I’ve followed my sister along tonight and now here we are standing outside an AA meeting. Chatting and vaping. The evening’s damp coolness flavored by the thick clouds of SweeTARTS and Mexican fritters. The cinnamon sugar, a sweet spiral out of a young girl’s mouth.
I’ve just met her and already I’m promising that I’ll drive to Delray and attend the meetings she goes to. I’ll become apart of her family. Another story about a body. About a betrayal. The familiar struggle in the community of EDA.
My sister asks me why she laughs like that, why she smiles about behaviors so threatening and ill. I tell her I understand it. I understand how excited and frightened we feel when someone really hears us, when our story is received with the warm hug of kinship, when our disordered habits still cause this severe concern to show in another’s face.
We laugh because that’s what we do when someone sees us. We deflect. We laugh because we’re humiliated and don’t know whether we should be feeling big or small. We laugh because the sick part of us will always crave attention yet will feel abused and mocked when it is given to us. We laugh because our misery is still a mystery to others. We laugh because we want to be fine. We do it because we’re reticent about what our hunger actually means.
I like this girl and I like her quickly even if she seesaws between purging and starving and I was always only an anorexic. Even if she’s the one that’s been hospitalized and tube fed and I was able to avoid all that. Honestly, I think there’s a gross superiority someone like me will aways feel around someone like her who hasn’t always been able to dedicate herself to the level of control and commitment that I certainly celebrated myself for having achieved.
It’s disgusting to feel this way which reminds me how important tonight is, that I’m tagging along with my sister and looking for sober thinking in all kinds of stories and from all walks of life.
My parents are out of town and I’m home alone and the girl asks me if I’ve become lonely living by myself this last week. I tell her that’s kind of the experiment. My parents want to see if I can do it, if I can be good to myself this time. They want proof that were everyone to walk away from me, I would be able to feed myself. That’s what they need to know.
So far, I tell her, everything has been good. I’m confident in the strength that’s become me, in the purpose I’ve discovered that’s large and pushing me on. It’s the need to be driven by some calling, I tell her. That’s all that was ever missing for me. The drive to make my life mean something. To show up and acknowledge the privilege of simply being alive. The drive to want to make something out that, to understand that being here has to matter. That there’s purpose in that alone. There’s potential. For me, my recovery has been rooted in thinking like this, in activities that keep me in front of people, and in endeavors that keep me in honest.
When I entered back into the world and began talking and then writing again, I found that my body no longer needed to hold the message. No longer needed to be the message. No longer needed to signal the overwhelm of my emotions, that I was lost and unanchored and out of control. My body no longer needed to be a graveyard to every part of myself, every dream and hope and memory that I cherished but which had withered and was dying away, every part of myself I believed would be gone forever.
Once I discovered I had stories and lessons I could share, that’s what connected me to people. That’s how I came out of hiding once and for all. It’s like I finally had an offering and that offering, the pain of my past and the wisdom and character that grew out of it, was in fact what made me relatable to others. It’s what makes me valuable.
Eating disorders really are the last effort we take to continue keeping it all inside. And that’s why we laugh when our bodies are discussed. Because our bodies are able to do it so easily for us, able to make us obvious and seen, able to give us away and, the thing, is we like that. We need that. We realize we need to finally become a part of the conversation. We need to finally hold our truth out in front of us, even if the reaction to that truth is a crushing sense of concern.
We smile because a problem with our weight, with our eating, with our bodies eventually becomes a problem for the people we are close to and we feel guilty for that. We feel stupid and needy. The laughing then comes from a place of shame. But we need our problems to be other people’s problems because that’s what will make it nearly impossible to keep hiding all the pain of ourselves, all the pain which we’ve been tortured by and yet, beneath it all, are so eager to share.
You see, that thing we’ve been so afraid of but have been protecting are our stories, the one thing which no one can ever take from us, that in sharing keeps us from staying small, that keeps us alive, the only thing that pulls our life together. It’s true, that what makes us special and heard is not our bodies but the stories that grow out of them.
It took a decade to get here, but now that I’m here I can smile and I can laugh and no one would question it.