even if I become fat, or whatever shape I settle at, body positivity is a very real and powerful movement, one that speaks truth and acceptance to me even now.
I’m reminded that the best way to fight addiction is not fighting the old, but building the new. That it hurts because I’m actively resisting it, and making progress. That withdrawal will feel worse before it gets better. That there isn’t a drug on Earth that can make life meaningful, including this disorder.
(In addition, I’ve been reading about Methadone Mile right here in Boston. I’m feeling increasingly convicted to get out there with my church for outreach this summer. How can I practice sacrificial love? Maybe this is it.)
So, my best hope for now is to eat well, to sleep better, to fit in some light exercise, and to be kind and patient with myself through the healing process. My story is powerful: it is worth seeing through, and sharing.
“If you could see the journey whole
you might never undertake it;
might never dare the first step
that propels you from the place
you have known toward the place
you know not.
Call it one of the mercies of the road:
that we see it only by stages
as it opens before us,
as it comes into our keeping
step by single step.”
Jan Richardson, “For Those Who Have Far to Travel”
Read by Paula Johnson, President of Wellesley College, for Baccalaureate 2018
Slowly but surely, I’m leaving the voices that are not my own behind.
Still, I’ll rise.