Brake and Admit

July 26, 2009
By Ashley Tanberg BRONZE, Apple Valley, Minnesota
Ashley Tanberg BRONZE, Apple Valley, Minnesota
2 articles 0 photos 1 comment

I press my freckled nose against the glass that divides the outside world from myself as our van teeters towards home from the clinic. I am a slave to the motions created by turns of the steering wheel, and the battered engine creates an incessant squeaking similar to that of my untried tennis shoes, yet puncturing my ears and gagging even the deepest corners of my brain. My stomach slithers upward along my vertebrae just beneath my throat. Habitual feelings of being fenced within a field of folly emerge as panic begins to surface.

I am emotionally trapped within my illness, and I am physically inhibited as well. Waves of separation anxiety interrupt all modes of contact between my family, the world, and myself. Tension and worried thoughts reside inside my body, rallying within my soul to create the perfect bomb.

Just when I feel as if I'm going to explode, I come back down as my mother nearly guides us straight into the back of the car leading ours. The abrupt stop astounds me, removing me from my anxious thoughts. My mind cleverly espies into my past.

I'm greeted by a time when I wasn't plagued with perfectionism, when my frizzy, elementary school braids laid in disarray on my head as each accumulated and necessary ounce of muscle pedaled me on my way. I smile, remembering this as my first taste of freedom. This was my life without training wheels. I could ride and ride with nothing but my weight to support me. I felt in control. Nothing could stop me, because with a flick of the wrist I could just shift gears. I'd pedal with such intensity that poor Fate became winded, and Destiny had given up by the time I braked.

Braking on my bike was never an issue for me, and I always knew that I could always stop. While hunched over the toilet, pressing scarred finger tips against the back of my swollen throat, I would tell myself the same thing: “Ashley, you can always stop if you want to.”

Reflecting, I always knew what I was doing to myself, but, mentally, I couldn't stop. My disease, bulimia nervosa, became the haunting specter of my synthetic instinct. In other words, it wasn't really there, but it was there. Similarly, I became an apparition of what I once was: I was there, but I wasn't really there.

Eating disorders are quite unlike the spectrum of places between black and white: I either have one or I don't. Those who have one find themselves here. Here is a scary place. Here, she has lost all trust with her family, friends, and teachers. Here, an unwelcome visitor raids her kitchen, finding food to sink it’s decayed teeth into. Here, there's a lack of eye contact after bathroom visits when she returns with swollen, chipmunk cheeks. Here, she wears a neon orange "high falls-risk" bracelet because the nurses at an inpatient care center fear that her dwindling electrolytes and abnormally low heart rate won't get her through the night. Here is a place where she misses the reliable nurturance of her training wheels. Here is a place where she is afraid of dying. She is afraid because she knows she will die if she cannot find self-control.

I press my freckled nose against the little division between the outside world and myself. My stomach slithers upward along my vertebrae just beneath my throat. I want to turn around and stagger home alone. Unfortunately, home is where bulimia awaits me like a fraudulent household pet ready to rise against her master. Dressed disguisedly as a toy poodle, bulimia rests her deceitful head at the edge of my kitchen. She's always going to be hungry for my hand to naively stretch toward her drooling mouth.

From here, a scary place, the only option guaranteeing my survival is to unite my childhood and adulthood, and let them dance around the four tacit years of deadly transition in between the two. I remember my childhood without bulimia, when I would sneak out of my room in the middle of the night to fix myself in the space between my mother's soft stomach and tender arms. Laughter would erupt when my mother would ask me to tell her a story, and I would flabbergast her with hilarious tales of a ten year old. My future will see the return of laughter, and the space between my mother’s arms will, once again, be filled.

So, I choose to neglect the monster that wishes to consume me. I give bulimia a taste of her own medicine. I starve and punish bulimia in the same way she punished me: with lies, pain, and humiliation. Now I don't feel as separated from the world, and I am surprisingly content. My mother and I drive together to a new place, and the familiar teetering has steadied enough to keep me collected. A brief moment of silence transpires, which then cues the final stretch of my journey.

My mother hurriedly pulls into the parking lot in front of the Melrose Institute for Eating Disorders. The wheels come to a halt, and I remove myself from my seat. Looking up at the glass building from below, I feel relieved. Here I will return to the reliable nurturance of training wheels. Here is where I want to be adopted by inviting arms and tickling kisses of loved ones. Now is when I want to tell my mom that everything is all right, and that there will always be bumps in the road. Most importantly, now is the time that I declare my truth: I'm seventeen years old, recovering from an eating disorder, and am brought back to childhood, knowing that my training wheels have returned once again and are guided by my own invincible courage.

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