Chaos takes many forms. Stress, pain, and trauma can envelop you. They chase you. They grow to become an overwhelming presence in your life. You want peace back. Hunting for a guardian within yourself to tame the chaos, you hear the whispers of anorexia. Her siren song is numbness. Protection from the chaos that transcends your strength. You grab onto it with all your might for survival.
Your relationship with anorexia will creep up on you slowly at first, changing what you think, one thought at a time, until you are a robot ready to obey its every command. The numbness you were promised is all encompassing, and there's no stopping its spread through your life. There is nowhere to hide. Anorexia will always find you. You will try to rid yourself of this demon, only to realize that you will never erase the marks it has left on your soul. Forever you will be branded from your fight with battle scars that will never heal. You will question what is real and what is just an illusion. Your idea of the world narrows and life seems at a standstill until death slaps you in the face. You’re oblivious. You’ve absorbed yourself into a world centered on your appearance. You have created a safe place where nothing else matters but the numbers on the scale. You have stepped into the looking glass.
At the time, you never considered the colossal consequences on the other side of this newly created world. Instead, riddled with self-doubt and an overwhelming sense of failure, you turn to your guardian: anorexia. From the outside it looks like safety, the distraction of discipline and self control. Rapidly it develops into a monster that gains power over you. You no longer have control over your own life; it controls you. Everything you do is centered on pleasing your eating disorder as if it were a person living inside your head. Nothing is ever good enough now. No amount of effort ever feels sufficient. Those first five pounds just weren’t enough, maybe ten pounds will be better, or fifteen. You feel as though you can always do better, achieve more, and weigh less.
Your days will be spent lying to your family and friends and with each lie, anorexia grows stronger. “I’m fine," you say so many times that you feel like a broken record. You can almost perceive the changes in your personality. You are slowly morphing into a person who will do whatever it takes to secure your newfound goal of emaciation. You are now a ruthless shell of a human that has no regard for the tears you are bringing to the eyes of the people that once meant the world to you. Now they are merely objects in your way. You are willing to lie, cheat, and steal because morality is no longer an issue. You have stripped it away in your hunt for embodied perfection.
The people around you say you just aren’t the person you used to be, yet they are praising you for the weight you have lost. This only furthers your obsession. You feel like an actress given the part of a normal person. It is becoming more challenging each day. You are making an exhausting effort to appear happy and healthy. You want your hard work to be noticed. Their praise fuels your focus.
You allow your days to be ruled by your rituals and rules. These new boundaries are your comfort, your distraction, and your identity. Yet you are tired of submitting yourself to this mindless torture. Inside, you are screaming for help. You feel yourself being pulled in two directions at the same time, but you are helpless to do anything about it. You are merely a spectator now.
When you are in public, you act as though nothing is different, as though life is the same as it always has been, but alone, your eating disorder spirals out of control. It is as if you are leading a double life. You spend hours in secretive exercise and dedicate any free moment to keep track of every calorie entering your body and determining how much you will allot yourself for the following day. You wonder if others see you as the disgusting pig you feel you really are. As you glance over into the mirror, scrutinizing yourself from head to toe, you wonder who is lying: the mirror or you.
“You’re getting too thin,” you start to hear. They must be lying because there is no such thing as ‘too thin’. They are just envious of your self control. You have filled your head with these ridiculous lies for so long you soon start fully believing in their accuracy. You feel as though you have become a different person. Everyone else has become the enemy. You isolate yourself because you are convinced that everyone else is crazy. They want to ruin the one thing that brings you happiness.
In attempts to satisfy the epic hunger that follows you everywhere, you submerge yourself in anything to do with food. You have this profound need to cook for anyone and everyone and then watch them enjoy what you will not allow yourself. The amount of food others eat at any one sitting now perplexes you. You almost want to laugh at them because they are under the delusion that food is necessary for their survival. If only they could feel the high you get from starvation.
Soon people’s reactions suddenly change from compliments to concern. They’re just jealous, you reassure yourself. Everyone is telling you that you look sick and asking what is wrong. You take this to mean you look fat because that is how your eating disorder has trained you. You start cutting back your food intake and upping your exercise in hopes that you will meet that magical number in your head. When you get to that number everything will be okay again, you tell yourself over and over.
You slowly move into a place where you are living your life with the sole intent of avoiding contact with food of any kind. You no longer see your family or friends because the chance of food coming up is terrifying. You have become the best damn liar as to why food never touches your lips. “I just ate,” “I’m not hungry,” “My stomach hurts.” People are so gullible it makes you snicker. It has become a game now.
At this point it is beyond hiding anymore and you are beyond trying, too. You have big black circles under your eyes, your hair is falling out, your fingers are blue from being so cold, you can’t stand up without blacking out, and people are noticing. Death is staring you in the face and you are laughing at it. You are testing the limits of your body’s ability to sustain life on the smallest amount of food necessary. It is as if you are standing on the edge of a cliff experimenting how close you can get before you plummet back to earth. In the back of your mind a part of you is crying out to be rescued from this private hell. You know that this is a fruitless search for happiness, as it is only rendering you a life filled with agony. Every ounce of strength you have left is slowly wasting away before your eyes. You have worked so hard to keep anorexia in your life that you don’t know if you have the courage to live without it. You wish someone would hold you and tell you everything will be okay but anorexia tells you to fall in line and stop complaining.
You feel trapped in your own skin. Have you gone crazy? You want more than anything to be normal again. It has been so long that you aren’t even sure what normal means anymore, or if it is something you could ever achieve. You can’t give up, not yet. How can they even ask you? Besides you only have ten more pounds to lose, then you’ll stop. You promise. You just need to hold on a bit longer.
Your ambivalence grows as the numbers fall. No one can make you eat. They can’t chew the food or make it go down your throat. It’s your body and you will do with it as you wish, regardless of outside forces pressuring you. This idea gives you the impression that you hold a superiority over everyone else in your life for the first time, which fills you with a false sense of power that is hard to walk away from. Everyone is finally paying attention to you. What you do is now seemingly worthy of their recognition. For once in your life people are worried about you and not vice versa. As much as you despise this illness, you relish that the spotlight is on you, and letting go could mean you lose this favorable admiration. You aren’t sure it’s worth the gamble.
There is a part of you that longs to go back to the way things were before this monster engulfed you. For you the world has simply stopped; as a matter of fact there is no world, just a wall lined with funhouse mirrors. Nothing means more to you than your illogical pursuit of thinness. Left, right; you don’t know where to go. You want to scream and cry but you can’t. You can’t even remember the last time you smiled without effort or laughed without consciously making yourself. The numbness you so desperately sought out is now suffocating you. You want it all to stop but it’s too late. This train is too powerful to derail.
Lying in bed at night, listening to the uneven rhythm of your weakened heart, you dream of the days you were happy. You want to return to the times when everything made sense and your struggles didn’t consume you. Why can’t you throw in the towel? Why can’t you stop? You want to let go, you really do, but fear chokes you. You remember that you are nothing without your eating disorder. It is no longer just a part of you. It now defines you. Relieving yourself of it would leave you empty and vulnerable. It is simply too much to risk. Anorexia is your safety.
This is no longer a disease to you, it is your life. It is woven into every fiber of your being. Every moment of every day is consumed with numbers and rituals. The numbers only grow smaller and the rituals more detailed. As you’ve come to learn, small is never small enough and thin must always be thinner. You are at war with yourself, struggling to love the person that stares back at you in the mirror. Your search for happiness from a scale is nothing more than looking for gold at the end of a rainbow. It isn’t there and it never will be, no matter how low the numbers fall. Logically you know this. You have always known this, but it doesn’t seem to hinder your obsession.
That guardian you reached out for to soothe your pain and calm your chaos has left you drowning alone. Everyone around you is begging you to just snap out of it. You wish it were as simple as that but this is so much more complicated than they could ever understand.
Tears stain your pale face as you think of everything that you are destroying and all of the people you love so dearly. The whole world seems to have given up on you. Your family and friends are tired of having to sit idly by and watch you disappear. You want to let go, if for no other reason than to make them happy, but you can’t. Why don’t they understand? You wish they could step inside your head, if only for a moment to hear what you hear. So they could feel the pressures mount against you day by day. Your own body has turned against you. How can you fight back?
You look at yourself in the mirror and the ghostly figure staring back at you is barely recognizable. For the first time you realize that you don’t know who you are or what you have turned into. You are being held captive inside your own mind. You used to have goals and aspirations of greatness. Anorexia has eroded your confidence, your health, and your identity. Now you wake up every morning hoping to avoid death for just one more day. What happened to the person you once were? Is she still buried deep within, or has she been lost forever?
You think of everything you have sacrificed and worked so hard for, all that you have lost, and what you have risked your life to obtain. You realize you have but one thing: you are thin. In the end, what good is it to you? You have nothing but your emaciated state to show for the years of dedication and sacrifice. It is in this moment you conceive the idea that thinness is insignificant compared to the loss you have suffered to achieve it. Your guardian destroyed you to save you. The solace you were promised never came.
You must pick up the pieces of yourself that remain and try to put your life back together. To rid yourself of this demon requires you to rediscover who you really are without its arms wrapped tightly around you. Stumbling towards the path to health, you will need to reclaim your voice and wash off the numbness that has cloaked you in safety.
When you find your path, each step will continue to be unsteady. Patience and grace for yourself during this process are required in abundance. You will fall. Over and over. Falling is an accident. With each fall will come a choice to stay down or to gather your strength and pull yourself up. Even if you find yourself all alone, as many of us often will, or you’re encircled by a cheering crowd of friends and family, your effort should remain the same. Rise up regardless of who’s extending a hand or attempting to kick you down. Never let either blind you from realizing your own strength. Nevertheless, it is still you that must plant both feet firmly back on the ground.
No matter how far you fall, recovery is possible. Dwelling in the illness is much easier than confronting and destroying your eating disorder, but this sickness is a coward’s way out of all the beautiful possibilities for your life. No one can make you recover. It is a choice you must find within yourself. People can help you along the way but in the end, it’s up to you to decide that you are worth saving.
You’re worth it.
Written by Vanna Winters