My return from hell

This is the first of four-part series about life after an eating disorder. We all harbor secrets. We all have parts of our lives that tarnish the perfection we wish to display to the rest of the world. But for me, the flawlessness IâÄôve always striven for only left me more broken and tattered than before. I decided to write about my eating disorder for a number of reasons, the largest of which is necessity, the least of which is fame. It frightens me to divulge such personal parts of myself with so many people but, at the same time, it offers me hope that our community will finally begin to notice the epidemic that is sweeping across our campus, claiming souls and bodies every day. This is my way of fighting back against a society that fosters the idea of female perfection, of reaching out to those who havenâÄôt yet considered a life other than starvation and of forging my own path between damnation and resurrection. Here is my story of growing up feeling different, of finding solace in pain, of disappearing and of appearing again in a world I still donâÄôt understand. This just a part of my reality, and I do not seek pity because of that. Rather, I seek to grow understanding for the many like myself who continue to suffer an unimaginable hell within their own mind. Always there Sometimes I believe my eating disorder is following me. Lately, sheâÄôs been stepping on the back of my shoes, ripping the thin skin from my heels, begging me to take notice, to indulge in one last walk with the devil. ItâÄôs been six years since I began my battle with anorexia and almost four years since my hospitalization. And, although I see myself as a survivor, I am in no way free from her grasp. ItâÄôs Monday and IâÄôm inside the womenâÄôs bathroom reading a flyer taped to the back of the stall door. ItâÄôs promoting some sort of group therapy program, coordinated by those whoâÄôve already suffered from eating disorders. The flyer makes me angry, because itâÄôs invaded my private space. ItâÄôs daring me to toss my breakfast, only for me to turn around, face it and feel guilty by its blatant sensibility. I rip a tab off the bottom of the flyer with the contact information for the group, mostly because IâÄôm pissed and I want them to know it. IâÄôm pissed at the simplicity of their flyer âÄî how they make it seem as though they have all the answers to my life and I have none, how people have resorted to creating their own support groups because the hospitals canâÄôt possibly cope will all of us, anymore. So I wash my hands, double-check my makeup and walk out of that bathroom thinking I couldnâÄôt hate Ana any more than I do now. Later, I send them an e-mail. My questions are simple: âÄúDo you have any licensed professionals on staff or at the meetings to help facilitate eating disorders discussions?âÄù and âÄúHow did this group begin?âÄù In reality, I just want to know who these people are, if IâÄôve met them in a clinic or hospital somewhere and why they think they can bother me in the bathroom. A reply comes later that night from a sender named âÄúTrusted Servants.âÄù It says they donâÄôt have any licensed professionals present at their meetings but âÄúare a group of men and women who are recovering from eating disorders who share our experience, strength and hope to help others (and ourselves) recover.âÄù Attached are two documents âÄî one based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and the other, a primer on eating disorders. The e-mail tells me that the first steps toward recovery are âÄúadmitting we were powerless over our eating disorders,âÄù that âÄúwe have indulged in unhealthy forms of dependence on those around us,âÄù that âÄúweâÄôre entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of characterâÄù and that we must âÄúhumbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.âÄù My heart immediately sinks, I feel sick and my hands start to shake. Those words, those steps may be appropriate for many, but for me, they return me to the times I blamed myself for my eating disorder, for âÄúchoosingâÄù to starve myself, for being so superficial and narcissistic and for hurting my family and friends with such depth they would never remember my real self again. And, more than anything, those words make me feel like a victim. I am not a victim. ThereâÄôs a piece of me that wants to lash out at this group, which bases their expertise on their own experiences instead of allowing professionals to interject with balanced, unbiased common sense âÄî but anger is a part of âÄúher,âÄù and I donâÄôt want to be a disgruntled anorectic whose anger translates into her failure to recover. So I pour myself another glass of wine, which is supposed to go wonderfully with red meat, my boyfriend says, and stare at the wall. What can I tell you about recovering from anorexia? Everything and nothing. I can tell you that eating disorders are not cured by some miracle medication, by your parents or by God. You donâÄôt wake up one day and realize that your urge to throw up every ounce of your stomach contents has disappeared or that you suddenly stopped caring about calories. The pain numbs, the memories fade and you find new ways to move through the world that donâÄôt slowly kill you along the way. Your laughter finally returns. But then, all of a sudden, youâÄôre in the womenâÄôs bathroom, staring at a poster that perfectly represents the eternal strength of anorexia. The ever-reaching claws of her shiny, painted fingernails. Sometimes I think my eating disorder is following me. That sheâÄôs breathing down my neck, spitting beautiful lyrics in my ear of what I could be âÄî what I should be âÄî if only I returned to her. âÄúDonâÄôt look back,âÄù my friend coos to me that night. âÄúOnce you look back, you stop moving forward.âÄù Kathryn Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]