Heather's Story Anorexia Nervosa Berkeley, CA

we have ended many lives, but never really died.... some respond to chaos with a run. seeing the flames burning, children run into another life, into drugs, boyfriends, friends, anything but the chaos of their own home. but i did not run, i did not know how. i stood inside the house, and watched the flames burn. life is chaos, but i have always been good at order. i have calmed chaos into my secret. and with a smiling face for the world around me, i became the one who disappeared from the pages of the family photo book. looking back now, it exists only in black and white images. i dream of my childhood past and it is in muted voices, empty words. sound would be too much, it seems, to disturb the quiet order. the explosions started slow, and then grew...until we learned to live with them. my sister and i watched the movie of ourselves, and never believed a word of it. it is only now, looking back, that we detect the scars and burns. but this is normal for us. it is a part of us and it will never go away. for my sister and i, normal will always be finding our mother passed out on the floor and calling 911. normal will be overdoes pills or empty vodka bottles hidden in the trash. it will be a father calling from far away, a father hiding only to protect himself. it will be a terrible sense of abandonment, and a frightening sense of survival. it will be all this, and more. hospitals and DUIs, lies to friends and shameful secrets. broken bottles, wrecked cars, paramedics. and it will be playing numb in frozen feelings, hiding life in a subtle haze. all of this normal, and the slow, silent, acceptance of a house going down in flames. so the flames have always been, it was not the flames which began my storm. it was rather the slow kindling, the vacant ashes, that turned my order into storm. people ask me, how did your eating disorder start-- as if there was some startling moment setting my world to fire. but it was not the flames, it was the wind. the distant wind that caught me silently, turning order into fire. and only with the wind, did i begin to burn. this is what others do not understand: boyfriends, fathers, textbooks. the version they chose is the one that hides secrets, the one that shovels everything into order once again. they do not understand that danger can lie in peacefulness and fire in quietness. my family did not die, or turn themselves into ghosts. but rather it was i who played dead for them, and did it so well. death is not always what it would seem: it can be the girl silent and calm throughout the waves, the daughter you never had to ship off to the psychiatrist like all the rest. it can be the girl with muted voice and wondering eyes, seeing but never feeling anything before her. and it can be the girl complacent and removed, the one persisting "yes i am fine, just let me go off to college." and this was my exit, i took a bow, and set out for my own fire to begin. ironic, that escaping is where my destruction begins. destruction, in this case, seems such a bland tale: elementary, simplistic, and second nature. 18 and back home from my first year at college, i had a clear vision of what was to come. there would be no dinner for me that night, and life would never be the same. destruction had never seemed so clear,it comes to self destruction, everyone has their chosen ways. and so mine was what i knew best: the quiet fire and hidden flames. slow dying, with no surprise and no alarm. with dignity and class, i decided i was different from all the rest. i could be in control. a new power, a new game. or at least it seemed at first. i had a new purpose and a new goal, a way of redefining the world. everything else faded into the distance. like a drug, starvation alters reality, and like an addiction, you keep needing it more and more. nothing is as it was before, and everything shifts to extreme images: sharp lines and tight angles, just like your body. the mind is extreme as well, confined in narrow thoughts and solitary elements. a black and white world, easy to control: food, calories, body, survival. these are the things that matter, and nothing more. there is a common misperception that anorexia is the normal female experience gone terribly awry. yet it is not so simple, and not as sensible as we would like it to be. it is not just watch me turn into kate moss, they're sure to like me now. the slender body is a symbol, but it speaks to much more than beauty alone. the connection between the disease and appearance is really only a short rope, and only gets you so far as a crack to the surface. what lies beneath are the things we don't like to see: the daily experiences of being a woman, the feeling of being a body, the knowledge of losing control. the terrible dangers, we try to hide. and people find this hard to understand, that something so visual is really so personal and self annihilating. it has nothing to do with the world outside, and everything to do with what is felt inside. its a private symbol, that only you understand. power all your own, control on your own terms. there is a candy coated side of me that would like to believe all the myths: that everything i did, i did for approval and acceptance of the ones around me. for attention, and validation someone cared. but it was never so simple. perhaps true, yet twisted through so much more: it was the death instinct i was acting on, and the irreality of myself. i could shrink, because nothing in the world could matter. anorexia is not a pretty picture, and not the picture we like to see. there is no smiling girl, trying too hard to please. it is pounds dropping and never caring, secret hungers and scary thought, the horror of your own face in the mirror and bones in tight angles, and all the while, chose to simply not care. you do not care, because this is what you want. this is life as destruction, and it is your passion. i didn't get better quickly, and i'm not quite sure where the end begins. i am somewhere else now, i don't know how to use food and weight and the body to manipulate my feelings anymore. but it took me a long time to get here. people didn't notice right away, and i languished on my own for a while, feeling both incompetent and triumphant because no one cared. i had the perfect defense built up around me, with good grades (getting higher with every less bite), no complaints, a quiet tendency. perhaps people saw me run off to the gym once too much, or the meager frozen yogurt that repeatedly ended up on my tray as dinner, but finally someone pulled the whistle. at the end of my rope, physically, the school threatened to have me sent home. they took away all the validity and control i had in thinking i could survive. it was an awful, terrible mess, and mid junior year of college, the absent father flew out to take me home. i went home, and i met up with my ghosts and fears. i began to see colors again. i put a little more on my plate, and then took it off again, worked everything out furiously in the morning trip to the gym. i played around with this for a while, and tested the boundaries of my ritualistic habits. i went into therapy. and i got better. not from any one possible ut from the slow process. you have to get worse to get better, at least, in the sense that you have to feel things. nothing is more scary to the anorectic.