Rules: The ideal meal is a healthy dose of anxiety, two glasses of ice water to numb both your tongue, and all the feelings you don’t know what to do with, running far enough that all your problems and half a pound are left behind, and crippling fear. If you don’t wake up in the morning unable to get out of bed because you faint each time you try, you’re doing it wrong Never eat more than once every two days because who needs more than that? People only make you eat if they know you don’t eat, so hide above rules. Follow these rules always. It won’t be hard, because breaking them is now impossible between the fear and regret. If you try to eat, your fork will be shaking so much with anxiety that nothing will stay on the tines anyhow.
Rules: Eat six meals a day. At the table, sleeves rolled up. Hands next to plate. Napkins out of lap. Fork in mouth. Food in stomach. No number talk. No food talk. No talk of why we are here. No tears. No anorexia at the table. You are anorexic. AnoreSICK.
I was sick. My life was governed by meaningless numbers that meant everything. By two sets of conflicting rules, neither of which I had a say in. The first set of rules was generously donated to me by my disease, and was impossible to disobey for four years of my life. The second set were thrown at me one by one inside the whitewashed hospital walls of treatment, as I broke each one.
I entered treatment when I became so full of self-hate, anxiety, antidepressants, and ice water that there was no room left for food in my stomach. Perhaps the biggest shock of the treatment world was how we were forbidden from talking about the very things that were feeding off of the starving of our soul, and our silence. Silence did not mean that there was a single person around the somber table who didn’t know that there were seventeen calories in the spoonful of ice cream shaking in my hand. Silence did not mean that we were forgetting about those seventeen calories. Silence gave the anorexia space to whisper sweet words into our longing ears. Words sweeter than any ice cream we could imagine. The intention of utter avoidance of all food talk was in hopes of us forgetting. Forgetting that while ice cream used to be carefree, lazy summer afternoons under the backyard oak tree filled with sticky smiles, it is now racing hearts and shaking hands and fear. I did not forget.
Not talking about food was putting a Band-Aid on the cut that needed stitches, and taking it off a month later to find the wound oozing, festering, and not remotely healed. I did not heal. I was fattened up, blown up like a balloon and sent back into the world to float up and up towards my dreams, but my dreams were downwards, so that is where I went. Went back to treatment somewhere new.
Here the walls were splatter painted with yellow and purple and hope, and we were encouraged to discuss our food and the feelings that came with it. Thus began the end of my anorexia. With talking came healing because I learned to let go. Let go of all the beliefs and thoughts; and the ice cream in my hand began to shake less, and become ice cream, not simply seventeen calories of fear. When I voiced a thought in the vault of my ever racing mind, it could be just that: a thought, not a fact. It took the power away. Starting to speak about the previously taboo subjects ended the stigmas in my own mind.
Returning to the real world where it isn’t normal to cry over ice cream, I realized that there still is stigma everywhere. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy, silence, and shame. They are a disease people hide behind closed bathroom doors and up sleeves with the scars, and food everyone thought got eaten. The stigma and stereotypes are real, but so is our power to change it. I am changing it. I am speaking about it.
A spoonful of ice cream will have seventeen calories regardless of whether I voice this fact. If I choose to admit this scares me, it takes the power away from the eating disorder, just as speaking about eating disorders brings the power back to us.
(New) Rules: Be not ashamed of your illness, but proud you are overcoming it. We were given words so that we could share. Choose to share today. Choose to share tomorrow. Choose to share until you are no longer ashamed, but proud to say that you are recovering.