Sam's Story Anorexia Nervosa

Reflections on "Recovery" from Anorexia

If you are a girl or woman living in America, chances are you give some thought to your weight on a regular basis. You may be on yet another diet, a fixed plan of fat grams and protein units that deep down you believe is barely enough to feed a bird. And maybe this is true, but you desperately want just a few pounds of extraneous tissue dislodged from your bones. You say to yourself, I will be happy then. Not a chance. For as intelligent as you are, as impressive in work and in school, as loyal and responsible and kind to your fellow earthmates, you find happiness elusive, a shadowy figure that "other" people have, not you. You continue to peck and pick at smaller and smaller morsels, a measure of your self-control and dedication to the purity of non-needs in an isolative nirvana. You cling to your rituals, the safety valves turned tight against the tide of foodstuffs threatening to overwhelm your child-sized plate, the brick and stone walls built high enough to barricade against intruders.

At some point between minuscule rations justified only on the basis of possibly quieting the screaming going on in your head, and the pitiful hope of ever feeling physically warm again, the thought of recovery crosses your mind. Impossible, yet very real. Some will say recovery is about the maintenance of body weight for at least eight weeks, the return of menses, the gradual feeling returned to fingers and toes numbed from lack of blood circulation over time. Some will say recovery is about giving up calorie counting, the obsessive pull to the bathroom scale where the 100 pound mark has a red flag to warn you of the uncontrollable chaos that will surely take place if you are this "heavy". Some will say recovery is about re-integration into life; but virtually no one will know how to define this goal.

After all, as an anorectic, you haven't wanted to leave life. At some point, life left you. At some point, your punishment for failing to be need-less, at falling short of perfect control, at losing your way on the path to success, was death row in Anorexia Jail. Your lack of gratitude for clemency is really a symbol of your fear at the vast uncertainty that stretches in front of you, the unpredictability of relationships, the spontaneity of emotional highs and lows, and the realization that recovery from anorexia is like undoing knots triple-tied and triple-reinforced. As you slowly uncurl the knots, the rope, having been strained for so long, does not spring back to its former self.

Tired, but not broken, each day is now a borrowed speck in time - you have not planned for life beyond age 21. You have not made decisions for years beyond what can and cannot be on your breakfast table, what duration of starving you can endure. The anxiety of choices awaits you each morning, overpowering, yet mundane in an ironically ordinary way: what to wear, where to go, and WHAT TO EAT. Oh yes. Did it not occur to you that eating was part of recovery, that for the first time since you can remember, the goal of the day is to eat a combination of food resembling a meal; that pabulum -style foods you have come to depend on as safe, are actually tasteless examples of food manufacturing targeted to babies and the infantilism of adult women?

Although you have begun to look outside, for the most part you are still alone. There is the distinct absence of other people in your life who are not wearing hospital nametags, brandishing a timed meal tray. The idea of relationships of a personal nature instills an icy fear in your frozen heart that has not taken in another's warmth and love for years, for keeping something inside is symbolic of a fullness you have aggressively evicted from the gastric receptacle of your soul. You cannot imagine sharing life space with another who will "feed" you from within; who will not see the body you loathe, but the beauty you have gone to great lengths to waste. In your osteoporotic bones, you know your determination is your greatest strength and your most dangerous weapon in recovery. No one will have to work as hard as you do to find a balance between a life of lean limbo and a journey of mind/body peace.