This is the very boring part of eating disorders, the aftermath. When you eat and hate that you eat. And yet of course you must eat. You don't really entertain the notion of going back. You, with some startling new level of clarity, realize that going back would be far worse than simply being as you are. This is obvious to anyone without an eating disorder. This is not always obvious to you.
When I was growing up, I always felt there was an expectation that I would do one of two things: be great at something, or go crazy and become a total failure. There is no middle ground where I come from, and I am only now beginning to get a sense that there is a middle ground at all.
I threw up again that night, half-afraid that my eyeballs would explode. But it was, by far, more important that I get rid of dinner. Of course, by then, throwing up was the only way I knew how to deal with fear. That paradox would begin to run my life: to know that what you are doing is hurting you, maybe killing you, and to be afraid of that fact--but to cling to the idea that this will save you, it will, in the end, make things okay.
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Hospitalizations in general are blurry. The days are the same, precisely the same. Nothing changes. Life melts down to a simple progression of meals. They become a way of life fairly quickly. You may welcome this transition. It may seem inevitable to you. You have been removed from the world. It is all right, in a way, because there is nothing so sure, so safe, as routine.
Madness will push you anywhere it wants. It never tells you where you're going, or why. It tells you it doesn't matter. It persuades you. It dangles something sparkly before you, shimmering like that water patch on the road up ahead. You will drive until you find it, the treasure, the thing you most desire. You will never find it. Madness may mock you so long you will die of the search. Or it will tire of you, turn its back, oblivious as you go flying. The car is beside you, smoking, belly-up, still spinning its wheels.
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I don't think people realize, when they're just getting started on an eating disorder or even when they're in the grip of one, that it is not something that you just "get over." For the vast majority of eating-disordered people, it is something that will haunt you for the rest of your life. You may change your behavior, change your beliefs about yourself and your body, give up that particular way of coping in the world. You may learn, as I have, that you would rather be a human than a human's thin shell. You may get well. But you never forget.
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In that six months, so much happened that death seemed, primarily, inconvenient. The trial period was extended. I seem to keep extending it. There are many things to do. There are books to write and naps to take. There are movies to see and scrambled eggs to eat. Life is essentially trivial. You either decide you will take the trite business of life and give yourself the option of doing something really cool, or you decide you will opt for the Grand Epic of eating disorders and dedicate your life to being seriously trivial.
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"¢ Eating disorders are addictions. You become addicted to a number of their effects. The two most basic and important: the pure adrenaline that kicks in when you're starving""you're high as a kite, sleepless, full of a frenetic, unstable energy""and the heightened intensity of experience that eating disorders initially induce. At first, everything tastes and smells intense, tactile experience is intense, your own drive and energy themselves are intense and focused. Your sense of power is very, very intense. You are not aware, however, that you are quickly becoming addicted.
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There was a time when I was unable to get out of bed because my body, its muscles eating themselves away, refused to sit up. There was a time when the lies rolled off my tongue with ease, when it was far more important to me to self-destruct than to admit I had a problem, let alone allow anyone to help.
The idea of my future simultaneously thrilled and terrified me, like standing at the lip of a very sheer cliff- I could fly, or fall. I didn't know how to fly, and I didn't want to fall. So I backed away from the cliff and went in search of something that had a clear, solid trajectory for me to follow, like hopscotch.
At times it may seem worse - harder, at least - to live through the despair of this loss without the temporary comfort of our addictive behaviour. We cannot drown our sorrows. We must face the fact that we don't know, really, where we are, how we got here, how long the pain will last, or how to move past it. That uncertainty may be the most painful part of not knowing a God: no one is there to reassure us that a God will take the pain and confusion away. We simply don't know. And we have no way to numb ourselves or to forget the condition we're in.
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In her presence, I was reminded again of why I was an anoretic: fear. Of my needs, for food, for sleep, for touch, for simple conversation, for human contact, for love. I was an anoretic because I was afraid of being human. Implicit in human contact is the exposure of the self, the interaction of the selves. The self I'd had, once upon a time, was too much. Now there was no self at all. I was a blank.
Soon madness has worn you down. It's easier to do what it says than argue. In this way, it takes over your mind. You no longer know where it ends and you begin. You believe anything it says. You do what it tells you, no matter how extreme or absurd. If it says you're worthless, you agree. You plead for it to stop. You promise to behave. You are on your knees before it, and it laughs.
There are a lot of times the heart burrows deeper, goes tunnelling into itself for reasons only the heart itself seems to know.They are times of isolation, of hibernation, sometimes of desolation. There is a bareness that spreads out over the interior landscape of the self, a bareness like tundra, with no sign of life in any direction, no sign of anything beneath the frozen crust of ground, no sign that spring ever intends to come again.
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At the lip of a cliff, I look out over Lake Superior, through the bare branches of birches and the snow-covered branches of aspens and pines. A hard wind blows snow up out of a cavern and over my face. I know this place, I know its seasons - I have hiked these mountains in the summer and walked these winding pathways in the explosion of colour that is a northern fall. And now, the temperature drops well below zero and the deadly cold lake rages below, I feel the stirrings of faith that here, in this place, in my heart, spring will come again. But first the winter must be waited out. And that waiting has worth.
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The idea began to sink in, more than it ever had, that I might be crazy, in the traditional sense of the word. That I might be, forever and ever amen, a Crazy Person. That's what we'd suspected all along, what I'd been working so hard to disprove, what might be true. I preferred, by far, being dead.
You know those afternoons, " he asks, drawing a shaking breath, "where you're just going along, doing fine, and then afternoon comes and it feels like you've just got the wind knocked out of you and everything is wrong?" He sighs and slowly pushes himself so he's sitting upright. His shoulders are slumped. "That's all, " he says. "It's just one of those afternoons." We are silent for a minute. Then he lies back down on the couch. I should say I love him. I should say it will be all right. But it won't. I walk down the hall to my bedroom. I lie down on my side and stare at the wall, the blue-flowered wallpaper next to my nose. Despite my best efforts, I start to cry. I know those afternoons.
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You cannot explain, with the limitations of language and inexperience, why your body can cause such a sudden, fumbling response in someone else, nor can you put into exact words what you feel about your body, explain the thrum it feels in proximity to another warm-skinned form. What you feel is a tangle of contradictions: power, pleasure, fear, shame, exultation, some strange wish to make noise. You cannot say how those things knit themselves together somewhere in the lower abdomen and pulse.
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My god! people say. You have so much self-control! And later: My god. You're so, so sick. When people say this, they turn their heads, you've won your little game. You have proven your thesis that no-body-loves-me-every-body-hates-me, guess-I'll-just-eat-worms. You get to sink back into your hospital bed, shrieking with righteous indignation. See? you get to say. I knew you'd give up on me. I knew you'd leave.
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Bear in mind, people with eating disorders tend to be both competitive and intelligent. We are incredibly perfectionistic. We often excel in school,athletics,artistic pursuits. We also tend to quit without warning. Refuse to go to school,drop out,quit jobs,leave lovers,move,lose all our money. We get sick of being impressive. Rather,we tire of having to seem impressive. As a rule,most of us never really believed we were any good in the first place.
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Crazy isn ´t always what they say it is. It ´s not always the old woman wearing sneakers and a skirt and a scarf, wandering around with a shopping cart, hollering at no one, nothing, tumbling through years in her head. No. Sometimes it is a girl wearing boots and jeans and a sweater, arms crossed in front of her, shivering, wandering through the streets at night, all night, murmuring to no one, nothing, tumbling through the strange unreal dimensions in her head.
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I have a type of bipolar that swings up and down all day long. There are significant mood swings within a day, within a week, within a month. I go through at least four major episodes a year. That's really the definition of bipolar rapid cycle. But I have ultra-rapid, so I have tiny little episodes all day long.
My relationships with both my mother and father are good. We spent several difficult years hashing over the problems and the past, and worked out a fairly solid middle ground. I wouldn't say my relationship with either of them - they're no longer together - is exactly typical, but that would be difficult after all we went through.
One really ought to be afraid of self-torture. But it tempted me. It begged. The dark place that my mind was fast becoming blends, in my memory, with the dark womb of church: the chant, the fugue of prayer, the strange erotic energy that carving a very small cross into my thigh with a nail had brought.
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When I returned, everything was different. Everything was calm, and I felt very clean. Everything was in order. Everything was as it should be. I had a secret. It was a guilty secret, certainly. But it was MY secret. I had something to hold on to. It was company. It kept me calm. It filled me up and emptied me out.
[I] learned ... that friends are a good source of food and soul when one has not yet gotten the hang of cooking or living (as opposed to dying) alone. That nothing-not booze, not love, not sex, not work, not moving from state to state-will make the past disappear. Only time and patience heal things. I learned that cutting up your arms in an attempt to make the pain move from inside to outside, from soul to skin, is futile. That death is a cop-out. I tried all of these things.
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I developed a deep, abiding fear of jeans, which I still have. I hold my breath and shut my eyes when I pull on a pair in the dressing room, afraid they will now, as then, get stuck at my hips and there I will stand, absurd, staring at the excess of hips that should, if I were a good person, be "žslim".
I do have faith. I don't have faith that a God exists, nor do I have faith that one does not; I have absolute faith that I do not know, cannot know, am only human, am an infinitesimal creature packed onto a cramped planet crowded with seven billion bodies, and as many yearning hearts, and as many questioning minds.
And so I am feeling numb. It's a curious feeling, and I get it all the time. My attention to the world around me disappears, and something starts to hum inside my head. Far off, voices try to bump up against me, but I repel them. My ears fill up with water and I focus on the humming in my head.
If I had been a different sort of person, maybe less impressionable, less intense, less fearful, less utterly dependent upon the perceptions of others - maybe then I would not have bought the cultural party line that thinness is the be-all and end-all of goals. Maybe if my family had not been in utter chaos most of the time, maybe if my parents were a little better at dealing with their own lives maybe if I'd gotten help sooner, or if I'd gotten different help, maybe if I didn't so fiercely cherish my secret, or if I were not such a good liar, or were not quite so empty inside... maybe.
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People with eating disorders tend to be very diametrical thinkers "" everything is the end of the world, everything rides on this one thing, and everyone tells you you're very dramatic, very intense, and they see it as an affectation, but it ´s actually just how you think. It really seems to you that the sky will fall if you are not personally holding it up. On the one hand, this is sheer arrogance; on the other hand, this is a very real fear. And it isn't that you ignore the potential repercussions of your actions. You don't think there are any. Because you are not even there.
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There is never a sudden revelation, a complete and tidy explanation for why it happened, or why it ends, or why or who you are. You want one and I want one, but there isn't one. It comes in bits and pieces, and you stitch them together wherever they fit, and when you are done you hold yourself up, and still there are holes and you are a rag doll, invented, imperfect. And yet you are all that you have, so you must be enough. There is no other way.
You never come back, not all the way. Always there is an odd distance between you and the people you love and the people you meet, a barrier thin as the glass of a mirror, you never come all the way out of the mirror; you stand, for the rest of your life, with one foot in this world and no one in another, where everything is upside down and backward and sad.
I do not remember very many things from the inside out. I do not remember what it felt like to touch things, or how bathwater traveled over my skin. I did not like to be touched, but it was a strange dislike. I did not like to be touched because I craved it too much. I wanted to be held very tight so I would not break. Even now, when people lean down to touch me, or hug me, or put a hand on my shoulder, I hold my breath. I turn my face. I want to cry.
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Recovery isn't easy, at first. It takes time. It takes more work, sometimes, than you think you're willing to do. But it is worth every hard day, every tear, every terrified moment. It's worth it, because the trade-off is this: you let go of your eating disorder, and you get back your life.
I have not lost my fascination with death. I have not become a noticeably less intense person. I have not, nor will I ever, completely lose the longing for that something, that thing that I believe will fill an emptiness inside me. I do believe that the emptiness was made greater by the things that I did to myself.
Madness is not what it seems. Time stops. All my life I've been obsessed with time, its motion and velocity, the way it works you over, the way it rushes you onward, a pebble turning in a brook. I've always been obsessed with where I'd go, and what I'd do, and how I would live. I've always harbored a desperate hope that I would make something of myself. Not then. Time stopped seeming so much like the thing that would transform me into something worthwhile and began to be inseparable from death. I spent my time merely waiting.
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All of us carry around countless bags of dusty old knickknacks dated from childhood: collected resentments, long list of wounds of greater or lesser significance, glorified memories, absolute certainties that later turn out to be wrong. Humans are emotional pack rats. These bags define us.
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