I am about to tell you a bunch of True things at once.
It began at control. Control was the reason I began to calculate out the meals. It was the reason certain portions were very small and even skipped all together. In the brain there is a voice that says “You are strong for doing this, for limiting yourself. I am your best friend voice, and everyone asking you to eat more are the people that have been hurting you. They are jealous of you. They do not like you, even if they act like they do. Do what I say, you are strong this way.” I am not the only one who has had a voice like this. The people who want control are people who are very sensitive and very bright, and at once point in their life had Control taken away from them; the difficulty with being very sensitive and very bright is that the world is very rough sometimes, and being less bright is a smart way to avoid being hurt. This is why smallness is nice, you are a smaller target. I loved being very small. I hated being very small. People paid attention to how small I was, and that was nice; I was treated like the victim I was never allowed to be.
This true thing will be hard to understand: being skinny was a consequence of this control, not the reason. For several years I woke up in the morning and lifted my shirt to the mirror. This was how I knew if I was going to have a good day or a bad day. If I was smaller than the day before, the voice in my head said “I am very proud of you.” If I was bloated (which happens very much when you begin skipping meals), the voice in my head said, “You had one job. You work so hard, and you still betray me. This body is showing me that you’re a failure. You are a failure, and this is why you are unlovable. Who would love someone who works this hard, and still cannot even be skinny? No one you will see today loves you, even if they say they do. They are liars, and you are an awful person.” This is when the panic would arrive. This is when I stopped Thinking.
Here is another truth you may not understand: I needed another voice to fix this problem of nonThinking. This voice was of Lose Control. This was the voice that took care of me when I did not let other humans help me (because remember, during this illness, I do not think anybody can help me. I think the world likes to hurt me. I think everybody’s intention is to make me feel unworthy and small. I think people try to get close to me, only to enjoy leaving me.
This voice would shout over all the Unthinking (the panic of realizing I was a failure and should die). This voice would come in because I would begin to be scared of my feelings, they would grow to be bigger than I could handle, they would begin to take over my skull, and my heart, and I was going to explode from how big my fear and anger and desire to kill and die and crumble was. So this voice shouted the only thing that would stop all the Feeling: “EAT!”
This was very smart of my brain, if you think about it. Because eating is nice, I think. Especially when you are three days hungry, maybe three weeks hungry, maybe three months hungry, maybe three years. It does not matter: when you are hungry and a voice shouts “EAT!” you feel cared for, you feel saved, you have something to do with your hands (which you are scared of all of sudden; you are scared of your whole body all of a sudden; it is all filled up with Feelings that you do not like and you can feel them everywhere).
Here is a truth many people will not understand: it does not need to be pizza, and ice cream, and bread and chocolate. Those are just what the back of my head grabs because it has not had it in a very, very long time. Because the Control Voice was always saying “no,” and suddenly we have let go of all the rules. But it does not have to be those things. It is anything (it has been uncooked pasta, it has been raw kale, it has been frozen dumplings: it will take whatever is there and sometimes, if the Feelings are so big the entire world will explode if I do not eat at that exact moment, I will not wait to cook whatever I find) and this mind does not care who it belongs to. It is these moments that I do realize it is an illness, because a conscious version of myself respects other people’s possessions, other people’s purchased food. But when I am in this state, I do not care. I do not care because in this state, I am truly convinced I am going to die afterwards anyway.
Here is a truth that you may not understand: the eating was not the most important part. It was the eliminating of it. This is the part I will not go into detail with, and this is important to read: if you suffer from an addiction, never tell another person more than the Feelings you had, do not share your tricks out loud. All the tricks that I learned came from seeing it on television, googling it, or someone sharing it. Even if it is well-intentioned, never tell anyone how you accomplish these things, because sensitive and bright ears will pick up tricks and not even realize they did until later. For the sake of other people’s recovery, I will never share these things out loud, because they are not even the important part.
The important part is another Truth, which I found so fascinating when I learned it that I burst out into tears, and perhaps you will find it of use, too. When asked during a private session during my time at my recovery center if I “was ever angry”, I laughed. I said no, never, and anybody I knew would say the same. Then she asked if I was angry as a child, and I laughed again. I said yes, always, and anybody I knew me then would say the same. Then she said it would be very strange, then, if I stopped being angry all of a sudden. She said that anorexia was a lonely disorder, and that bulimia was a very angry, angry eating disorder, and asked if maybe I was participating in this whenever I experienced anger? I was shocked and nodded: yes, this could be true. Then she asked me a very interesting question: did I know that anger is a secondary emotion? I asked her what that meant. She said that anger is the messenger emotion of another a primary emotion; she said anger stems from sadness.
This all felt very real all of a sudden. Then, once more, she asked me a question: did I know, perhaps, that studies have found that the chemical being released in the brain while throwing up is the same chemical that is released while crying? This is when I began to sob in her office, and I did so for a very long time, because I became aware of what I was really doing all those times. I realized I had been trying to cry.
These truths may not make sense to you very much, because perhaps you would like more logic. Many people have thought that, because there is so much body and mind confusion, it must be about becoming beautiful and being seen as such. The body dysmorphia is apart of the bigger illness, which is that the body and the mind cannot separate from each other their experiences (if you can imagine sensitive and bright people, you can see how deeply they can catch this illness of information overload). For example: a stomach ache after eating meant I was a bad person, and therefore a disappointment to all who knew me. Feeling I was a disappointment to someone — for arriving late, for getting sick, for forgetting their birthday — gave me a stomach ache, and therefore, too, I became a bad person. And when I was a bad person, I would look in the mirror, and see a bad body. Seeing this bad body saved me from Feeling (remember I said my Feelings would be so big that I did not think I would survive feeling them?), so I would then turn to one of my voices instead: Control or Lose Control.
It was one or the other, then: I would not eat, not eat, not eat, and run and run and run… or eat, eat, eat, and let it all leave me, so I could pass out from exhaustion, and simulate my own death. These were Bad Body days, and they were numerous; but we also had Good Body days. The feeling of Good Body days were so celebrated because they were an exhilarating and liberating change from feeling ugly (deeply, in body and mind, which you cannot forget are the same thing during the Illness).
Here is a truth that you might find helpful: the Sufferers of this illness may appear to have huge egos because they are always examining themselves and have a hard time being there fully for others. I was told very often by close friends that I would only think of myself, that I was always looking in mirrors, that I was not listening to them when they spoke, and seemed to care what everyone else thought about me.
I would like to offer another perspective: these bright and sensitive people care so much about others, but have also been trained by circumstance that caring will also leave them in pain; that caring for others is necessary but also a terrifying burden, and will always result in their loss. The obsession with mirrors was because I needed to check if I was a good or bad person as often as I could; the inability to listen to my friends talking was because I was either fighting fatigue from not eating or because I was calculating out what I just had put in my mouth. People took personally what they did not understand; that I was in the middle of a very big internal battle, almost 95% of my waking moments. I would be excited when I saw Beauty on me; what seemed like a cry for attention to others was a cry of celebration for me. The loudness of my high was merely a short-lived celebrating with myself. “Look!” said Control voice. “You are my hero! Do everything you have ever dreamed of. You are finally enough.” I wanted to live in these moments forever. As long as I listened to Control Voice, I could.
Here is a truth we all know by now: life does not let anything stay the same. Something would change and my Control would change — this meant I would no longer be enough. When I was no longer enough, I was not worthy of all the things I ever dreamed of. I was again simply ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Here is another truth: with all change is the chance for evolution. Over the years I began to get deeply tired of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The more of humanity I met, the less I saw ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. The frustration with my disease (which ran on secrecy — it must, always, be a secret) began to grow and grow. When I was younger, I thought ‘I will stop when I want.’ Then I would cry because I said ‘I will never stop, this will be my whole life.’ But I was beginning to think, “I would like to stop.” And then one day it became, “I will not have a long life if I do this.” And finally I had a thought that combined them: “I would like to stop, and I would rather die trying to stop than live in this cage.”
Also, I was beginning to die each time. At the very beginning my insides were like elastic. I could get up and walk around normal like nothing happened. After some time, it became that I would need to lay down for a while. After some more time, I would need to sleep after. The time that scared me into stopping was the time I threw up and could not get out of bed for three days.
Here is a truth you may not understand: since my mind and body were intrinsically linked, it also meant that if I wanted my body to do something, my mind was always able to make it happen. This can be why sensitive and bright people with this illness can also look incredibly fit, and show no sign of suffering; we can build very fitness-orientated bodies because our brain command is strong.
This is why I was so scared when I could not get out of bed for three days: my brain command said “Get up!” and my body said “If you move, your throat will rip, your stomach will rip.” I laid in a fog for three days, confused and scared that my body was saying different things than my mind. I did not know myself. Sleep was the only way to stop this Big Terror, and yet there was one Very Big Truth that whispered while I was in this state, and one that I have not shared to anyone other than my sisters.
This very Big Truth was very clear, and it did not come to me as words, even though I say it “whispered.” What I mean is that it arrived whole, like a picture, but there was nothing to see. It was a fact that did not need to be proven, and it was not something I had made. It was simple, and it laid itself across all of my layers, and it came from neither my head, nor my body, but my Heart. This may confuse you, but I do not need you to understand. I am here to tell you many Truths at once.
I woke up knowing that if I did not promise to get better, I would lose everything. I woke up knowing that if I promised to get better, I would keep this promise and it was going to be a very painful process and I would learn incredible things and I would see the most beautiful things this world has to offer.
Here are several contradictory truths that all exist at once: recovery is a team effort, and only one person does it. My best friend responded to my confession of my eating disorder by immediately providing me a phone number for a recovery center, and asking me every day about it until I finally called them. She is the reason why I began recovery; her soft determination not to change the subject. If anyone ever wonders why I am a forever indebted to certain previous employers, it would be because I confessed to them what I was going through and they told me to quit my job and go straight into recovery, no matter the cost. If anyone every wonders why other friends transcend friendship and now belong in a realm of honorary family, it is because they called me daily for 3 months to ask “How was ‘camp’ today?”
I did not do this by myself, but I was the one who had to do the work of Opening, Letting Go, and Loving. It was terrifying confessing to others what I had been doing in secret — but this was a part of the promise I made, so I had to. It was difficult to tell others how I really felt — but it was a part of the promise I made, so I had to. It was impossibly out of character to treat myself like I mattered enough to invite people to learn to care for me — but it was a part of this promise I made, so I did.
Here is a Truth that you may not like if you are trying to Heal from something: you cannot keep secrets if you are in recovery. Secrets are a part of the Illness. My life began when I told people what I did physically, because then I was asked by professionals and smart, present friends what I was feeling emotionally. If there is any truth I hope you hear from all the many I give you at once, it is this:
My crippling pain was and is about the Fear of Being Misunderstood when I am rushed or pressured to explain myself (“Now!” I felt the world demanding, “explain how you are feeling this instant, and make sure it’s simple, because we don’t have time for the long, complex version!”).
My disorder is not the enemy; there is no enemy. Nor was my disorder my friend; it was never my friend. It was the piece of me that rose as protection when I had no training for how to Feel all my feelings safely. That is all. It is forgiven.
For me it is about that Big Truth voice, the one that whispers without being small; it is massive without getting in the way of seeing people or myself. It is the Big Truth that says “you are enough” before I even start to think. It allows my anger, and soothes it by saying “Okay.” It allows my sadness and then holds it by saying, “Okay.” It touches my sensitivity and my brightness and says, “Yes, this, too.” It touches my sensitivity and my darkness and says, “Yes, this, too.”