This one’s to you, anorexia –
For you continue to change my life.
The last time I saw my best friend alive, it was 9:00pm at a house party at The University of Arkansas, and I stood there, in the front yard of someone’s house, backing away from him because I wanted to finish a run.
18 years old – our first week of college – he was visiting on his way to a Mississippi school.
Linds, he pleaded, reaching out for my shoulder. Just stay. Christ, don’t run.
I’ll be back, I’d laughed – shorts whipping my legs in the night breeze. I’ll run and I’ll change and I’ll come back.
It’s my only night here, he sputtered– yelling down the lawn with a red solo cup in his hand– his plaid shorts hanging at the knee. Promise you’ll come back?
Yeah, I’d waved, smiling as I turned.
And I was gone before he could say more – running. Running because I’d eaten bowls of cereal. Running because the ED voice was screeching – and would be for years to come.
That voice, so strong: “You can’t go back. No. You. You run.”
So, I ran. And I didn’t go back.
Later, I texted him.
Goodnight, I wrote. Have fun with the boys.
I’ll see him soon, I thought. I’ll make it up.
And then my best friend, who carried me to bed as kids when I fell asleep on the couch –
One month later – that pretty little boy fell from a tree, and he died.
For years afterwards, and maybe more years to come, I have found myself faced with the lingering consequence of that choice: “was a run worth it that night? Is anything about an eating disorder ever… worth it?”
Of course it wasn’t, one might say.
But, I believe, maybe, it was.
Sheesh, Linds, you’re probably thinking. Heavy stuff.
And maybe this should be the point that I take a backseat here. Speak only to the brightness in recovery – or how much more beautiful the world looks through my rose-tinted #recovery glasses.
And hey, the world is beautiful.
But, I don’t think that’s the point.
I am here, like many others, to speak to the realities of life with – and after – an eating disorder. And the consequences and choices amidst all of it.
At the end of the day, my story is no different than most.
I have been in recovery for 5 years from a life-long love affair with anorexia, exercise bulimia and binge eating. I’ve been to treatment – been to outpatient – relapsed – and survived.
And, like many others, I still live in a reality where I sometimes have to remind myself what makes life in recovery meaningful enough to go on living in it.
While an eating disorder can provide instant gratification, I complained once to a therapist that recovery can admittedly feel like such a thankless task some days: a burden to feel so much without an escape.
7 years after my best friend passed, I found myself in treatment one night grieving his death as deeply as I did the day after I was told he was gone (because no one really grieves the first day. They merely survive.)
Is this how it’s supposed to be, I asked a counselor that night – snot running down my nose, as I laid in the grass. How do I bear it? Why?
Because it won’t always be this way, she said. But you’ll have to try it out for yourself to know that feelings just are.
And I chose, then, to believe her.
Why? I’ll never know.
But, 5 years (and a whole heap of sobs) later, perhaps I’m writing this from a rickety coffee shop table tonight to pass along that message, as someone once did for me – and represent proof that we are capable of living through the “hard stuff” and still recover, and even be content.
Regardless of which eating disorder, how long you’ve struggled, or how many moments you look back at your life and hold grief because of your choices –
You are capable of facing it – and I know firsthand that there is a day that you stop counting calories– and start comparing the differences between your “eating disorder world” and your “recovery” world, and acknowledge that the two seem incomparable.
I write this letter on behalf of my eating disorder and my best friend tonight, because without that pain in my life – how would I have ever known that grief, guilt, sentiment, and joy are all quite capable of living hand-in-hand; intertwined even – and still make for a full, rounded life.
No matter what you’ve done in your eating disorder, or the back tracks in recovery – or the sheer amount of times you’ve wondered “is this worth it?” and decided ‘no’, only to then again decide ‘yes’ – these are all merely choices. And you have the power to grow from them, and make a different one, tomorrow.
Sitting here, making edits and backspace taps to this letter, I know that all I can ever hope to do as a writer is make a momentary impact with sentences. I am certainly not arrogant enough to think I can change the intimate, personal world of someone’s eating disorder. I know its grasp all too well.
However, what I hope to do through these words is remind all of us struggling or learning to recover – that we as humans are simply a series of choices. And no one choice defines who we are.
The sheer number of choices – and the unpredictable outcome of each of them, makes recovery inherently difficult at times. Anyone who says differently is, truly, selling you something.
So because of this reality, we are always going to be faced with a choice to go back to the perceived comfort (and control) of our eating disorder.
And there will be hard days where it feels inherently impossible not to.
So, I think what recovery is at the end of the day, is learning how to live flexibly within a life filled with choices and uncontrollable consequences, and the grace to forgive yourself when those choices leave stains.
By choosing recovery, we learn how and what to think about again – how to navigate our thoughts in spite of the ED voice and the shame – and how to look at the multifaceted angles of our eating disorder, and stay on the outside of it instead of being hypnotized by its constant monologue inside our heads.
What we learn, overtime, is not only how rewarding the world can be when we are untethered from the eating disorder grip and the guilt, but how unpredictable and spontaneous and intimate life is as well – and how to think and stay conscious and alert to the triggers our world pushes at us.
Ultimately, my hope is that everyone in recovery finds their version of flexible recovery –
And that we will claim our successes on the days we wrestle with the hard stuff –
And be gentle to ourselves on the days we forgot how – as I continue to do, when I think of my best friend standing there, as I ran into the night.
So to you, anorexia, always, I remain grateful that you were part of my life.
You remind me – as I knock coffee out of the cup, and onto my lap:
I still want to be here.
I want to be right here.