Here’s the truth about eating disorders: we are often uneducated as to their risks.
Sure, we “know” they are detrimental, but when I struggled for 8 years I had no real awareness as to what type of bodily harm I inflected on my organs.
I noticed the physical effects: thinning hair, sallow eyes, and stress fractures from running. I observed the light-headedness and fainting spells, but I never took time to explore what that meant internally, especially for my heart.
Now in recovery from my eating disorder, I spent time speaking with cardiologists and medical professionals around the country to learn more about the harmful effects that eating disorders can have on your organs – specifically, your heart.
This post is a struggle, but it needs to be written.
If my message doesn’t carry its usual snarky platitudes – please understand that I’m grappling with this past week and I’m generally a bit more ha-he-ho about these eating disorder subjects (‘Cause, really, who wants to read the woe?)
However, this message is important.
Should I write it? I asked my partner today on a hike.
(Side note: it’s 66 degrees in Boulder at the moment. Double-edge sword of being like WOO WE GET TO HIKE… and also, OH GOD. GLOBAL WARMING IS GOING TO END THE PLANET.)
Anyway, we were chatting about the events of the past week. It’s embarrassing, I said. I never thought this would catch up to me.
Write it, he said. So you can be an example. People are short-sided. Maybe they need a reminder that the effects of eating disorders are long-term.
… So, here I am. And here I am to remind:
A couple weeks ago, I went to the dentist. Falling in line with the rest of the nation, I have avoided that chair for a year.
Was it an oversight? Yes. Was it intentional? Of course.
I’ve felt pain in my gums and molars for the past year and been filled with an ever-present growing dread.
It’s Gingivitis, my New York dentist said – with little concern. You need to floss more.
But my molars, I said.
He waved it off. You’re fine. The x-rays show nothing.
Accepting his nonchalance eagerly (purposely), I skipped outta that office and moved to Denver – where I’ve been for a year and some – with an increasing pain in my gums and back right molar.
Go to the dentist, my partner said for months.
I will, I’d say curtly – with that whispering fear in my brain.
Why so nervous? Some might ask. You’re healthy, you’re recovering.
I am. I am both of those things.
But, you don’t forget the cigarettes you’ve smoked in your life.
The ones you still sneak on a bad day.
You don’t forget the years you threw up – bile clinging to the back of your teeth – and the lack of concern you paid to your mouth.
The pain worsened over the past couple months; gnawed at me like a consistent reminder of my past.
Brushing my teeth became excruciating before I finally relented.
I booked a bloody appointment.
Sitting in the chair, I introduced myself to the dentist.
Nice to meet you, I said. I know something’s wrong and I’m not sure what it is but my back molar is pretty painful.
He nodded. We’ll take some x-rays.
Let’s do it, I said. Let’s face the damn music.
20 minutes later, he came back with a fresh-faced, nervous-looking assistant.
My throat tightened.
You want the good news or the bad?
Bad, I said. I’m not much for glazing.
He nodded. There’s been trauma to your teeth.
I sighed. Yeah, I was bulimic for years.
He nodded – probably more than a little surprised I admitted it – but kept his composure.
Did you smoke? He asked.
Yes, I said. Still do on the occasion.
He nodded again, as though he already knew the answer and was relieved to hear me confirm it.
Okay, he said. I’m going to be honest: Your back right molar is extensively damaged. He brought up my x-ray. Did you know you had Gingivitis?
Yeah, I said. The whole bleeding gum thing kinda gave it away.
It’s turned into periodontal disease, he paused. Now, this is common. A lot of people have it and don’t ever know. But, yours has progressed fairly severely from what we can tell.
I picked at the skin around my cuticles.
You’ve lost somewhere around 6 millimeters of bone on your back molar, he said – pointing at my x-ray. And you have a cavity that has wrapped around your gum lines near the molar.
What next then? I asked – cutting off all emotion. And why the fuck didn’t someone else notice this when I was bulimic?
He shook his head. It can take years to form into this. You could be perfectly healthy now and just starting to experience the after effects.
Fantastic, I muttered.
He stared at me.
Why are doctors such duds?
I’m sorry, he said, earnestly.
I shrugged. Saw this coming.
I didn’t… but Dr. Sociopath didn’t need to know.
Here’s what we can do, he said – in his flat manner. We’ll have you come back next week, figure out just how severe this cavity is – and we’ll try to fill it before anything else.
What are the chances of that working?
He shrugged. Can’t tell you until we’re in there.
I left that day; made an appointment.
I also booked a second opinion.
I so badly wanted this dentist to be wrong that I was willing to spend $100 bucks on a second glance.
The optimistic side of me thought “It’ll be fine. They’ll fill it.”
The pessimistic side of thought “You’re screwed.”
Turns out, neither were particularly correct.
(I say this while popping another painkiller in a bookstore.)
The second opinion confirmed the first.
I dragged back in on Thursday to the original doctor and sat in the chair.
For 2 1/2 hours, the dentist and assistant hygienist worked to save my tooth. Doped up on Novocain didn’t stop the pain of them poking and prodding into my gums (hence, the painkiller).
For 2 1/2 hours, I thought about my eating disorder. I thought about the purges, the binges – imagining my teeth in the process.
As they struggled to get a filling, I sat in the chair and I thought to myself: “If only I knew then what I know now.”
At the end of the day, here’s the deal:
I was anorexic and bulimic for years – I smoked anywhere from 10-12 cigarettes a week – and I’m 3 years into recovery.
I was never an “every meal” purger. More a 4-5x/week purger and I truly believed I wouldn’t suffer consequences cause hell “I wasn’t as bad as that person or horror story.”
When they got into my mouth, they confirmed that my tooth was decaying from the inside out.
Not yet at the nerve, I won’t have to have a root canal. (wahoo, good news, I gargled to them.)
However, bulimia took a toll.
My molars have lost bone, my gums have fairly severe periodontal disease, and my gums have receded.
They cannot save my back right molar.
They removed the cavity from my gum line but my tooth is 2/3 filling, which can only last temporarily – a year or two.
At the end of the day, I have two choices:
Have the tooth extracted and chew on other molars, or have gum surgery and a crown.
They tested my other teeth: with the exception of a couple, most are strong. They will be fine if I get this shit under control.
Inevitably, I will spend $1000s of dollars on my teeth throughout the years – and that’s a financial burden I’m just beginning to sort through.
Now for some real talk: Is this the end of the world? No.
I’ll live, and I’ll get my mouth under control.
A kick in the ass, my partner said. We’ll get better about flossing and brushing.
But, I can’t help but sit here right now writing this – and shake my head.
How short-sided of me to think for all those years that there wouldn’t be repercussions.
How silly of me to think I could throw up meal after meal, run mile after mile, smoke cigarette after cigarette to keep hunger muted –
And not wind up dealing with the consequences.
I used to go to the dentist when I was bulimic and wait for the ax to fall.
Certainly, this will be the time they tell me my teeth are screwed.
When I started recovery, I thought to myself “A-ha. I got outta ‘dat scot-free.”
But, I suppose I’m here to remind you that every decision has a consequence – some for the better, some for the worse.
And you can’t quit an eating disorder expecting zero repercussions.
You don’t just get to be like “BUT WAIT, HEY NOT FAIR. I WAS SICK AND IT’S NOT MY FAULT AND I DIDN’T WANNA MESS WITH MY TEETH.”
If only we could bargain with our bodies.
The guilty side of me is resentful of my choices –
I’m down, admittedly. I’m angry at the things I did and the lack of care I inflicted on myself.
I’m angry at 18-year old me – hunched over the toilet, ice cream splashing back up into my face as it hit the surface.
I never thought at the time that I’d age. That life would carry on at a regular weight – and I’d be working hard every day to advocate for recovery.
Hindsight truly is 20/20.
Look, I know I’ll forgive myself. Just give me a couple days. There’s worse shit in life and my life is good.
I can be mad and feel guilty, but truthfully – what’s the point?
I’m not gonna go relapse over it. I mean hell, I don’t want dentures. (lol)
I’m not gonna go run 10 miles and pray that exercise makes up for it.
I’m not gonna go punish myself.
I’m just going to be and spread my message as I can.
Be a walking example of the good and the bloody bad.
There’s nothing you can do about the mistakes you made. They are yours to deal with and manage (sometimes in the future).
I’m not going to stop living over its effects. Hell, been there done that.
But, I will change my habits.
That “secret” stash of cigs. It’s over. I have lived in a world where consequences don’t apply to me and I’m 27-years old and 1-2 cigs a week or even a month isn’t cutting it anymore.
Tonight, I’m going to wrap up this blog – publish it – prep for a podcast interview on ‘drunkorexia’ and have a beer with my partner when he’s done studying (and yes, have food as well).
We’re going to sit outside and talk about this or that. And then we’ll drive to Denver, feed my dog, cook some pasta, and burrow down in the living room in sweatpants to watch a movie.
Life keeps going. You keep moving.
I’ve got solid relationships, a healthy lifestyle, shelter and motivation.
I’m not ever going back to who I was – but the traces of her linger always.
And perhaps, at the end of the day, I need those traces to remember how far I’ve come.
… We’ve all been there – or will be there – and once you do, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
It’s the weekend of your best friend’s wedding and you’re a bridesmaid.
You’re back at your parents house; surrounded by crinkled pictures, dolls in plastic bins, old love notes from high school boyfriends that you refuse to throw out (even if they’re all married with a kid on the way; nostalgia is a real disease), and a high school Geography and Algebra book you never returned.
You’ve just showered: the fumes of yesterday’s spray tan wafting through your nose. Your hair is up in some makeshift form, water running down your back, and a towel wrapped loosely around your chest.
You’re hunched over childhood chest of drawers.
Where the hell is it? You’re wondering, tossing aside a neon yellow tank top you bought in Costa Rica on your Senior trip.
You push around an oversized college t-shirt, a ragged spaghetti top, and some winter Long-Johns your mom bought one Christmas that you never wore them. (They’re polka dot for Christ’s sake).
You sigh. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME I WORE THOSE BLOODY SPANX, You’re now chastising yourself – moving on from the Long-Johns.
Happy 2017 y’all! My fingers have finally found their way to the keyboard again and I couldn’t be more relieved. (Always have this mass blind anxiety that after each blog post I’ll suddenly run out of subjects and dive into a deep writers block and lose my voice and never write again and and… well, you get the picture.)
Anyway, I’d say my resolution is to write more consistently – but hey, I think resolutions are bullshit – and I don’t like writing unless I have a subject to delve into.
SO, with that being said, lez’ talk about cooking and eating disorders ’cause LORD – I gots some venting to do.
The other night my roommate walks into our apartment right? And there I am leaned over on the kitchen counter – squinting at a laptop screen.
She halts in the doorway. “Are you cooking?”
I look up from said laptop, brow furrowed – a dripping colander of black beans, a pan full of burnt rice, and reading some eye-rollingly beautiful blonde bloggers “easy, earth shattering sweet potato and grains bowl” recipe.
“I dunno what the hell I’m doing,” I say – turning back to the sink and pushing sweaty hair off my forehead.
SUCK IT BLOG LADY, I think. I hope all your cabbage rots and fumigates your 10,000$ oven.
“Well, this is interesting,” my roommate grins.
I make a face. “I’m on a budget.”
“Lemme know if you need anything,” she says – walking back towards her room (likely with deliberate stride).
Every now and then, I have a moment that I think to myself “my God- that must be what recovery is.”
Today, walking with my coworker- complaining about our long meetings, our torrid love lives, our mid-20s crisis-ing – she stopped mid-sentence- 5:45pm- and said “Yo I need a hot dog.”
“Huh?” I said, making a face.
“I need a hot dog,” she said, crossing toward the vendor. “We’ve passed like 5 stands and I want one.”
Standing there in Central Park, I watched her order a hot dog- mustard included- nonchalance on her face- and I had a moment that I thought to myself- “Shit, this must be what it’s like to grab food when you want it.”
For 8 years, I’ve passed fro-yo shops, 1$ pizza slices, croissants, muffins, falafel vendors- and thought “you want- but you can’t.”
1 year later- I still have moments that I want sometimes and think “Nah- it’s not time, you can’t eat till this time or that.”
It resonated today- such a simple act- because I think, mostly, that being free is allowing yourself the spontaneity of a hot dog. And I’d love to do that some day.
I can eat a handful of chips- a Dunkin Donut hole- a granola bar- even some Welch fruit snacks
But the awareness of it never leaves me- even now.
They teach you in rehab to listen to yourself.
To listen to your hunger cues- your stomach. Your intuition.
But what they can’t teach you is self-respect.
And that’s what lends you your ability to trust your intuitions- whatever they may be.
To trust your cues
And maybe I realize some days, that I am still working on that.
Spontaneous hot dogs people- it’s the small things in life.
First of all, may I have a round of applause for how clever that title was? I’m never punny so I had to give myself a little shout out.
Recently, I was a bridesmaid in New Orleans:
Beautiful wedding, beautiful friendship- I knew I really wanted to “be there” for this wedding. And not just “be there” like when you show up to class/work hungover with your hair lookin’ like Lady Gaga with the beehive and the “smoky eyeliner” smudged under your eyes- I really wanted to be present and available- and frankly, as unself-involved as one can be when you’re recovering from an 8+ year eating disorder.
Truth is, I’d been agonizing over this wedding for months – the dress. While this isn’t the first nor the last wedding I’m lucky enough to be included in, this was a wedding that I knew I’d be stepping out of my comfort zone and wearing a dress that I’d never choose to wear, and that admittedly “hugs” the wrong places on me (i.e. my extremely short waist- and badonka-donk.)
I hated the way the lavender-grey dress looked on me from the moment my roommate brought it home (she, too, was in the wedding) Standing in the mirror comparing ourselves in it, I thought to myself “Well this is over. I’ll just be standing up there fretting and having minor anxiety attacks as all of Fort Worth judges me with their eyes.”
Did I know this day wasn’t about me? Sure. I am in recovery. I’m able to differentiate when things are (sigh) not all about me and my eating disorder. I am able to understand people won’t be paying attention to me on the Bride’s big day. But it doesn’t, however, keep me from having that same tick in my head that tells me ”Hey Dumbass, your fault for letting yourself go. This is the consequence for being happy… never feeling comfortable in anything you wear ever again except black, grey, and the occasional white.”
Presently, I can go weeks in my “normal” day-to-day life without fretting consistently over my body and how it looks in what it’s wearing. I don’t think about my ass anymore in my black jeans- I don’t think about my thighs as often or if my arms are splattering out against my body. In my daily life, I can get by because I know how to dress to ease the tension of my recovering eating disorder. And no, I don’t wear XXL sweaters when I should be in a Small- I wear what fits and is looser-ish. That makes me happy. I made an agreement with myself to not force my body into dresses if I don’t want to – I hate dresses frankly so I’ve given them up. And that made me happy. To assert my needs for myself and my recovery.
But situations like this are still very hard and complex for me because I must do them. Typically, my go-to move at weddings has always been to drink too much to numb out the tick in my head. I succeeded at my best friend’s wedding last June in not drinking too much but I also had a partner there with me holding my hand- and my best friend was extremely kind and considerate to me when we picked out bridesmaid dresses. Generally speaking, however, I fail at weddings with my eating disorder. I almost always drink too much – end up feeling stressed, judged, and angry – and then spend the next week either partially relapsing, relapsing once, or being pensive, irritable, and self-loathing.
Fun cycle, eh? Can’t fix everything in a year. I’ve made tremendous strides but up until now, this has not been one of them.
Moping to an ex the other day – I complained about how hard these events are for me, and how so very much I wish I could find a way to keep me distracted and out of my head.
“Make it a game,” this person suggested. “Have you thought of that?”
“Yeah- I mean maybe you should just think of it like the dress and the ED are the dragons you have to slay and then if you do it you get a reward.”
“What’s my reward?”
“I dunno, TREAT YO’SELF!”
And alas, so derived The Hunger Games: Wedding Edition. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? To just picture a big stress-event like a game, but hear me out.
The more I thought and mulled over it – the more it began to resonate. OK, I decided. I’ll revert back to the days of Donkey Kong levels on Gameboy… and if I win, I’ll reward myself. And not just reward myself with a Facebook status- but actually reward myself like a mother does with their child when he’s first potty trained.
Here’s what I came up with:
Me- clearly being the “Princess Peach” of the whole game would have to take on three ED dragons in order to ‘win’ the wedding games.
Dragon 1 – Eating
Dragon 2 – Self-Preoccupation
Dragon 3 – Alcohol
What did it take for me in order to ‘slay’ the ED dragons?
Dragon 1 – In order to beat this dragon, I had to force myself to eat both breakfast and lunch before the wedding. And also, all three the day before as well. No starving, no restricting, no trying to ‘slender’ down 24 hours before the event. I had to eat like everyone around me was doing…. even if it was only winning by a mini amount. (hey, no one said anything about blowing it out of the ballpark)
Dragon 2 – In order to beat this one, I could only have 2-3 “moments” (because they are inevitable) where I stared at myself in front of a mirror and thought of how different I wish I looked, how everyone is probably secretly glad I look bigger, how short my waist is, how long ago my attractiveness faded. I could have those ”moments” but only 2-3 of them where I actually sat and stared for 3-5 minutes. After that, I’d have to force myself to look away and refocus on the task at hand – getting my friend married.
Dragon 3 – Oh alcohol, my favorite enemy. In order to beat this final dragon, I could only ”cheers” with one glass of champagne in the bridal room beforehand, and I couldn’t have more than 2 drinks at the reception. Does that sound like too many? Well, this is “beginner level” so gimme a break. Usually at weddings I have about 6-7 glasses of wine and am hammered walking out. 2-3 over 5 hours keeps me from losing myself in the drunk realm of my ED. 2-3 over 5 hours keeps me from binging later. 2-3 keeps me from doing weird things like keeping my winter coat on all night, or talking a mile a minute while my head is off in ED Never-Neverland. 2-3 keeps me from waking up already feeling like I’ve relapsed.
In return for dominating all three dragons, I’m doing something I hardly have the money (or time) to do, and that is to treat myself.
Congratulate myself for trying to fix the problem.
Reward myself for being human and getting through another multi-faceted part of recovery.
For me, a reward comes in doing something I’d never do on my own normal time.
So, drumroll please, I’m gonna go to a fancy-schmancy dinner on a Tuesday, and then go see a play.
Haven’t decided which Tuesday yet- or which play- but that’s what I’m doing. A restaurant with a view overlooking Manhattan, music playing, a friend for company, and play with a plot I like.
So often, I spend my life in NYC being poor and merely walking through Times Square- and frankly, every now and then I’d love to have a taste of the Broadway life. The tourist life of Times Square. I get to see it occasionally with my family, but this one’s for me.
I’m going to bring a friend- and I’m going to go to have me some nice fish.
And go see a play that I want to see.
Alladin? Rock of Ages? Phantom? I don’t know yet, but the anticipation is mounting.
Truth is, I “won” this weekend because the excitement of allowing myself to do something “New Yorky” propelled me to keep in line. The excitement of writing this post kept me in line. The excitement of realizing that maybe I’d found an actual way to get through one avenue of the hardships that I endure trying to recover from this blasted ED.
It’s all felt very good – very confident.
No, I didn’t love how I looked this weekend. That has not changed. But I found a way to live in spite of it- even if I am reverting back to a baby being potty-trained.
Maybe that’s all I really am right now with my ED truthfully- a baby being potty-trained.
I forget to be gentle on myself sometimes. I expect perfection. But, tonight, I’m proud of this “game” and I’m proud that I have the memories of her wedding stored safely in a vault in my brain and not mixed in with an eating disorder that has taken so many life memories away from me and replaced them with mush.
Recovery is hard. Finding “tips” that work is harder. And they won’t always work when you want them to- but sometimes they do.
And this one worked for me. So maybe it can work for you at some point.
Frankly, I had to. I’d been struggling- I mean I could sugarcoat it and say I just was so overwhelmed with my new happy and recovered life that I couldn’t find the time to write- but the truth is I just couldn’t find the place. The little place in my brain that continues to try and keep recovery in perspective.
The truth is sometimes you want to be sick- because it’s easier. And it’s what you know. You want to have your routines- And live by them like you did before. You miss counting calories- you miss losing weight. And mostly, you miss the satisfaction of doing all of it and feeling good about yourself.
In light of the summer’s wedding season (and 4th of July) I decided to pull my writing back out of the time warp of rehab- and bring it to a present location.
While I love (and can only hope) I’m bringing comfort to those that struggle with body image and all that that entails- I also want to be realistic. I don’t want anyone to walk away from this little series of mine feeling like I bullshitted them on how life is peachy keen when you go off for a couple months.
It’s just not- but tis’ life- and I’m figuring it out as I go.
Goodnight everyone- I’m so happy to be posting (And even wearing a bikini again!)
And you’re still waking up on Saturdays with a torn granola wrapper under the pillow beside you–
Your lips stained from red wine–
Sprawled out on the bed that sits too close to the floor because you’re still too poor to purchase those risers.
You open one eye-
Push away the pillow beside you, exposing three 90-calorie Peanut Butter and Chocolate Nature Valley wrappers trapped underneath.
Damn, you think fishing them out lazily with your free arm.
270 calories of granola.
You groan slightly-
Should’ve just bought the 200-calorie bar instead.
You feel down towards your stomach – push the sheet down to your hip.
Notice you smeared the bed with chocolate from one of the wrappers.
Feel a slight trace of your hipbone–
Think about Rehab.
Why couldn’t they teach you how to not wake up with one thing on your mind?
Like a prepubescent boy you’ve joked- “All they think of is sex- all I think about is weight. The carnal blessing.”
You run your hand up your chest, over your XL sorority t-shirt you used to wear around your college campus.
Feel your neckline.
Feel your chin- do you still have that acne spot?
You turn in your bed when you’re done- away from the wrappers.
Throw the grey blanket over your head.
Mad because you’re still hiding it- in the bed sheets, under pillows- wrapped in napkins.
The first week you got back home– you took a box of Cheez-It’s to your room.
Your dad asked you where they were the next day-
And you lied.
You don’t know why really-
You didn’t eat the box.
But it felt like you did-
And momentarily when he asked-
You thought maybe you had.
Face it, your recovery therapist says to you today. Lindsey, you will always have an eating disorder–
And you let it win last night.
You let it win the moment you chose to go out with your friends and pick at your dinner-
Two fish tacos– but you’d peeled the tortilla away from the fish, scraped the guac out of the sides- monitored the salsa.
You let it win when you drank your red wine too fast and ordered another to fill your stomach-
And you let it win when you went out till 3am and refused to get something substantial on the way home.
Instead, you chose a box of granola bars- 90-calories.
Because in your drunk mind you didn’t expect to eat 3/5 in the box.
Because in your drunk mind- you were in control-
Until you’re not.
So yes, you tell your therapist tonight- sitting in her Upper West Side apartment-
You do still have an eating disorder.
You have it when you think about going to the lake over 4th of July-
You have it when you think about your best friend’s wedding next week-
And you had it when you went to try on your maid of honor dress in March-
When your best friend cocked her head to the side in the dressing room- examining your discomfort to see if she could catch you lying when you said ”No I feel good in this.” (She really was kind to you on the material.)
And lastly, you say tonight– You have it still with those you hold closest-
But you’re just not talking about it anymore.
You can’t get away from it sometimes-
The routine of an eating disorder.
And now you’re here on your therapist’s couch on a Monday night- still having those days.
And that’s the truth.
The real truth– the one your therapist told you to share, but you didn’t.
I don’t want you writing on your blog anymore, she says to you after your 8th post. Not until you’re ready to be more honest with me– And more honest with yourself.
It’s Monday night, and you’re sitting at her kitchen table with some plastic ware- your dinner laid out in front of you after you’d admitted the week before that you’d started to skip meals in preparation for the wedding.
It’s hard to be honest- you say, throwing a grape in your mouth. Everyone wants life to be a happy ending, you pause. What’s the point in writing it if it doesn’t end with a perfectly tied bow? You take a sip of your water. Then it’s just self-deprecating and I’m already close enough to that as is.
Stop playing with your food, she says over her glasses- pointing at your wrap as you try discreetly to pull off the excess tortilla.
You can’t bullshit a bullshitter- did your mama ever tell you that?
In less frank terms- yeah.
She nods. You haven’t been honest recently- just judging by how you’re eating, she says. You can’t tell me you think this would be a Rehab-approved meal.
You shrug- It’s fruit and half a wrap.
That wrap has no protein.
She rolls her eyes. A thimbleful of hummus isn’t protein- she pauses. Have you lost weight? Your face looks thinner.
No, you say-
Feeling that shame for not being able to say ”yes.”
I think you have, she says flatly. I don’t see how you couldn’t eating like this and working out again.
I weigh 113, you say, wanting to change the subject.
She stares at you-
You stare at her.
113? She asks.
Something like that.
So you’ve been weighing, she says flatly.
You curse yourself for falling for it.
She rolls her eyes. You know it’s not about you Lindsey. This wedding- it’s not yours- she pauses. What you’re doing right now- if it’s solely for that event- then this is you being sick, out of touch, and completely self-absorbed.
You sigh, feeling like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs- even though you know she’s right.
What do you want Lindsey- your therapist asks. For everyone at that wedding to worry about you again? To be 5lbs thinner? Is it worth that?
I just want to be there, you admit- 5 days out. I want to watch her walk down the aisle- I want to remember it, you pause. I don’t want to miss it and I think I have it in my brain that if I just lose a couple pounds beforehand, I’ll be more present.
It doesn’t work that way, she says. And you know it. No amount of weight loss will ever be enough for you.
I know, you say. But I’ve just missed so much– those moments in your life, you pause. Not like the big ones- I’ve been pretty good about those– Just the small ones, you know? The ones you sit there and relive over and over wishing you had noticed this person more, or that tree more -or the sounds of whatever you were doing then- But I don’t, you say. I just rewrite the whole event to make me feel better.
You think you’ve rewritten your experiences?
Not in the moments that mattered- you say. Like you know those corny cliché moments–
Those staple key points that you’ve been told to remember since you were a kid, you pause. Graduation- Frist Kiss- Prom- First day of college- Death, you mention. I’ve always been cognizant about being present for those things.
Well, I imagine your best friend’s wedding is a sort of staple then.
It is, you say. But it’s not enough for me to just remember her taking her vows- or like when she and Josh have their first dance. I want to remember all of it. I want to remember dancing with her and not caring what I look like from what angle. Or get too drunk off wine because I’m avoiding food, you sigh. Am I making sense?
I’ve just done this so much- you say. Sometimes I think I get so nostalgic for things because in my heart – I know I missed the point of them– Even when I moved to Spain, right?
I moved there to create a life– I moved there thinking I’d be free of myself and I thought I could just kind of move past this shit in my head, you pause. Yet somehow it just got worse being alone. I had this whole chance, you shake your head. This whole entire chance to reinvent myself – what a beautiful opportunity, You smile. To get to be somewhere where no one in the world knows you-
And instead of grasping all that- instead of spending my time running around every country I could get my greedy little palms on- I just remember so much of my life there was about my weight–
You were sick, she says.
I missed the food though, you know? I missed experiencing food that wasn’t mine. I missed night’s out because I hadn’t factored alcohol into my calorie count for the day. I missed my life, you say. I was so tired all the time- running twice a day on a treadmill because I couldn’t run outside with no calorie counter. You look away.
I really hate that I did that– And I hate that I lie about it too. I act like I’m some free-spirit but the truth is I hardly noticed anything outside of where the gym route was- you stare at your therapist. I met people you know? I met people I’ll probably never see again- you trail off.
And it hurts me to think that I’ll never see half those people again and I didn’t have the clarity to appreciate them.
No one can appreciate every moment Lindsey, it’s not possible.
I know that, you say. But God I wish I’d had that gelato at least once.
And at least once I’d like to have gotten on a bus with no end point and just bopped around- you sigh. But when you’re as self-absorbed as I am, you just miss those things. You don’t have the freedom to leave where you are. You can have all these conversations, you say. Conversations that matter- and with strangers- you add. But you’re so damn consumed by your shit that eventually you just lose it. You lose the memory of it- forget the parts of it that affected you so deeply- you pause. So what do you do? You recreate it- and try not to remember that ya know- the first day I moved to Spain– I puked my breakfast up in the airport ‘cause I didn’t want my host family to think I was bloated. You pause. You recreate your memories, ya know? Recreate them so you feel like you actually were living in them and not just on the perimeter.
Lindsey, she says- looking at you. First of all, eat that. It shouldn’t take you 30 minutes to eat half a wrap, she says- with that maternal smirk on her face.You take a bite.
You forget this is your choice now- she says. Whether you want to be sick or not. You have the tools to get yourself in the right place- you had the opportunity to experience life outside of your sickness, she says. You sat in that facility for months relearning how to eat- what you can eat- and I know it shocked you the amount you could consume without gaining weight.
It did, you admit. And I know that- I do. I don’t ever consider throwing up again.
Good, she says.
I wouldn’t- you admit. I can’t. It’s like I can justify a lot of other things with this eating bullshit- but I can’t justify that. You pause–plucking out a mango cube from your fruit bowl. I didn’t even like it anyway- it was gross.
She snorts. No one truly does.
I think some people do though, you disagree. I mean girls in rehab lived to go puke their brains out. They loved that whole binge cycle- you shudder. I hated it.
Well, you aren’t a binger, she says. You’re first and foremost an anorexic. You don’t get that satisfaction from binging because you’ve trained yourself to not enjoy food.
You sigh. I’m getting better about it.
I know, she says. But you’re an anorexic. And that’s why you binged anything in the first place.
Yeah- no. That’s true, you admit. I remember understanding that more after getting used to those portion sizes, you pause. Just kind of realizing how ridiculous my idea of a meal was.
Is- she says, staring at your plate.
I know what I’m doing right now, you say. And you know I know what I’m doing.
Yes, she says.
I know it’s not enough- I just love the feeling. It’s like the anxiety of all this body image bullshit just melts away–
Do you like feeling hungry?
No, you say. God no. I hate it, you pause. But once that passes- cause hunger always seems to pass, it’s kinda what I attribute to a high.
I wouldn’t know, she says. I was never an anorexic. My problem all my life has been emotional attachment to food. I never knew hunger in the same way you experience it.
Well- that’s all I really think about it. It’s a high, you say. I feel that much more beautiful- like everything is being seen through rose-tinted glasses, you pause. It’s so vain- isn’t it?
She smiles. It’s a lot more than that.
Is it? You ask. Cause sometimes I think all the psychological crap doesn’t apply to me and I’m actually just that vain.
Well- she says. Let me ask you something.
You glance at her.
Don’t look scared- she almost laughs. I’m just wondering how much you considered how you grew up.
With my parents? You ask. God haven’t we talked about this a million times?
No I just mean in general. Your college experience, everything, she says.
I love how I grew up, you start. I had everything I could ever want.
She rolls her eyes. You always do this-
You make a face back.
I’m convinced it’s the Southern part of you–trying to preface a negative with a positive. Lindsey, she pauses. I know you had a nice childhood. I know you had a nice family– but that doesn’t mean aspects of your environment don’t play a part.
The media plays a role– The environment. Your mom’s thin, she says. It all bothers you-
Doesn’t bother me, you say. About my mom at least. She’s just always been this tiny perfect little human. You look at someone like my mom- and she just encapsulates everything I don’t feel like I have, you say. She’s disciplined. She’s smart, She has a career- a lot of the people we were around growing up, you pause. They only really had one working parent- but not my mom. She worked and cooked and cleaned and still found this insane ability to be hot too.
Your therapist nods. Did you feel like weight was judged where you came from?
Absolutely, you say- without hesitation. I think when you have the means to care about vanity- you do. Otherwise, it gets schlepped to the side, you pause. But I came from a nice environment. I come from a place where adults always look their best when they know they’ll be seen and where weight, to me at least, was always a sign of intimidation in a way.
She nods. I understand that.
I think if you were wealthy, you say. Wealthy and well-known- even if it was just within the city perimeters- then you automatically felt a pressure to prove to people how flawless and wonderful your life was- even if it was crumbling behind closed doors. Isn’t that the media’s take too though? You ask rhetorically. If you look presentable or put together- well then everyone assumes you are okay. You get a free pass. You can do shitty things and still get away with it. You can have a life’s worth of real problems plaguing your mind- but hey, as long as you look good and don’t show up too drunk everywhere, people tend to ignore them.
She nods, changing subjects. What is it you want to be then, Lindsey?
I’m figuring that out, you say. I want to be my mom- and also not at all, you snort. Because when I try it doesn’t happen for me with the ease it happens with her- and that’s exhausting to compete with. You look at your therapist. It’s selfish you know? Cause I wanna be everything. I want to be every person imaginable- I think it’s why I’m fascinated by people so much, you pause. And eventually I guess I feel like I’m just going to have to conform to one thing.
Who told you that?
No one, it just happens I feel like. You can’t represent everything.
I don’t think that’s accurate, she says. I think once you’re comfortable with yourself, you don’t hide behind one image or another. When you’re truly comfortable, I think you quit trying to define yourself. You just are.
You smile. You have nice words-
She smiles back- and the two of you sit in silence for a moment- you taking your last bite of your wrap.
You know, my mother-in-law told me once-
You were married? You interrupt her.
She nods. I don’t like to talk about my personal life with patients.
Yeah- but I always wondered if you had a spouse.
I did, she says. He passed now- some years ago.
Was it happy?
She nods. It was a good marriage- yes. We were the best of partners.
That’s nice, you say. Cause I like to think that you had that- even before you told me.
She laughs. No, I wasn’t always an old woman alone in her apartment.
Anyway, my mother-in-law used to tell us- she pauses. And she was a lovely woman- so calm- and she used to tell us when we first got married, your therapist makes a gesture with her hand. “you, Ellie, you are as beautiful as you see yourself, as smart as you speak, and as okay as you feel,” She smiles. And may your life be as simple as you allow it to be.
You eat a piece of strawberry off your fork. Sounds like one of those self-help keychains, you grin. But I like it.
She nods. Think about it though- when you’re at this wedding- When you’re off seeing that person you’re dating. Think about what they want from you that’s real- and not self-absorbed.
Be the healthy you- because you know where that is when you try to find her.
And be a partner, she pauses. Be someone else’s partner and I promise you the trivialness of what you worry about now will cease when you allow yourself the opportunity to be loved by someone that doesn’t love the sick version of you.
I’ll try, you smirk. I’m trying Doc.
I know- she says. I’m waiting for it.
3 days go by-
And you find yourself now, in a hair salon on a Saturday morning at home- watching the make-up artist put finishing touches on your best friend’s skin.
You look beautiful baby- you smile at her.
She’s stressed- you can tell- she’s always been a worrier, you think trying to dodge out of her way as she barrels through to get her hair pinned.
You’re excited for her.
She is your best friend.
And last night the two of you finished off a bottle of wine at your parents and looked at old pictures of yourselves when you were in the 5th grade- modeling for your mom’s camera in the backyard beside a tree.
You watch her now 15 years later as she moves, takes a sip of her champagne- her round blue eyes darting all over the place calculating whether or not the day’s on schedule-
And you’re reminding yourself at every moment when you see her eyes drift over to you- give you that look of concern- that you won’t be that friend to her.
That you have a choice to be that human.
Linny- can you eat please? She says- pointing over to the sandwich trey.
And for a moment, you want to do that thing you do.
That thing where you brush her off. Say you’ve eaten too many nuts from the nut bowl- say you’re full from the strawberries and cheese you think you’ve been practically engulfing since you got to the hair salon.
But today, you look at her.
Your best friend.
Who wrote handwritten letters while you were in rehab.
Who you send each of these posts to for editing.
Who knows your schemes and your tears and your lies-
And your manipulative way of turning the attention back around to you when you shouldn’t-
But has never once called you out in front of others.
You look at her today- with her hair half up
And her white ”Bride” button down hanging near her thighs
And you consciously make the decision that you won’t do that to her.
Not today anyway- not on her day.
You’d spent months thinking about this-
How you’d hope you wouldn’t ruin it for you- and slightly for her.
Knowing all she wants is truly what you want-
Just to be there.
So be there, you think. Because this day is here.
Be there, Linds. Because it’s really not so complicated unless you allow it.
Not so difficult unless you make it.
This day- this one you have with her
It’ll pass- and it’s your choice what you want to remember from it.
So you eat a chicken sandwich.
And you dance with her on her wedding, fluff her veil like you promised you could.
You held her bouquet.
You didn’t get too drunk at the open bar- and you didn’t think about whether or not you had “back fat” in your dress.
You held her hand as you guys lined up to walk down that aisle- you looked back to her before you walked out in front of her-
Gave her that look. The one you two have always shared.
You’re beautiful- you mouthed.
And you saw in her eye, you saw when she caught yours and grinned back at you- nerves heightened-
That she was grateful.
You love her, you think as you walk down her aisle.
You love her- and when you were little girls, the two of you used to sit in your room together- talking about weddings- about the people you’d end up with- about the lives you’d create together when you had kids- How ‘’Crazy Aunt Lindsey’’ will take her kids off her hands when she needed a break. How you’d feed them too much sugar then send them back with a note pinned to their backs saying ‘’SORRY….. LYLAS”
You have good friends at 25 years old, you think that evening- surrounded by plenty of them. You have good friends and tons of weddings, and you want to be there for each one of them.
You don’t want to miss another Christmas, another New Years, or another event because you’re too sick to be there.
You have a choice- so tonight you made the right one.
And now some days have passed since then.
And you still miss it sometimes.
Those moments the sun reflects off the skylines when you leave work-
The way umbrellas move in the rain-
In sync- unabashed-
Pushing forward- not knowing how to settle in the wind-
Sometimes you forget to smile back at a baby that looks up at you on the subway-
The homeless man that asks for a dime-
You miss nights with your friends because you don’t want to pretend to be healthy-
But you’re learning.
You think about the times you’ve lost someone- lost a moment-
You wonder sometimes-
What it means that you lost them-
Still glad you had these moments
No matter how you reinvented them down the road
That you can find solace in the idea that they existed at all-
That you know there were those people-
Places for you to reinvent-
A person you sat with into the wee hours of the night-
The water lapping up on your ankles when you walked along side each other
You remember the times you were cold- your coffee warming your palms-
The way you noticed someone you cared about pull their coat to their chin.
You weren’t healthy then- and these people and these places in your life weren’t always yours to keep-
But you’re thankful that they gave you empathy-
And that you have the choice to remember to appreciate them.
This weekend, you’re going to see someone-
And you’re scared.
They’re scared- even if they don’t say it-
Scared you’ll be uncomfortable-
Scared you’ll lose that fire you have-
Your ability to relate to others when you choose to.
The way you can adjust to places and feel accepted in a group of people you’ve just met
You do lose it-
You’ll lose it at some point this weekend too-
Lose it when you can’t get away from yourself.
But there’s a clarity in knowing it’s your choice-
And that you know more than you knew before.
Sometimes you want to be sick-
You miss it-
You want to remind yourself that it’s there-
To remind yourself that it exists.
That you’re not making it up-
Sometimes- just to feel normal
It’s a fine line-
And you don’t always know which side you’ll find yourself on-
Which one feels better.
But you do think you’re learning how to be with someone –
And it perplexes you-
To be with someone because of what the two of you could create-
And not because you believe they’ll help you escape yourself.
You’ve never been honest before-
And you’re not sure you’re always honest now.
But you will board a plane-
Knowing it’s true what rehab told you-
That you can’t love someone when you’re sick.
You’re beginning to understand it-
In the way that’s slow and evolving-
In a way that helps you-
You bought a bikini this week- you bought it.
And you wore it once- even though you ordered the bottoms one size too big.
You wore it to practice before you went.
So you can go on this trip- and meet this person’s family-
And you can talk to them without being preoccupied-
And so this person can sit there and not worry about whether or not you’ll eat when you’re feeling exposed.
You’re making the decision now- that you are going to be the healthiest version of you for this person-
Now only for them- but also, for you.
And you hope this person understands what that means.