by Lauren Elizabeth
Today marks my first day of freedom from eating disorder treatment after a grueling year of progress, defeat, and perpetual recidivism.
It is a bittersweet occasion to be out of intensive treatment, to be liberated from the place where I was fostered back to health, nurtured into coherence, and resurrected from the depths of an insurmountable depression fueled by the harrowing, insidious venom of an eating disorder. After one year spent living in Harvard Square, plucked from the womb of my suburban home like some kind of caesarean, implanted in the veins of the city, and being forced to confront the toxic comforts of restriction and purging, there are a plethora of facets to these past twelve months I feel I must reflect upon. I arrived at a facility last February, despairing and in a broken condition, suffering from anorexia nervosa, failing profoundly in the realms of health and spirit. I was dejected, numbed, and disconnected from being in a state of prolonged malnutrition, succumbing to the foggy vacuousness of an induced cognitive dissonance, my mind in a nebulous state of static. I presumed that my stay in residential would be hasty and brief as my previous stay there nearly a decade ago had been. I sought only to restore weight, goading for early release in order to hurriedly return to work to satiate my constant hunger for avoidance through career. “Just get me out by Easter,” I pressed them, unaware that Easter would be one of a multitude of holidays spent in the shelter of treatment, one fractured fragment of so many seasons burned and lost in the innards of inner Boston, eating and praying for some semblance of salvation.
My illness had escalated to a place where my health and wellbeing were compromised.
Life was put on hold, temporarily. I adjusted to the program reluctantly, vacillating between calmness and the irrefutable urge to flee from what I deemed to be an insurmountable disorder to subdue. But I did the work. I ate the meals. I endured the physical discomfort of refeeding, the gastrointestinal hell of returning to nutrition after a period of deprivation. I sat with the panic rising in my chest, sedating my omnipresent willfulness and putting aside my pride in order to return to a place of health. The relinquishing of control is utter torture, consigning one’s autonomy over and learning to trust in those charged to our care when the very mentality of the eating disorder thrives in solitude, isolation, and insular privacy. It is a loss of control in order to regain it, a forfeiting in order to exceed. After all, how does one let go of that which is holding on to them? My first stint in treatment passed uneventfully. I left still clinging to some residual ambivalence, a slight sour melancholy of indecisiveness regarding my capacity or willingness to maintain this newfound weight, this repulsive body starkly contrasting my former emaciation. I believed, in my disordered mentality, that I could eat intuitively, that I could maintain where my eating disorder felt it would be most appropriate. While in partial, this plan backfired. The moderate restriction quickly progressed into my former habits of starvation and I returned to residential again shortly after being discharged, embittered and sullen upon my admission. Like most sufferers, I convinced myself that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was perfectly adroit and everyone around me was acting impulsively by relegating me back to a higher level of care.
This stay, however, proved to be the most life altering, the most profoundly beneficial while simultaneously and inexplicably grueling. I had fallen into such a state of avoidance with self destructive and maladaptive behaviors that I often neglected the fact that my issues stemmed from being assaulted nearly a decade ago, burying the catalyst beneath the layers of unapproachable disorder and constant chaos in an effort to block out the immense pain, loss, and humiliation that came coupled with the assault. But this time, the splinter of trauma was harvested, plucked out in the form of a detailed narrative which I read to my mom in spite of its intrinsic emotionality. While my dissociation and flashbacks worsened around this period, the exhalation of relief and salvation that came with the disclosure eased some of my eating disorder symptoms. Reading my narrative was the most difficult task I have ever done, and probably the most difficult task I will ever complete in my lifetime, but it was worth the intense anxiety and turmoil, the shakiness and the resurgence of symptoms in order to reach a place where I was no longer alone with the garish graveyard of dead images and painful memories. I let it out. I bled.
After a lengthy stay, I left residential only to return to partial…only to return to residential again in November, sinking back into the comforts of anorexia with my trauma anniversary, with the unresolved heaviness of my ambivalence and inherent reluctance to move forward in life.
My stay this time, albeit more brief than before, was meaningful. I learned that all feelings are survivable, that even the worst days in the real world are still better than the best days in residential. Food is not the enemy I thought it was. Weight is merely a subterfuge for a maelstrom of underlying anguish, a clever guise distress employs to have us believe that ingesting sustenance is the true issue when, in reality, eating disorders are so intrinsically complex and are frequently fueled by perfect storms of trauma, personality traits, core beliefs, and upbringings. I am learning that I can be healthy and safe, that weight is not a predictor of violence nor is a lightning rod for future attacks.
While I am still in the process of learning to love my body, I am gaining respect for it. I am learning to heal from what I have put it through, atoning to it in small acts of altruism by nourishing it, by providing it with what it seeks and requires. It is a gradual process, a lengthy battle to reach a place of acceptance and contentment with occupying a healthy frame. In all of these twelve months, the most critical value that I have imbibed and internalized is that denying and starving and purging will not fix an internal wound. No amount of disordered behavior can remedy any underlying trauma or sense of unrest. Deprivation will not fuel advancement, will not allow me to achieve the goals I have set for myself along the way. Today, I enjoyed my first day of freedom. I was able to relish in the little pleasures of life, the small, simplistic blessings of being able to sleep in, the independent elation of driving my own car wherever I please, to be graced with the autonomy I earned after fighting these battles. Sickness, while tempting, robs us of these things, crippling us and keeping us institutionalized where liberty and self government are limited if not non existent.
I am happy to be free from programs and supervision and structure. Now I am able to focus on finding what I have sought, what I have fought for: myself.
It has been one hell of a year.
But I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.