I was talking with my son the other day about attitudes around food. “When I was anorexic in college…” I said.
“I didn’t know you were anorexic,” he answered.
Why would he? Anorexia is one of my many stories. But I don’t talk about it often, because it doesn’t define me anymore.
Years after my anorexia but years ago nonetheless, I was in group therapy. Many of the women in the group were overeaters, and they’d routinely tell me they were jealous of my anorexia. “If only I could just not eat,” they’d say.
Anorexia, or at least my anorexia, was not about not eating, even though it was all about not eating. It was about controlling something, when my life felt out of control. It was about punishing myself – slowly killing myself, in fact – for my choice to leave the Unification Church. It was about my guilt and shame and self-loathing.
I delighted in not eating back then. Each skipped meal, each hunger pang, each successful subjugation of my body and its needs was proof of my strength and power. Even as my body lost power as I deprived myself of fuel. I don’t think I realized that deep down I thought I deserved to die for choosing to walk away from the Messiah. I’m lucky that deeper down than that there was an inner strength and love that saved me from getting too sick with my sickness.
I was down to about 80 lbs. at my lightest – which might not be shocking for my small frame, but I’m about 30 lbs. heavier than that now, and I’m not fat. At all. And back then I knew I was fat, even though I wasn’t. I was scrawny and maybe somewhat scary. But I knew I was fat.
At least as debilitating, if not more debilitating, than my not eating was my obsession with food and eating. All I thought about, talked about, and wrote about was when I could eat, if I would eat, what I would eat, and what I wouldn’t eat. Incessantly.
I wasn’t fun to be with and I wasn’t fun to be.
I don’t know how I got better. As with so many near misses in my life, I skated close to disaster and by the grace of god, found my way out. I got help. I found a nurse who taught me to eat again, but the anorexia haunted me at least somewhat for a very long time.
I am really, really fine now, and really, really healed and whole. The anorexia scars stay with me, but I’m really, really fine. I have what I call my anorexic thinking – when I’m stuck in rigidity and there is no way out. I can still obsess in weird ways about food. But again, I’m really, really fine. Food is easy for me. Eating is easy for me. I can’t imagine it not being so.
I have been graced with losing my obsession with food and weight and body image. I have been graced with losing my need to punish myself and to make myself suffer and pay for what I’ve done. I have been graced with knowing that I did nothing punishable.
There but for the grace of god go I.
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