One year ago, I made a statement on Facebook that would change my life.
Tired of sneaking around my hometown, I was fed up. Status box open, fingers on the keyboard, I got about that far before deliberating how bad of an idea this was.
What am I doing? I asked myself. Did I forget my Prozac today?
I thought immediately of my parents; imagining them at a party with women staring at my mom wondering whether or not I “got” my eating disorder from her. Would my exes read this status and smirk to themselves thinking how glad they were that they got out while they could? Would my friends roll their eyes and think about how I always have to be the center of attention?
All these thoughts skipped through my mind when I thought of the prospect of being forthright about my eating disorder; when I thought of all the years I’d spent building (and ultimately defacing) so much of who I wanted to be. Would I ever get a job if I did this? Would I be labeled only by an eating disorder? I didn’t really know anything that night except that lying and omitting were still keeping me sick, and I was exhausted.
For 8 years, my life had revolved around a mosh-posh of sneakiness. 8 years of scanning, scoping, mutilating, and twisting in order to maintain an image. 2 months into rehab, I was still struggling with letting go of the games of my eating disorder. Transitioning from in-patient to out, I’d been rapidly finding myself falling backwards instead of forwards.
It’s ridiculous how much they make us eat, I thought one day, hiding pieces of a bagel in my sweatshirt. Just lay off the carbs, I wanted to scream when the counselor passed by. Don’t you know the glycemic index of bread? Sulking until breakfast was over, I carefully disposed of the bagel before group therapy started. Feeling guilty, I took my place on the couch but when the counselor asked me how breakfast went, I smiled and said ”Great!”
The truth is I was adjusting back to reality, and I was scared. Despite having gone through 6 weeks of 24-hour care with Nurse Betty telling me that I couldn’t leave the table till I licked the spoon, I was still extremely uncomfortable with the vulnerable parts of recovery. I knew sitting there on that couch that day that I was free to carry on in the way that I’d always found comfortable. Manipulating, twisting, shamed– running into people at the store and telling them I was home “for a few days,” or telling my parents I was ”fine” every night they asked how rehab went that day.
2 months in I was still struggling to understand that eating disorders crave an instant self-validation, and that allowing myself to be honest and vulnerable didn’t exactly mesh. Self-deprecation had always been my charming way of being honest about myself because it meant that I was in control of my own “vulnerabilities”. It meant I got to draw a picture of what sucks about myself in whichever light I wished to paint.
Honesty, however, equated to vulnerability because it meant being forced to stay on a path of accountability and of letting others help keep me accountable; neither of which appealed to my sickness. I’d always equated honesty as something you fine-tune with every situation– bending and stretching the parts of you to fit into the situation at hand.
Going on a date? Be the “alluring” you. Self-aware and witty. My friends have joked for years that I have the ”girlfriend 8-week game,” and while we’re all a better ”version” of ourselves at times, I’ve regularly sought self-confidence through the validation of others.
Why be completely honest when I have the ability to do what I do? I’d wonder. I got social butterfly tattooed on my forehead. Admitting that I was “struggling” with something seemed like a one-way ticket out of the little web of protection I spun. I was so sure that the moment I admitted I was flawed- and not ha-he-ho flawed in that self-deprecating nonchalance I’ve always had- really f****** flawed- I’d lose the bubble I’d shielded myself with for years.
Sitting there, writing out that status on what we think of as the ”news source” of our peers I wondered how my life would change if I posted. Would all the cards suddenly fall?
You’re fun, my therapist said once. You walk into a room and it lights up with your energy, but that’s not what you’re here to do, she said. You’re here because you’ve got to deal with you, and you’re never going to be free of this until you allow yourself to exist as a real person– a flawed one, she said. You have to work at being in touch with yourself. Allow yourself to be honest about what’s hard. Your emotions? She paused. They’re valid- you don’t have to hide them. You don’t have to feel bad for feeling bad.
It’s hard for me to let go of that visage, I told her then– admitting my bagel heist from the morning, but the truth is, I knew she was right. 2 months into this stint, I had been slowly growing used to the idea of imperfection. Hell, I had to. 24 hours a day under supervision will do it to a person. Not being able to shave your legs for 6 weeks- that’ll do it. Stripped of all dignities, I’d spent over 2 months standing naked in front of various nurses. 2 months sitting in family therapy telling my parents about “that one time,” and 2 months in AA meetings working steps and making lists of things I’d done wrong.
I’d cried, snotted and snapped at every fellow patient around me thinking to myself ”well this is it- I lost that person as a friend ” only to have them come around a few hours later and give me a hug. 2 months in, my family was still my family-–smiling when I walked in the door, and my best friends were still my best friends– unyielding.
Is it worth it? I’d been asking myself. Is living this way worth it? Here I was, 24 years old, still living some days bagel by bagel- still opening the door to deception, and guilt, and shame. Sitting there that night, the answer felt like no. If it’s out there, I thought, typing the next word– and the next– well, then it’s out there and perhaps I won’t always feel like I have to put on a show. Perhaps if I just ”own” it- well- then I really do OWN it.
In all honesty, I’ll never really know what drove me to write that Facebook status, but I posted it anyway to the open arms of nearly 2,500 “friends” and family; to people that had met me once at a bar– or on a seat in a plane. Having lived so long behind a smoke screen, exposing my struggle so publicly meant that I could finally walk around it– like all the walls I’d built suddenly caved– leaving me bare, yes, but able to fully start from scratch and reconstruct my life.
Messages poured in from every “phase” in my life. The outpouring support was overwhelming, but more than that, a reality check. So often, we think we hide our demons in spaces that no one can find, but the truth is that many people for many years knew I was struggling but lacked the words to say.
Before I knew it, I was receiving mail from people all over the world asking for my insight into eating disorder recovery. ME? I thought– baffled. They want to trust what I have to say after so many years of manipulating? It was then that I knew that I’d never again be able to go back to what was before; that I now had the eyes of many keeping me accountable.
But, was all of the feedback positive, you might be wondering? No. Since I started blogging and freelancing about my experience in rehab and recovery, I’ve heard everything from “she’s not big enough to write about recovery” to “she wasn’t that skinny in the first place.” People are people and the internet is the internet. We live in a world where we have to be weary over what is thrown on the web for our reading pleasure. However, while I don’t love criticism (who does?) I know that everything I write is true to what I’m doing now. It’s true to who I want to be. No masks. When I struggle at times, someone knows. They’ve read– and I know I’m not alone. When I go out to dinner and want to only drink wine, I’ve got someone around me who can now lean over and say “C’mon Linds, order something.”
My life changed the day after that status published, and while social media is not always the modem of choice for disclosing your personal life (although we all have a tendency to overshare) I’m thankful every day I pushed “post” for it meant that I could actually be free.
— As I pack tonight, I want to take a moment to appreciate everyone in my life who has supported and loved me through these past couple months. After years and years of life with an eating disorder, I am now presently at a point where existing is more simple than I ever once let it be. If I could go back, I’d have asked for help years ago but I suppose we live in a society that doesn’t always condone imperfection. I struggled with this secret for all these years thinking I’d one day “grow out of it,” thinking if maybe I just ran around the world I’d find myself, and I watched it take away my life and take away my hobbies, my friends, my faith, my health, my mind, and all the while I wondered if I’d ever really be free from the guilt that any kind of disorder brings. I wondered if maybe every human was destined to have obsessive thoughts and actions they could never be free of. I thought “hey, I’m not that thin, I just don’t eat and then I binge eat. I run 12 miles then I eat a box of cereal. It evens out.”- And am I ashamed of what I did? In some ways yes, I’m human after all. It took away my dignity. But the beauty of this experience is knowing that one can change when one becomes honest with themselves. One can fight to live a happier life. And I’m choosing to be open about this now because I don’t want to go through the rest of my life pretending I don’t struggle. This is life and sometimes we all need a reboot. I’m thankful for every card, letter, and word that have been sent to me while I’ve been away. I struggle to let go of a disorder that became such an identifying factor to my life, but I can sit here tonight and say I’m happier, healthier, and no, not a vegan eating leaves anymore- and I never thought life could be as magically simple as it is right now. Home is where the heart is my loves- and I love my friends- I love my faith- and I love my family- it just sometimes takes a dose of reality to remember what’s important in this tiny little life. And it truly is, a tiny short life. I have the best people in the world. Y’all some good folk ye is.-
Let’s be honest- if you know me you were probably wondering when this post would surface.
Was it a scene from Requiem for a Dream? Was it like that HBO documentary? Was it just another vacay paid for by Daddy? Was Ke$ha there?
You all know I went, you all know I shared, you all know I prospered- so after putting our heads together today, my comrades in the fight have decided to help me share the (dirty) facts about life in the ED loony bin:
Am I embarrassed? Sure. Am I ashamed? No.
You need help- I need help. We find it one way or another-
Tonight’s post- the first of the 11- I’ve entitled ”Bitch, Please:There’s How Many Grams of Sugar in that Yogurt?”
1.) Bitch, Please: There’s How Many Grams of Sugar in that Yogurt?
The day is here- you barely slept.
You rolled around the hotel bed with your laptop by your side- Mad Men Season 5 shifting from episode to episode on Netflix-
You’re wondering what movies will be on it when you get out; what you’ll miss at the Nitehawk in Brooklyn.
You’re texting the person you were dating before, sending them the salutations and the farewells. Telling them you’re sorry for being dishonest- hoping they’ll find someone while you’re gone.
You don’t know who you’ll be when you’re done.
You don’t really want to.
Face the nightmare, homegirl- Your life has come to a point where you’re binge eating two boxes of cereal a day.
Where your roommate knows to hide the chips and the cookies and the cereal in her room so you won’t eat it under the sheets in your bed.
You’re tired laying in that hotel bed, but you won’t sleep. You’re texting this person and you’re remembering how you once went on a date with them and threw up in a deli bathroom when they dropped you off at the subway.
You text your parents.
“You okay?” Your mom asks.
“Yeah, going to bed.”
“I love you,” she says.
You don’t really want to answer.
You’re not mad. You’re just tired.
You think about Bradley; wonder if he would’ve ended up like this.
You leave your room, wander down the hall past the concierge. You sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette outside the Fairfield Inn.
You cry because you know you’ll be crying a lot, and it’s overwhelming. You smoke knowing it won’t help.
For the next month(s) you know you will cry over the cookies you’ll be forced to eat (Oreos. So many Oreos), the high-calorie granola you’ll be instructed to finish (What, no fat-free?), and the Glazed Doughnuts you would’ve avoided like the plague (Hello, Dunkin) had you previously had the chance.
You know the first week will be rough- it goes without saying. You’ll get there- you’ll get lost.
You slink back to your hotel room, shifting your eyes away from the gaze of the people sitting in the lobby.
You bought some leggings today. You wonder if people dress up in rehab?
You wash your face in the sink and wonder if you’ll lose weight now that you won’t be free to binge.
You crawl into bed with your XL t-shirt and wonder if you’ll make friends. God, you hope they’re not insane.
You drift into uneasy sleep with your cell phone in your hand, your last message on Facebook sent.
And then the morning comes and you’re unsure whether to eat. Should you starve yourself before? Should you have one last binge?
You decide on a banana and half a cookie.
This is the first day of your life, you like to think- even if it’s cheesy.
You pick up your things around the room; sit in front of the mirror and apply your make up and scowl at your hair.
You don’t have a straightener, a blow dryer, nor a curler. A subtle reminder that you aren’t allowed those things when you’re crazy.
You’re waiting outside smoking a cigarette when the driver pulls up.
“You Lindsey?” he asks, a smile on his face.
Why are you smiling, asshole?
“Yeah,” you say, going to stab out the cigarette.
“No, no,” he says, holding his hands up. “Take your time. No rush.”
You nod ‘thanks’ but the cigarette and you have already divorced.
This is your last cigarette, you think, trying to make it memorable- but it’s not. You get in the car while he puts your suitcase in the back.
“Tom,” he says, reaching out for your hand.
He talks your ear off the entire way there. You’re annoyed. All you want to do is shove your headphones in your ear and self-pity.
But you don’t- damn you Tom- you think when he pulls in through the metal gates. Jumping out of the car, he opens your door and helps you out.
“Good Luck,” he says- as if you’re going off to war- and a lady with a trim figure meets you at the car to guide you into reception.
Of course she has a trim figure, you think, glancing her up and down. And you hate her on sight.
Hours pass. Instructions are dealt. Suitcase inspected. Your “Team Red” Binder stamped with your name. (What is this- Middle School Field Day?)
So here it is, you sigh finally, sitting on the entry couch. It’s your first day and all the skinny bitches are running around the halls with their feeding tube IVs and their waft figures, and here you are staring at some hand-crafted artwork from a patient 7 years ago that reads “4319 days is ENOUGH” in eerie black and red paint; an XXS t-shirt you assume this satanic painter once adorned hanging beside it.
You are jealous of this person on this first day, and her XXS willpower. You wonder what 4319 ED free days would look like- disgusted by the thought. The Oompa Loompa you’d turn into. The triple chins. The Facebook photos that would have the social community whispering “Poor thing, she used to be so thin back then.” Oh God, the cellulite. Cut it off. Can you just have that knife to cut it all off.
You want to run thinking about it. Your body telling you to- your toes tensing in your shoes, your muscles clenching in your black jeans, telling you they’re weakening by the moment. Run, it’s instructing. Don’t let yourself give up you lazy bitch.
But I ran last night, you explain. I ran for you, you say.- I ran and I cried and I laid on the gym ground with my knees to my chest and I said I was sorry for never working hard enough.
If I had just gotten to that perfect weight, you think. I could’ve stopped before it came to this-
Why couldn’t you get there. You don’t understand. If you’d gotten there you would’ve quit binging. You would’ve stopped lying. You could’ve sat between people in the subway. You could’ve taken that rest day once in awhile. And God, you’d let yourself eat that cake your mom made at Christmas. You only binged because you looked at yourself in the mirror. Cellulite, skin, weight clinging to you- like a tick to your leg.
These are your thoughts that first day, have been your thoughts for so long.
You’re on the verge of tears. You’re comparing yourself to every person that walks by- the girl with the baggy flannel and cut off shorts, the model with the boniest waist you’ve ever seen and the tube hanging from her nose. Oh, there’s the pretty ones, and the bigger ones, and the ones you assume came in on drugs, and to be honest, you’re not judging them- you’re judging you. You’re sitting there catching their pale eyes and their skeletal frames and when you see the shoulder blades on the woman in the corner- all you can do is wonder again whether you actually need to go through the humility of this experience. Should I leave? Should I call my mom? Oh God, what would (insert ex name) think if they knew I ended up here?
You think about the last time you saw that ex- the way they looked at you when you changed your shirt- the eyes gazing at your dinner plate- the tightened jaw when you laid together in a bed and they rubbed their hand over your rib cage. “I can feel your ribs,” they whispered. And you smiled because you’d won.
You always won, then- before you moved to NYC and could no longer run as much.
You tried the 5am work outs- you tried the midnight runs- but the weight crept back. A pound here, a pound there. You laid in your bed pinching the side of your hips- hoping it would shed like a snake- so you could stop hating yourself.
So you could go to that birthday dinner-
You think about your friends at home now. You think about your mom leaving the night before. The way her head hung to the side, her eyes bleary- She loves you, and you know it.
And then someone talks to you from the couch over- A Southern girl in boots and ill-fitted jeans. She’s staring at you with a curious look on her face, along with a group of girls precariously picking you over in their minds. “Is she a binger, a bulimic, an ano?” Sometimes, it’s obvious. In your case, it isn’t.
You’d done it all, yes, but ”doing it all” doesn’t show when you’re a healthy weight with an ass a little more cushy than a sponge.
“This your first day?” she asks.
You smile like you’re going through your 2007 Sorority Rush. “Uh-huh,” you say. “Yep!” You add for good measure.
You hate yourself.
The girl’s staring at you with her toothy Alabama grin. “It’s not too bad usually,” she says. ” But we’re doing rounds right now so everyone’s in a bad mood.”
“For levels,” she says. “On Tuesdays, we get to find out if we move up a level. I’m on escorts and I wanna move up to level 1 but everyone’s different.”
“Yeah, if you’re on escorts you can’t go to the bathroom without supervision.”
“Someone goes in there with you?”
“No,” she pauses. “But you have to count real loud while the staff stands outside and listens.”
Before you can press her further on this whole level system business, a lady in a light yellow cardigan and long blonde hair walks out from a room “Stacey?” she says, staring at the girl you were speaking to.
“Well,” she grins. “Wish me luck”
You smile politely and watch as the girls around her pat her back and make flustered movements.
“Where you from?” the girl in flannel suddenly asks.
You look up at her standing in the corner, her worn Van sole pressed to the wall, hair in her face, paint all over… well, everything.
“Me too,” she says. But she doesn’t look happy about it.
“Cool,” you say. “Yeah, Ft Worth- Dallas area.”
“Denton,” she says, looking you up and down. “Or, well, actually Plano, then Denton. Then New York. Then here.”
You nod. “I live in New York right now actually.”
She nods. “Alright,” and turns back to the girl sitting on the ground in front of her. “This is fucking bullshit,” you can hear her say to her.
“Yeah, but you know if you weren’t such a bitch all the time they’d let you move up.”
She throws up her hands “I’m done with it.”
The girl on the ground looks bored. “No you’re not. Sit down.”
“I’m sick of it,” she says again. But she slides down next to the girl who you assume was a dancer at some time in her life.
“Stop fighting them and you’ll get out.”
“I’m not even thin anymore.”
“Yeah, but you’re still acting on symptoms.”
“Not in the last week.”
This is how the first day goes.
You hang out in your room later with the floral Floridian comforter, the connected bathroom with no lock. Your roommate’s things strewn over the room.
You are too overwhelmed to cry.
Dinner comes, and you know you’re hungry (when aren’t you?) so you file behind the other girls. Some are friendly. Some are blunt. A girl with cuts up her legs and arms smiles at you with her pageboy haircut and says ”you’re pretty. I like your smile.”
It takes you all night to realize she’s only 14.
You sit in the cafeteria across a girl named ”Wes,” and it takes you all night to realize Wes is no longer a girl.
He helps you through dinner. He watches you when the tray is placed in front of you and you look down to see the cup of WHITE rice, broccoli rabe, tofu (you chose the healthiest you could on that awful menu), and yogurt for dessert.
You grimace, but you think you’ve beat the system. “Tofu and yogurt,” you cackle to yourself. “I could’ve chosen the chicken and 2% milk like that fool over there, but I went safe.”
It’s then you peer down at the nutrition label on the yogurt and break into tears. You sob. You refuse to eat.
You’re crying over grams of sugar in a Dannon’s Vanila Yogurt (27g to be exact).
“I can’t eat this shit,” you say.
Wes pats your hand and tells you a joke.
The table is laughing with him and ignoring your tears- used to the sobbing reactions of the new people.
Someone puts her hand on your back.
“You’re alright girl, you got this.”
You don’t, you think. You really don’t.
“We all had to do it- First night’s the worse. Don’t think about it.”
You stare at the goop of yogurt you’ve now pushed onto your spoon.
And eventually, you take a bite- because you’re polite.
You’re polite and your mother taught you to be seen and not heard.
You eat the damn yogurt- bite by bite- imagining the sugar fermenting into your veins.
The mounds of fat you’ll feel on your stomach when you lie down for bed.
You let the tears stream down your face.
And no one says anything; they just clap for you when you finish.
As the cafeteria clears, you leave feeling like a lamb for the slaughter.
And that night, tucked under the starch white sheets-