Just A Body
I don’t know how other people recover from anorexia. Of course, I know what it looks like on the surface, but each experience is different from the next. Mine is mine, yours is yours.
I get the sense that many people believe my recovery has been great, smooth, successful, which is why I need to make this blog post. It’s been a long time since I’ve updated you on the symptoms, effects and experience of my recovery. Because of that, none of you really know what it’s been like. Some of you closer to me have asked questions which I love, but a lot of it I just dealt with on my own or in therapy because I knew it would be too difficult to explain. I also didn’t want to be That Girl who never shuts up about the fact that she had anorexia. However, lately I’ve been thinking. While I feel that most people I know can’t truly understand the things that recovery did to me because it’s such a unique human experience, it’s ridiculous of me to think that no one could. There could very well be a person out there struggling with the exact same things I was, and instead of just saying “Fuck it, I came this far, I might as well keep going,” they relapse. I’m here to save that person.
Recovery isn’t pretty at all, but it’s still worth it. If you’re currently struggling and you’re thinking about recovery, this is for you. So let me tell you about my scary, ugly, traumatizing recovery and still somehow convince you to do it because I promise you: It IS worth it.
I’m finally at a point where I feel stable. I feel like Taylor, I feel healthy. I’m not unsure of walking on my own two legs because my knees might collapse. I’m not going to bed at 7 every night out of exhaustion, starvation. I have friends, I go out, I have people over. I go to work, I go to the gym, I dance. I read, I write, I cook a variety of food and I’m not scared to try new things. But my own hesitation for health and obsession with control is the reason it took me so long to get here.
As of next week, I will be recovering for 11 months. That’s almost a year, but it did not go by smoothly. Don’t get me wrong - I love my recovery and I love the point I’ve gotten to. It has also been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.
I’ll start out by saying that for the first 8 months, I still did not take in enough calories. I was much too stubborn and I did not want to get bigger. What resulted was me getting bigger anyway (because although I wasn’t quite taking in enough calories, I was definitely taking in way more than before) while having all the health problems I suffered from drag out rather than disappear within a few months.
I’m not sure what the average recovery feels like, but mine was by no means average. I refused to stop exercising and refused to incorporate foods I was too unfamiliar with or afraid of. I stuck to a pretty restricted diet, the type of diet someone has when they’re “on a diet.” It was enough for an average person, but not enough for someone who was already severely underweight. I continued to ignore hunger pangs by telling myself it was irrational for me to still be hungry. If I had eaten an entire bowl of oatmeal and a banana, I should be full. A normal person would be, and I’m normal now so that means I’m full too.
I was wrong. I was wrong for eight months. This just proves how strong of a hold eating disorders have on your mind - I refused to even consider I might need to take in more calories.
My recovery has been full of things I can’t really explain and don’t necessarily care to dive into, so I’ll list them without much detail. If you read this and think to yourself, Hey, that’s me and I need to know more, then please message me. I have no problem speaking more on the subject.
I have been asked if I was pregnant. I have felt so intensely unattractive and insecure. I have gotten my period again and had to experience puberty all over (I should really write a book on puberty because I have been through it TWICE now with incredible intimacy, pimples and crying and all). I have experienced heightened emotion that terrified me and seemed neverending (see? Puberty.).
I have felt constant brain fog - brain fog that does not go away unless I eat. Brain fog that made me feel stupid at times, incompetent, as if I was reversing in intelligence or losing my memory. And again, I don’t mean a bowl of oatmeal and a banana. This brain fog is cruel and relentless and it does not go away until you have taken in thousands of calories. Believe me.
A notorious theme in eating disorder recovery is feelings of unattractiveness. I have felt like the biggest person in the room when I had only gained 5 pounds. I thought I was done gaining at 5 pounds. I have wanted to give up so many times. My anorexia constantly tells me that no one will love me anymore if I get too fat. Every time someone isn’t able to talk to me or see me, a voice in my head tells me it’s because I have gained way too much. I have sobbed, screamed, grabbed at my fat and prayed for the ability to rip it off my body. I have stayed home and wallowed on days I haven’t felt good about myself (literally busting out of all your favorite clothes doesn’t help this, either).
I haven’t been strong every day. I haven’t even been strong most days. But the one thing I’ve always made sure to do is tell myself at the end of the day that I chose this for a reason, and there is no going back.
Eventually, eight months in, my friend told me I needed to take in more calories. I’m not sure why, but I listened. Although it was being suggested to me by professionals and close family, I chose to listen to this friend - not in spite of the fact that he had never had an eating disorder and had absolutely no knowledge on the subject, but because of it. Somehow I allowed myself to take advice on my eating from a normal person because that’s finally what I wanted to be: a normal person whose life didn’t revolve around eating.
After I listened to my friend, I started eating uninhibited. I ate anything and everything (except meat: I’m still vegetarian, which is a lifestyle decision I made six years pre-ED) I ate like I haven’t eaten since I was a little kid at a birthday party. My hunger absolutely terrified me. It (obviously) caused me to gain more weight and I was really nervous that my hunger would never stop, but it turns out the experts were right. Eating until you’re satisfied is the only way to fully beat anorexia, physically I mean. And that looks different for every single recoverer, so for me the only thing that worked was to stop counting my fucking calories and just eat when I felt like it.
Miraculously, everything I read about that I should expect to happen, happened when I finally chose recovery for real. Yes, I ate like a starving person for quite a few weeks, but maybe that’s because I was a starving person for three years.
I ate so much that I felt sick but my body did not feel right until I ate more, so I did. I listened to my body and no one else, and the strangest thing happened. I hit a point where my appetite curbed. I began eating like a “normal person,” the way I remember eating when I was just a kid. I’m no longer crippled with hunger every time it’s time to eat - my body is no longer panicking every time it’s gone without food for a couple of hours. My body is beginning to trust me to feed it again, because I’ve been doing so properly for the first time in a long time.
The truth is, you need to get a little uncomfortable to properly recover. You need to get “big” according to your standards, bigger than you’ve ever been, and then you need to learn to accept that. The weight you’ve gained is armor against the illness that threatened your life. This isn’t to say you can never lose it or tone it to feel more confident or healthy, but it’s likely that you need to wait a few years before you have the mental strength to do this in a non-destructive manner.
People are going to challenge you. Those who don’t know about your eating disorder will assume you’re going through something or caring less about your health because here in America, we’re taught that the only positive change in weight is less. They might make comments on your weight. You need to shun those people and create your own world while you’re recovering, because it isn’t necessarily your body alone that you have to save: it’s your mind.
The best things I’ve done for myself in recovery look nothing like gaining weight. They look like enrolling myself in a dance class because when I am dancing, I am happy and I am Taylor. They look like taking a day off from the gym because I am sick or tired or just too busy with something else to do it. They look like taking up positive habits like cleaning house and reading more and writing about anything and everything that has nothing to do with my eating disorder (well, this obviously doesn’t count).
If you are struggling, the way to move isn’t backwards. It’s forward, into recovery, into your new life, because you are not your eating disorder: you are a beautiful soul with talents and ambition and (hopefully) a good amount of charisma.
It’s just a body.