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 –
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:
The last night I ever saw my best friend alive-it was 9pm at a fraternity party at The University of Arkansas, and I was standing there in the front yard backing away from him because I needed to finish a run.
18-years old- my first week of college- he was visiting with his parents on his way to University of Mississippi.
Linds, he pleaded, reaching out for my shoulder. Just stay. Christ, you don’t need to run so much.
I’ll be back, I’d laughed – windshorts hitting my leg. I’ll run home and change and I’ll come back.
But it’s my only night here, he sputtered– yelling down the hill with a red solo cup in his hand– his shorts hanging at the knee. Promise you’ll come back?
Maybe, I’d waved, smiling. I’ll call Riley.
But I was gone before he answered–running. Running because I’d eaten 3 bowls of Special K Fruit N’ Yogurt. Running because I was scared and the ED voice was screeching– And in the end, I didn’t go back.
Scared of calories, scared of loss of control, scared of losing my underweight frame- I texted him.
Goodnight, I wrote, Have fun with Riley–
I met him in the morning– a letter in hand. I love you, I whispered, pulling him close.
Love you too, he mumbled– Because he didn’t know how to be mad.
Don’t be upset, I grinned. I wrote you a letter, didn’t I?
He took it from my hand. I wish you had come back, he said, before turning to get into his parents car.
See you later- drive safe, I waved as he and his parents pulled out of the parking lot– my best friend in the middle seat– his backpack with my letter.
I’ll see him soon–I thought- I’ll make it up later.
And then you– my best friend– who carried me to bed when I fell asleep on the couch.
One month later– you pretty little boy– You fell from a tree, and you died.
8 years later I will always regret not spending that night with you.
Happy 27th Birthday Bradley Jameson- You are so loved and missed! Made that video above 6 years ago, and the only thing I’d change is some of my weak grammar. Love to you, your fam, and our friends that made this video (and the hours of film I still have somewhere in my parents house) possible.
Eating disorders kill, it’s true; but they kill your memories before they ever kill you.
that you’re thinking about it now like you thought about it then.
That you’ve been thinking about it–
Like you thought about it every day of every hour till you were so tired of it that you shelved him.
I’m bored with you, you screamed one night.
I grieved you all out best friend.
And now you just have to be dead–
You’re crying now–that feeling like you can’t sit gnawing at your side.
Stop this, you think.
You’re crying and you don’t know what to do.
What can you do?
You had 6 years, you think.
You had 6 years.
And the last time you saw him- the last time you felt his hand in yours- it was 9pm at a house party, and you were standing there in the front yard, backing away from him because you needed to finish your run.
You see his face, remember his eyes. The way they catch yours when you weren’t looking for them. When you can’t look up.
“Linds,” he says, reaching out for your shoulder. “Just stay.”
“I’ll be back,” you laugh – your windshorts hitting your leg with the breeze. “I’ll run home and change and I’ll come back.”
You turn to go down the hill then– back to the sidewalk, your tennis shoes reflecting off the street lights.
“You’ll come back when you’re done?” He asks– yelling down the hill with a red cup in his hand– his shorts hanging at his knee.
Maybe, you wave, smiling. I’ll call Riley.
But you are gone before he answers–running.
Running because you ate 3 bowls of Special K Fruit N’ Yogurt.
Running because you are scared–
That no one will want you.
And when you’re done, you don’t go back.
“Goodnight,” you text, “Have fun with our friends–”
You meet his family in the morning–letter in hand.
Slip it into his backpack as you hug him goodbye.
I love you, you whisper– pulling him close.
Love you too, he says– Because he doesn’t know how to be mad.
Call me when you’re settled– Your friend pats him on the back, gives his mother a nod. Thanks for coming, glad ya’ll stopped on your way.
And you agree–though you can feel his eyes when you say it.
See you soon, you wave as they pull out of the parking lot– your best friend in the middle seat– his backpack with your letter.
You’ll see him soon–you know–you’ll make it up later.
And then you– my best friend– you carried me to bed when I fell asleep on the couch.