Monday, August 19, 2013

Emancipation from Emaciation

Last week, I was sitting in my nutritionist’s office for what was close to my 100th appointment: almost two appointments every month, sometimes every week, for the past five years.  Each appointment usually began with clockwork terror and double-fisted anxiety as I stepped on the scale—shoeless, lest I try to add any cheaters’ ounces (or pounds in winter boots) to my grand total. Of course, no one ever checked my underwear, which on more than one occasion, I stuffed with three pound squishy, hand weights and a smooth two pound stone I hefted from my garden.  After, I gave a general recounting of my meals and snacks, of any restricting and purging, my honesty waxing and waning as my anorexia tightened and loosened its grip over the years.  I wouldn’t say I was always deliberately lying, as oftentimes, those imaginary meals seemed as real as the ones I threw up in toilets and behind trees on the street.  Finally, we’d discuss all of the issues I was struggling with in regards to body image and disordered thinking—and by discuss, I mean I’d often, with hostility, pontificate on all the ways in which I would not eat more, could not love my loathsome body (never ever), and really, could not see why everybody couldn’t just leave me alone because I was fine as is, even if my heart was acting out, and my system was in starvation mode, and all signs pointed towards death; I didn’t need to eat anymore—maybe it would be better if I could stop purging what little I did eat, but I felt set free when I was empty and I didn’t want to go back.
But this time was different.  This time, when I stepped on the scale, I didn’t have any hidden rocks, my teeth weren’t clenched, and I wasn’t ready to try to argue the numbers down with my nutritionist: “Okay,” I used to say, “That is too high.  I’m too fat.  Huge.  Disgusting.  Obviously you need to reduce my meal plan.  This is out of control.”

This time, I knew what was coming because a week before, after running at the gym, I weighed myself and found that I was a few pounds under my target weight.  What happened?  Panic.  I started to panic because I didn’t weigh enough.  This is the crazy, reverse logic of somebody who has settled into Eating Disorder Recovery.  My response?  I actually, and on my own, stepped up my meal plan.  No, I didn’t start going through the fast food drive-thrus, ordering super-sized fries and chocolate shakes, but I did start adding additional servings of my trail mix, increased my portions of peanut butter, had bowls of cereal and soy milk as a mid-morning snack, and dessert?  Every night.  So when my nutritionist weighed me that day?  I was exactly where I was supposed to be and I felt good.  Better than good.  At home in my body. 

Next?  We talked about my meals over the past month, and truly?  Not much to talk about except that A.) I was eating my three meals and two snacks a day; B.) I didn’t have any urges to restrict or purge; C.) No foods seemed to be on my “Off Limits” list (i.e., once upon a time, anything with fat or carbs could not pass my lips or if it did, it passed my lips twice).
Finally? Well, no point in lying and saying that I no longer had any body image issues or disordered thinking.  Most days, I still look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, but I don’t obsess.  A year ago?  Likely 1000 Eating Disorder/Negative Body Image thoughts a day came at me like a battering ram.  A constant voice on endless repeat all day long, all night long.  I couldn’t enjoy eating a bite of just-picked Empire apple, a crumble of dark chocolate sprinkled with sea salt, a piece of my own blueberry cobbler hot out of the oven, a wedge of the stinky-est, yummiest, runniest French brie.  I couldn’t take a shower without cataloguing all of my naked faults and wanting to slice them off with the razor I was using to shave my (too fat, too thick, too too too legs).  The voice of an Eating Disorder is the Voice that destroys Joy, it is the Voice of Death.

But what I told my nutritionist is that I can honestly say that 1000 thoughts are now 100.  A miraculous improvement.  And food?  I can taste the joy of food again.  All of it.  Even the food I hate, like pork chops and raw onion.  Even the food I love, like ripe tomatoes and carrot cake.  My body?  Getting there.  I’m allowed to exercise again because I eat again and weigh more.  I love feeling powerful and strong more than I love feeling underweight and weak.  So I eat more when I lose pounds because I run too far and too often.  But it’s a good bargain.  A necessary one.   
When I look in the mirror?  I don’t always look away.  And sometimes I smile back because what I see has been worth the fight.  An imperfect survivor.  I can choose how close I want to get to that mirror each time—how far I want to step back—how much I want to magnify—or not.  My choice.  Not the automatic orders of some inflexible despot bent on my destruction.  But I also know the mirror no longer has the power to kill me.  A mirror bears me no ill will.  It has no intention.  Only I do.  Even Neolithic Man (or Woman) made mirrors, grinding obsidian stone down to flat surfaces, then polishing them to a reflective sheen with ash.  Somehow, I don’t think my primitive ancestor was spending an inordinate amount of time wondering whether or not her stomach was flat enough or whether her ribs and clavicles showed enough or if there was enough hollow space between her thighs—after all, she was likely already on the verge of starving (bad wooly mammoth season), and more importantly, she was transfixed by the absolute wonder of her own being reflected back at her.  I am me.  What a real and true and beautiful thing.  (Never mind the unintentional, lice-filled dreadlocks and lack of orthodontic care.)

The mirror just reflects me without judgment, without interpretation.  It’s my responsibility to let my reflection be.  Be still.  Be real.  Be true.  Be beautiful as myself, in myself, WITHOUT COMMENTARY.

As my appointment came to a close, my nutritionist smiled.  Instead of opening her scheduler as usual and scanning for the next available slot, she said, “Well, I think you’ve been doing really good for the past year and maintaining your weight.  Keeping everything in balance.  I think it’s time for you to see me on an as needed basis.  You seem like you’re ready for this, like you’ve found your way free from the Eating Disorder.”

“Free?”  I took a deep breath.  “I’m not sure I’m free as in Scott free.  It’s like with drinking.  One drink and I could be back sneaking shots of vodka in the basement and having blackouts, two and half years of sobriety out the window.  This is the same thing.  One deliberately skipped meal due to disordered thinking could easily lead to another skipped meal could lead to a week and suddenly I’m right back in Anorexia’s grip.  It happened five times so I know how much this disease would like to see me dead.  So I have to maintain vigilance.  But I am free of the lying and the manipulation and the desperation and the loneliness and terror.  Emancipation from Emaciation.”