There’s a part of the night that haunts me most.
As I attempt to pace myself again, I stare at the mirror, a sight that has always elicited a resounding familiarity. I’ve been here before.
There I see a subtle remainder of the shades of red on my cheeks. The blood vessels in both my eyes so glaringly connected like the roots of a plant. The drips of faucet water against my chin. The struggle to breathe again.
Every sight of this place is a reflection of my own relapse. It’s the loneliest place to be.
“You never eat whenever I see you!” my friend says sitting across from me at this restaurant.
There used to be a time where every single bite hurt.
“I do! You’re just never around when I’m actually eating,” I retort in my usual sarcastic tone.
Meanwhile I couldn’t forget the heavily caloric meal I had ordered myself displayed in bold, plain text on that menu screaming at me.
Something about this moment felt oddly familiar too.
I began to mentally shroud myself amidst a place I learned to call my own, and I breathed. About a few months ago, this was the exact same restaurant where I left a table of my best friends to purge my lunch in the bathroom.
The breathing is easier now. I’m going to be okay.
This is the voice of recovery.
I’d known I was sick for a long time.
I think about those singular moments of time where I wondered if there was a life beyond this suffering, and it felt like letting parts of the sun wedge through the narrow cracks of the ground I was buried under. It was when I began framing a life beyond one of meticulously counting and measuring what I put into my mouth, having my head hovered over a dirty toilet seat until my throat burned and bled, or never believing anything my therapist said because she was thinner than me.
I wish they had told me recovery wasn’t as fluid as I thought it’d be. Or that it was something I could neither bravely embrace nor accept wholeheartedly. It’s a slippery slope, one that I have fallen off more times than I wanted to. The experience echoes one walking without skates on an abandoned ice rink in the middle of a town you have not yet explored enough to navigate its streets and shortcuts.
The arc of recovery is messy. It’s a power struggle between two, deftly opposing forces, and it often resides in a place where I believed I could never discern which voice was stronger. But I’ve found that their tempo has subsided. What felt like crescendos of agonizing self-hate, are no longer as loud as they used to be. In the face of recovery, you try to adopt, reshape, and mold your mind and spirit into a force more unyielding and less vulnerable to old, toxic habits.
I’m not going to say that I have finally learned to love myself. I’m not going to say that the rolls on my stomach do not make me achingly long for a time when I thought my organs were closing in on each other. I’m not going to tell you I don’t purposely skip meals anymore and feel superior about it. I’m not going to tell you that looking down to see a lower number on the scale does not give me the slightest feeling of elation. I’m not going to tell you that there are days where the battle feels less persistent.
They say you should never romanticize mental illness. I think in the deepest part of ourselves, we solidify the belief that our eating disorder can serve as a safety blanket. We latch on to these ways of coping with what we perceive ourselves to be, as well as a means to validate our lack of self-worth, our failures, or what others may think of us. It’s within an eating disorder where the allure attaches itself. When we’re in that midst of the false sense of control and success, we can find ourselves hovering over the edge. I knew recovery would be hard. But I had never expected it to be this raging war between my mind and myself.
But our eating disorder is not a form of salvation. It is not something that protects us. In this way, we are giving it an identity. A face. A name. It becomes an entity that does not deserve to retain any fraction or rightful space within our souls and our whole selves. It is undeserving of a home in a piece of our very beings, that are significantly meant for so much more than counting calories, restricting, exercising, or purging.
So I say this to you now. One day you will be able to call your body yours. Your body and your mind will no longer be two separate entities. You deserve to know that how we deal with our mistakes or our fallibility does not equate to our self-worth and who we think we are. You deserve to know something beyond depriving ourselves and what we are capable of accomplishing, loving, and hoping in this life.
Being afraid of dipping our toes into the ocean of recovery solidifies that we harbor enough strength within us to combat those fears. It doesn’t diminish our capacity for rebuilding ourselves. If we don’t demonstrate fear of the unknown, we may not know what is feels like to be triumphant on the other side. For me, the latter seems like a loss or a regret I do not want to look back on.
I’ve learned that it is not inconsequential to be kind to yourself when you feel like you don’t deserve it at all.
Because in the face of recovery, we are already learning that we are meant for profoundly more than the self-hate that has pervaded our lives for as long as we can remember. You will know what it feels like not to grieve for the bodies we once had. You will know there will come a time where we can learn to live without the sadness.
And that is how we save ourselves.