You will soon realize that this post has very little to do with Valentine’s Day, but it has so much to do with my story. Y’all know I am a HUGE advocate for body positivity and eating disorder awareness. I have shared my story before (here) but not like this. I recovered from my 5-year battle with bulimia shortly after my fourteenth birthday and a year after that, I took my old journal entries from that time and started writing my story in the hope of one day publishing a book. In 25 pages, I shared detailed accounts of some of the most important days for my recovery between me and my computer. The following is a never-before-seen account of my favorite Valentine’s Day, written seven years ago or so.
I tried to look like myself, my old self anyway. Looking in the mirror, I see the prominent strawberry scars on my right wrist and that even more prominent hospital bracelet on my left wrist. I could cut it off (if I had a sharp object) or I could just slide it off my frail hand. “Leave it,” interrupts Ed, “maybe you could use it to speak for you.” I straightened my hair, put on some mascara, and grabbed a tank top from my as yet unpacked suitcase.
The phrase, “Human Interaction” crept inside my mind. These words literally repeat over and over as I scoured my closet for the perfect combination of shirt (long sleeved) to pant to shoe to some sort of accessory. I wanted desperately to wear one of my girly dresses or white skinny jeans, but I still haven’t shaved my legs and my size 27 jeans no longer fit. If only I could continue wearing on of my many pajama sets from that suitcase. I am left with some black stretch pants and my brother’s unisex pullover. Remembering the curiosity of my eighth grade class, I say to myself, “you have to talk to people today. Things will be different.” I wondered if these were the words of Ed, but I am still not sure.
The date was February 14, 2011. It was my first day back at school and my first day as a changed person. Everyone else called it Valentine’s Day or simply Monday; in my view, this was my first day of life. My small, nurturing hospital in Pennsylvania, had shaped me into a new, healthy person and had discharged me back into society.
The time was 7:00 a.m., so I was not actually late, yet. I still had to eat breakfast and that tended to take forever. My sister gently urged me to hurry up, but I moved as though she never said anything. “Human Interaction” continues, reminding me that I will have to learn to not be completely awkward with everyone. My thoughts and feelings were overwhelming. I finally headed downstairs with my book bag and unsatisfactory outfit. Then, I eat. And I EAT! My buttered toast and protein shake had hardly any taste, yet I could sense every bite-full as though each one was a small Lego block that traveled down my esophagus and sat in my stomach for hours.
When I arrived at school, I was greeted very warmly by some of my closest friends. Amanda, whom I had not seen for weeks, nearly toppled me to the ground with her excitement. As a Valentine’s Day gift, she gave me a watermelon flavored MEGA balm chap stick with a note that read, “I wasn’t sure if I should give you food.” I smiled at her thoughtfulness. The bell rang as we hugged good-bye saying, “see you later”. My teachers were unaware of my return. One algebra tutor’s brief expression of surprise at seeing me was one of the only standouts among my poker-faced teachers.
My first lunch: I sat with a trusted mentor to eat my special home-prepared meal. She listened to my ramblings about the rules and quirks of my recent ordeal. I ate very slowly; no matter how hard I tried I was never able to eat my meals in a timely fashion. As the next lunch piled into the refectory, I remained seated, awkwardly finishing my yogurt. I am grateful to those close friends who were able to care for me and handle my issues during those critical first weeks. Their amazing help outweighed literally any lack of acceptance from those who did not understand what happened. I also contrast their help to the horror stories of treatment in which patients were completely abandoned by their friends and families.
“Human Interaction” played again as I prepared to explain my situation. I was surprised that so few classmates had outwardly inquired about my absence. When one would prompt me with, “where were you?” instinct suggested a dismissive answer. However, I responded in detail: ‘I went to treatment, rehab, a mental hospital, for my eating disorder.” I loved sharing my story and I loved honesty though it was very new to me. I quickly learned that they expected lies, diversions, and cover-ups, and as they were surprised by my honesty, I was surprised by their understanding and respect.
My friends were cautious. They exhibited gentile attitudes as we spoke in hushed tones. They would whisper, “How are you?” and I would answer in the same way, “I’m ok, I’m a little overwhelmed”. I could not decide whether or not I appreciated this habit; sometimes I would humorously want to say, “Why are we whispering?” as though this was some cliché movie moment. However, I hardly spoke above these decibels for weeks after I got out.
That day marked a significant point in my recovery. I faced a new challenge and took it on without my fear.
I cut myself at about eleven o’clock that night. My mother and I had gotten into a fight that evening over something completely unimportant. My OCD created for me this insane void and I began to feel, as usual, unable to express myself. It was not her fault; I hardly know how I ended up taking a razor blade to my side. I only made one, shallow cut on a part of my hip hidden by my bikini style underwear, but I immediately felt a heavy guilt come over me. This action definitely did not fill that void. That moment, in fact, was probably the most crucial moment in my recovery. I re-learned two important topics from treatment. First, I learned in more detail that I could not use my behaviors to solve my problems; I learned that these behaviors instead created greater problems for me. Second, I learned that everyone makes mistakes. How cliché! At the hospital we used this statement as a reason to not hurt ourselves and to not feel worthless when we do not succeed. Yet this was different; this was learning that sometimes part of recovery is making mistakes and failing. What is important is that we get back up after we fall and we move forward.
Mom was unaware regarding all of this. Moments after this happened she came into my room to say she was sorry about our argument. Now I know how cruel irony can be. I never told anyone in my support system about that night though I should have. I unfortunately was afraid of losing their trust and support if they knew that I was off the road to recovery. I did eventually let my therapist know and I was still on that road. Additionally, I was afraid that if I dwelled on that incident that I would end up back in this terrible pattern 3 DAYS AFTER LEAVING TREATMENT. In looking back, I have defiantly realized that I should have been honest about this part of my story and I should have not let my fear get in my way.
Next, I focused on the tomorrow and only the tomorrow. Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity for greatness and recovery.
Thank you all for reading. I am excited to slowly release this very raw content, especially as this story is one of my main motivators in starting this blog! Now onto something very important: the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is coming up starting February 24th. This year, the theme is “come as you are,” and I hope this message encourages you, no matter your perspective or situation, to educate yourself on the presence and unfortunate prevalence of eating disorders in our culture. If you need help, please visit the NEDA site for resources.