At this time five years ago, the story was much different. I felt like I was spiraling into darkness, snowballing so fast that I wondered when and where I would crash. I eventually did crash, and landed on a ranch in Arizona, of all places. I found myself in the unusual world of ice cream “challenges,” tube feeding, and so, so much Ensure. And yet, this world healed me… not completely, but enough.
C. and I were always great friends in eating disorder treatment. We read the Bible together every day, and our therapist took us together on spontaneous ice cream outings on occasion. Since we live across the country from one another, and given our crazy lives, we haven’t gotten frequent opportunities to reconnect. I was elated that she agreed to visit me in Michigan this year… in March (surprise, surprise, it snowed).
Reunions with treatment friends have been a mixed bag over the years. Depending on the place the person is in, the place you’re in, and how you meld together (and more complicated, how your eating disorders meld together), the range of possible outcomes of such gatherings can range from crazy-making-ready-to-gauge-my-eyes-out to OMG-we’re-bff’s-this-is-the-best-time-ever.
On the Friday night that C. visited, we were deciding on dinner plans. The choice was all American food or pizza. “Do you mind if we go to this pizza place?” I hoped, having a cheese craving, per usual.
“Who doesn’t like pizza?” She scoffed, an obvious affirmation to my request. Then after a pause C. continued, “… Except anorexics of course.”
We laugh. The idea is alien to us now, that someone would forsake the goodness of cheese, bread, and tomato sauce for any reason, calories and fat content nonetheless. We laugh for the absurdity, but it is also an ironic laugh, coated with memories, many uncomfortable. We continued on with our night– and indeed, we did eat pizza.
However, that little bit of conversation followed me past the weekend. My mind kept going over our exchange, and I kept flashing back: back to how many pieces of pizza C. and I have wiped off with napkins through the years, back to the countless times we just “couldn’t” go out to eat to eat because… (insert one of the following: too expensive, no time, feeling sick).
I think of how somehow, how against the odds, five years later, we were sitting together joking about pizza and excited– genuinely excited– to eat it.
Moments like that give me perspective, a window into the past, present, and future. Being with C. brings me to the past, to the times we laughed and cried, to the time we snuck off to take a photo shoot by the horse gates. In all of the silly arts and crafts and G-rated movies, I felt loved and embraced by C. and others in all of my junk. Those feelings of fundamental acceptance and love helped me heal.
Residential eating disorder treatment is a beautiful, redemptive, but funny experience. After an intense, life-giving few months with girls from throughout the country, we went back home. As more time has slipped by, more friends have emerged from their eating disorders. I have watched them grow, evolve, and blossom– they’ve had babies and started new jobs and defrosted from the living hell that they have experienced. When I see friends from treatment now, I am awed and inspired by their resilience, dedication, and strength. That is so true of how I see C.
As the years pass, and we move to a post-eating disorder identity, I find myself grieving more than the loss of my eating disorder. I mourn the loss of a safe space of ice cream eating and butter sculpting (yes, that happened). I mourn that living a life without the eating disorder’s presence is so much more messy, and there are no clean lines. No longer can I dichotomize certain ideas/ choices/ food as “good” or “bad.”
There is part of me that has desired to go back into the safety of treatment, to be held and loved and comforted again, especially if I could avoid the whole Ensure-weight-gain thing. And yet, there are these glimpses, like when I talk with C., in which I see how much she has changed– and I have too. When we talk, we don’t talk about eating disorder struggles, “triggers,” or anything about treatment at all. We talk about our faith, something important to both of us. We discuss human trafficking, dreams, future employment, and… pizza. We talk about books we like, as well as movies. We go to church together. We watch Gossip Girl.
She is an embodiment of what it means to move on. But that idea is scary, at least to me.
It is hard letting go of the eating disorder identity… but it is hard letting go of the eating disorder recovery identity too.
While recovery and treatment resources are very good things, those resources seem farther and farther away to me as I grow and move on, and they grow increasingly less applicable. Residential treatment no longer seems homy, desirable, or helpful for me.
And yet, five years later, while I eat pizza without a second thought, I am still not over my eating disorder. It is not a chapter in my life that is closed forever. I don’t know if it will ever be a closed chapter, or whether I will hobble through life with a slight limp. The idea of closing the chapter of my eating disorder in my life– forever– seems like a huge loss. Moving on means moving on from all aspects of my eating disorder.
Will I ever be ready for that?
What would it mean to have true freedom? What would it be like to be able to plan my schedule without allotted time for therapy? I wonder if anorexia will stop being my default option, my brain’s well-worn neuronal pathway.
I wonder if I will truly, completely move on.
Do I want that?
Like most things in life, I have no easy answers. I look at others, and I look at myself, and I am mindful of the tensions that exist. I see where I have been, where I am now, and where I want to be, and I am left with a tangled web of messiness. It is hard to hold the tensions while choosing to believe in a greater hope.
I see this hope in a tangible way outside, now that the polar vortex has finally subsided, now that I see the sun again. The earth is still icy, but it is thawing. It will dry and produce flowers soon. So it is with my heart and body. At least I hope.
In the meantime, I will keep eating pizza. It is delicious.