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Fighting With the Beast
I swung my leg up the last stair to my apartment. My mouth burned as I coughed and huffed. I held back tears as the taste of steel seeped through my teeth. Would my father stop me at the door, question me about why I got back so late, and tell me I looked sick? My throat tightened with the force of a prong collar, a reminder that I am the only one to blame for my suffering. Just make it through the door. Just get to your room. Don’t stop and think at all. I could barely wrap my hand around the door handle, let alone grapple with my keys. Even if he’s there you can’t stop to talk. You don’t want him to ask questions. Do you want him to know? I thrust my keys into the slot and turned the handle.
I walked into the kitchen, my legs disobeying every previous command. Why? No. Stop.
“Dad?” I expected a response but was left alone with the noiseless chatter of my spotty vision. If he was home, he would have said something by now, right? There were apples on the counter in the kitchen. Nearly frothing at the mouth I reach for one. No self-control at all. Despite the rigorous training to resist these temptations, I break free from my leash. Euthanize me. I ravenously tear through the surface of the illicit treat. Euthanize me. My body is engulfed in a wave of euphoria as the world around me crashes. I hope he doesn’t find me like this.
Could anyone have predicted it would get this bad? Did anyone see the warning signs? I did not think it was uncommon for fourteen-year-old girls to feel the way I did. It was normal. There were no reasons for me to stop, as this had to be a universal experience.
I had known the term for a long time. It could not have applied to me though. I was different; I was not allowed to “suffer.” “Suffering” from a condition was alien to me. This is just the way it was. People have behavioral issues. Just like dogs, they can be trained out of them. My issues were different though--I had trained myself into them.
Aggression. Anxiety. Those were issues. Were they even comparable to mine?
Discipline. Control. These were skills. At least, I considered them to be.
Most people think eating disorders are just about body issues. Most people have only been shown the surface level of this disease. It is reduced to a meaningless bout of narcissism. If that were the case, it would be an easy fix. Some people are lucky and escape with just the wounds of self-loathing, a brief bite, if you will. Others are chewed up and swallowed, mangled beyond recognition. These people, who I have been at both points, suffer. Body issues are a large part of every eating disorder. I have felt shame towards my own body just as many have. But at one point, that shame turned into an intense need to “take control” of my life. I was spiraling. I thought I would save myself by forcefully managing every aspect of my life. Food was the easiest aspect of my daily life to regulate. I would push the physical limits of my body so that I could find the perfect balance of restraint without harm. This routine of training felt perfect. It was a way to punish myself while feeling accomplished. The only times I would allow myself to eat were when I held full authority over every bite, every ingredient, every calorie. Even when my body appeared to be in my control, it was not enough. I did not care that I was underweight or that I was slowly killing myself. If I gave myself any slack at all, the next day would be twice as harsh. This vicious cycle seemed like it would never end.
The constant pain of everyday life is amplified when someone else finds out. I hid away for two years. I lied to everyone constantly. I always felt sick and exhausted. But none of that pain mattered. The first person I told was my boyfriend, who I had only been dating for two months at the time. He seemed not to be disgusted, but instead fearful. When I broke down to him about the issues, he asked how to help. I thought I was beyond saving. Every time I saw him after this incident, he would make me eat dinner with his family. I could see how painful it was for him to watch me eat almost nothing off my plate. Before he knew, I doubt it had ever even crossed his mind. It was not that he had refused to care before; it wasn’t that he was blind to my habits; he just didn’t have any exposure to these topics. I didn’t want him to think of me as sick or weak. The sick dogs get put down.
Even as my health declined, I continued to play sports. I participated in tennis and wrestling. Sometimes I would even go hiking. In these moments, I was at peace. There were days when I couldn’t maintain this activity level, though, and those days became frequent. Every tennis practice I would have to leave early out of fear of fainting on the court. When I conditioned for the wrestling season, I worked myself until I threw up and the coaches would have to send me home. I was well under a healthy weight for my natural body at this point, and the only way to sustain myself for sports was to drink as much water and caffeine as possible.
When you desensitize yourself to the feelings of hunger and pain, you don’t even recognize that they are there anymore. You eventually feel like you are not yourself. I felt inhuman. I still do not know how I ever got better. I think one day it just kicked in that I was going to die.
I am almost eighteen. It’s been almost four years since I realized I had a problem. To me, the mindset hasn’t gone away. I still have the compulsive need for control, but now I execute it in other ways. I no longer feel rabid, but I do not know if I will ever feel comfortable without my restraints.