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Starving Words MAG
Hello, Sabina, how are you?"
"How do you feel about yourself?'
"How is your home life going?"
"Do you have an eating disorder?"
"Are you lying to me?"
At this point I had been anorexic for over two and half years. Unlike most girls with eating disorders, I didn't become anorexic because I felt fat or insecure, but it grew into that. My eating disorder was born at a party in June when I had just turned 12. I came to the party with a bunch of friends and didn't even know the host, but a party without parents is great no matter who throws it. The music was loud and pumping through my veins as strobe lights flashed. I noticed a small group of skeletal girls hovering around the toilet in the bathroom with their fingers down their throats. Their bodies jerked up and down to a silent beat. I didn't know it at the time, but these girls would become my close friends.
These anorexic girls had their own clique, and were as close as sisters. I wanted to be a part of their family. We helped each other, making sure that no one gained weight and encouraging each other to continue. The problem was I fell even deeper and harder into my eating disorder than my friends, who soon begged me to stop. I became obsessed. I didn't know how disgustingly skinny I was until it was almost too late.
For me, anorexia was more than just a weight issue. It was an art. Skinny, starving models in magazines glowed in their ghastly presence and became my idols. I counted calories to make sure I never exceeded a certain number a day, and told myself as I worked out: "Jump up, down, higher. Run! Faster, faster. Lose those calories. You've gotta lose the weight. Look at yourself, you're a fat, gluttonous pig!" I would hide my food under the table or under the bed, and throw it out the window. Knowing that I was losing weight was amazing. The power I felt was incredible. I could fight the hunger pains and temptation. I had the will power. I had complete, total control.
"Are you lying to me?"
Here I was at the counselor's office, 30 pounds underweight, with the school psychologist trying to shrink my brain and the much-hated counselor standing next to her with her obese arms crossed like a railroad warning sign. Her tall, fat frame with short, blond hair and a protruding belly gave her masculine qualities. She was strict, mean and the only person unanimously detested by students. Mrs. A. was the complete opposite. She had long, brown hair and perfect, eager eyes to match. She wore a red dress and a sweet, sympathetic smile. I could see she was trying hard to get through to me.
Finally, she pulled out my bottle of diet pills. Before coming to the counselor's office, I had sprinted across campus, and ducked into a bathroom where I threw the bottle into a trash can and covered it with paper towels. I figured this was why I was summoned. Someone must have told Mrs. B. because I couldn't believe she had gone through every bathroom to find the pills. When the psychologist placed the pills in front of me, it was as if they had come back from hell to haunt me.
"Sabina, we're here today because two girls came to us," she started. "They told us you are abusing diet pills and have an eating disorder. Is this true?"
"Yes." I knew there was no way out.
"Why did you lie?" Mrs. A. continued.
I rummaged through my mind for another lie, but gave up. "I thought I was going to get in trouble. Who were the girls?" They brought in Shelly and Kara*, who were not my friends, only casual acquaintances. Shelly was a blond ditz with freckles; she was a flirt, manipulative and superficial. Kara was a lot nicer and better liked. Her pear-shaped body looked deeply sorry. My body started to shake with anger. I glared at them. The veins in my head felt like they were going to pop. I knew Shelly had done this to get attention, but Kara's reason was less superficial. A few days before, I had shown her the warnings and side effects on the bottle, so she told Mrs B. that the pills could cause liver and kidney problems and your heart to stop beating. Either way, I had trusted them. All my classmates knew I had an eating disorder. They saw my bizarre eating habits and had heard me mention anorexia, but they never squealed. My fellow anorexic friends warned me never to discuss it with anyone except anorexic girls, but I'd slipped, and now I was paying.
Shelly, Kara, Mrs. A. and Mrs. B. were trying to talk to me. They kept saying my name but my half-dead, eighth-grade body just curled into a fetal position on the uncomfortable chair. I was too angry to speak, too traumatized to pay attention. I was limp and shivering, despite the heat of that spring day. My eyes searched the room. The desk was so cluttered I couldn't even see its top. Pictures of Mrs. B.'s husband and family were scattered around. The walls were blindingly white, like a mental institution, and I was going crazy. Adjacent to the cabinet was a large window. I was aware that they were saying something, but I zoned out and stared out the window. By this time, my tears were falling. My body was dry-heaving and gasping for air.
The whole time they were talking, my mind begged, Please don't tell my mom. Please, oh please, don't tell my mom. It has been a lifetime's struggle to get my parents' approval and support, and this would make them furious. Through blurry eyes, I saw their lips moving, saying things like: "Sabina, we had to tell Mrs. B. because we care about you. Why did you do it? Is this about popularity? You have to talk to us!"
"Fine," I whispered and everyone hushed. "None of you knows what it's like to be me." I paused. "You think this is about popularity? You think that I don't know I'm anorexic? You're trying to tell me the facts? I have spent two years studying everything about anorexia. I spend my entire weekends reading books about girls with anorexia looking for secret tips. But you sit there with your incompetent brains and your pointless Ph.Ds trying to tell me how I feel. I know I'm starving. I know I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
"But there are so many things you don't know. You don't know what it's like to constantly be counting calories. You don't know what it's like to wake up every morning and feel so obese that you don't want to get out of bed.
"You don't know what it's like to have that voice inside your head always telling you You're fat, You're ugly, No one wants you. If you disappeared forever, no one would even care. You don't know what it's like to think about how many calories you're burning running, how many calories you're burning just thinking about how many calories you're burning. You don't know what it's like to be standing in your room, sobbing, with a knife in your hand ready to cut off all the fat from your body. I do. I know what it's like."
After my speech, everyone was stunned and silent for minutes that seemed like hours. I could hear the clock ticking until Mrs. B. said the one thing I had been dreading: "We have to call your mother."
I knew I would be in serious trouble. My parents are from India and pride is everything to them. They want to be "hush-hush" about problems. They wouldn't understand this. They would be enraged. My stomach twisted. Mrs. B. demanded that I speak to my mom because "it's a mother's right to know."
My mom screamed at me over the phone. "What did you do? What did you do? You're such a dumb kid. Your sisters never did anything like this. You're the only girl with problems. Look at all my friends - their kids don't have problems. You're a failure. I'll send you to India and teach you a lesson. You'll live there forever." She knew I hated India, so she used it as a punishment. My father just repeated over and over again like a broken record, "Are you happy now? Are you happy now?"
When the phone call was over, Mrs. B. made everyone else leave the room. There were no words for a long time. Finally, she leaned forward, her chapped lips coming so close that I could taste her breath, which smelled like turpentine.
"There is a little voice inside of you," she whispered. "Not the voice that drives you mad, but the voice that is your conscience. This voice always tells you the right answer and makes sure that you are true to yourself. You need to listen to it because it is never wrong. This voice may be just a whisper, but it will be the loudest thing you will ever hear."
Her words pierced me like a thousand bullets. I hadn't realized how much I had been denying myself a healthy life. The cage I locked myself in for two and half years opened and I realized that this art of anorexia was truly the art of self-destruction. I saw how badly I had treated myself and how I was slowly dying. The voice that Mrs. B. spoke about had been screaming at me that whole time, but I had always ignored it.
An eating disorder never goes away. It follows you like your shadow for a lifetime. I stopped being anorexic, but that doesn't mean I stopped thinking like one. Not counting calories is hard. To look in the mirror and not deconstruct myself is equally difficult. But it's not impossible to get better, and it's never too late to get help.
Mrs. B., the lady I hated most, was right about my conscience. It is the only thing that helps me fight the memories and the disease. Every time I start to fall apart and think about how fat or ugly I am, my conscience always builds me back up and shows me what makes me unique. So, every night, right before I shut my eyes, I hear the ticking clock and say good-night to the little, yet powerful, voice inside of me.
*Names have been changed