Posting this today, I realized I have not written here in several months. The time has been spent well- new friends, exciting days, dreams of college and being well enough to return to “normal” life again soon. The following prose is the essay I wrote for my college entrance applications. While I received some rejections, I was honest on my applications that my background included an eating disorder and am proud of that decision because my recovery is a big part of who I am today… strong, determined, beautiful. The decision to disclose this illness and my struggle to recover from it also won me many acceptances and next fall, I will be returning to college life. A Fresh Start. May this piece inspire you. May you know that true recovery is possible after an eating disorder. That life can be so very sweet beyond its grips…
The lights go down and the stage darkens. Rustling sounds continue as people adjust to the sudden blackness and settle into the folding, creaky auditorium seats. For a brief moment, I get a surge of the old nervousness, like a swift, roiling wave of nausea in my stomach, but it quickly recedes with a deep rise of my chest. I know how to handle this. It will all be okay. Carefully, I let the breath go and bravely reach once again for a fork.
Sitting in the cool, dingy backroom of the Hideout Café, Wade and I devour mounds of waffles, because after all this is Wafflefest- an annual Austin pairing of an epic waffle bar with all the fixin’s and two hours of non-stop improv comedy. While standing impatiently in line, the two of us playfully hide our Styrofoam plates from each other, piling them high with peanut butter, m&m’s, coconut shreds, rainbow sprinkles, thick whipped cream, and of course, sticky sweet maple syrup, silently competing to see whose creation will be the most outrageous. Later, our bodies shake uncontrollably in laughter and because our blood glucose levels are soaring to near record highs.
In the amber, translucent pools of syrup gathering in my yeasty square indentations, though, I catch a more serious reflection of how far I’ve come. A year ago, the phobia of calories, fat grams, and sugar contents would have kept me from the real sweetness of the night– the laughter and friendship.
Growing up, my house was filled with inescapable anger. Rage, aggression, tension and hostility oozed from the baseboards and seeped out of the walls, drenching me in a sweaty dread of the next irate eruption. Silent terror, anguish, shame, and a slow anger swirled and tugged at the masks I had created for the outside world: all-A student, confident young woman, committed athlete, dedicated volunteer. The perfect daughter from the perfect family. My emotions threatened to betray me, exposing the lie I was living. So I projected the overwhelming feelings onto food: I fasted of fear, starved away the sadness, binged back the tears, heaved up the humiliation. While I couldn’t change what lurked within my house, my weight and food became problems I could “fix,” and their solutions easily defined. The answer lay in every sharp hunger pang, every half digested dinner I fed the toilet instead of myself, every shaky mile run on thin, bruised feet.
But anorexia meant so much more. It was clumps of red hair on the shower floor, cracking skin, and shivering in the Texas heat. It was electrolyte imbalances, an irregular heartbeat, and shallow breaths. A nose-diving blood pressure, blackouts upon standing, and bones to rival a 60-year-old woman. Anorexia was buying Kotex for nothing, sleeping without the guarantee of tomorrow morning’s alarm, and worst of all¾watching hopelessness etch itself upon the faces I loved because in starving myself to death, I was slowly killing them as well.
The anorexia hijacked my mind so that the line between my thoughts and that of the disorder’s became imperceptible. If you aren’t I am not thin, you are I am worthless. No matter what went wrong, the disorder soothed me with its quiet murmur. Thin will fix this. And I believed it for years because I didn’t trust everything would be okay if I didn’t. On a lonely December night last year, though, my body ached from malnutrition and the specialist had told me weeks before I could go into cardio arrest at any time. With tears streaming down my face, I sobbed, “I can’t do this anymore… there has to be more to life than this. I am not done living yet. I haven’t even started living yet.” I heard the deceptive, sinister whisper like always. Shh…Thin will fix this.You can’t “recover.” But I was exhausted, drained, and tired of subsisting solely on the lies it fed me. I finally realized “thin” was not making me “happy” and from deep within my frail frame, my soul softly snarled. Watch me.
The process of recovery following that pivotal night was painstaking; I had to grapple with my worst fear three times a day, everyday. The eating disorder was relentless, taunting me as I tried to pry its sickly, iron, parasitic grip away from my mind and body. Look how fat you’re getting. You can’t do this… Oh yeah? Watch me.
And over and over again, for many months, my persistence and strength have slowly beat back the disorder so that today I eat waffles without worry. And whenever I feel a hot, repulsive breath close to my ear waiting to tell me I can’t, that I must be thin and perfect, I always whisper back. Just watch me.
As the lights fade again to signal the end of the show, I smile despite the fact I will wear Eau de Aunt Jemima for the next three days. By now, syrup stains my jeans, plasters the ends of my hair and clings beneath my fingernails. “Oh, well,” I think, “It was worth it. I wouldn’t trade this night for anything. Not pristine palms, not predictability or perfection, and certainly not thinner thighs. ” I’ve discovered this is life… wildly unpredictable, oftentimes messy and, yes, usually sticky.
But, also… sweeter than I could have ever imagined.