I have finally learned that to say yes to our bodies’ hunger is to say yes to all of life
It starts off with a thought – “Aw, maybe if I just lose a little bit of weight, maybe I might start feeling a bit better about myself.” It’s a thought that many of us share, but it can grow into something much more serious. It grows into forgetting that there is and ever was anything going on outside of yourself – The friends who love you, the sleepovers you spent toasting marshmallows on the kitchen stove talking about each other’s crushes, your favourite band finally coming to Australia that you couldn’t wait to see.
It grows into setting a goal weight, hitting it. Another, hitting it, another and another. Each one a broken promise; that this would be the last, that you could finally feel good enough, and then you could finally allow yourself to, deserve to, stop. It gets louder, angrier, more demanding. It grows into losing yourself utterly and completely. Refusing to brush your teeth because it doesn’t have a nutrition label. Avoiding your shower because you’re disgusted seeing yourself naked. Sleepless nights, spent painfully feeling the notches of your spine push against your skin and paint it with bruises. Being pinned down and force fed by your dad, scratching and biting him to make it stop, hugging him because you’re just so scared. Witnessing your parents break down for the first time after they hide the kitchen knives from you.
Forgetting happiness, living in dread.
Next comes fatigue, exhaustion and the unexpected relief of near-death hospitalisation. The bittersweet powerlessness that an NG tube gives you; that you can’t blame yourself for being weak because all power has already been taken away from you. It hurts, but it’s a relief.
You decide you want to stay alive, and one day, you might learn to truly be alive. Happy moments. When the starlight foundation fairy lady painted your face in flowers and you quietly imagined you were a child again. When mum bought you a journal for writing 3 daily gratitudes and you always have the same things to write in it: herbal tea, cross stitching, sunshine and playing cards.
It’s not smooth sailing though. When you arrived, 5 nurses pinned you down and locked your mum outside. They pushed the NG in but it wouldn’t go down properly so they had to pull it out and start again. You say ‘I’m not ready’ and ask them for a moment (your hands are shaking and you catch you breath) but they ignore you, and mutter to each other ‘it’s all in her head.’ It crushes to see the nurses around the corner shaking their heads about our cases (me and the fellow ED patients) being ‘behavioural cases’ while you pretend to be asleep. The NG tube doesn’t fit properly and has to be reinserted 5 times in 2 days and your nose bleeds for the next 3.
Discharge and recovery.
You had so much hope that when you got out it would mean everything could finally be better and you just couldn’t WAIT to be FREE. But it’s the same all over again, and it doesn’t just go away. Some days you hate yourself for being so weak to let the ED lose, but it doesn’t feel like that, it feels like you losing. Your diary says, ‘my brother told me being broken is a part of my identity. I’m scared because I don’t know who I am anymore.’ You bounce between different psychologists, therapists and doctors appointments but most of it doesn’t stick and a lot of them you don’t see twice.
But you begin to learn to be grateful. You spend hours in the garden, watching it nurture and grow, and it in turn it watches and gives back to you. The final 3 months of the year bloom.
Being a ‘normal teenager’ again feels incredible. Every tinge of happiness feels like a blessing and you wake in the morning with a genuinely unreserved ecstasy about what the day might bring. It’s easy to be grateful when rock bottom is so vivid. You fall in love with the idea of taking care of your body and decide to commit yourself to exercise, but in turn count up the hours spent, kms covered, calories burned, muscle percentage attained. The allure of self improvement and goal setting is too compelling to ignore. You are too afraid of yourself to be honest with yourself. This continues for years. You are afraid of the words ‘anorexia’ and ‘eating disorders’ but fail to realise it’s because you’re scared to confront what it means to you. You meet new friends, you do well at school, you play music and dance.
It’s functional, but it’s all enveloping: 70 minutes a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for 2 and a half years. You lie to your doctor about how much exercise you do because you still haven’t had your period for 4 years. Your mum recommends you tone it down but you just can’t stop, so you do it in secret at 5am or 11pm. Injury takes away choice. After covering several kms a day for 5 days on a family holiday at the beginning of year 12, came the nasty surprise of Achilles tendinitis. I was physically unable to go on with my normal routine and had no choice but to confront myself.
Today, recovery means being honest with myself, not hiding from myself. Accepting my vulnerability but choosing to build myself up. Identifying not ignoring the voices in my head, so I can tell them to go away. I am truly living and I am truly proud of that.
The scariest thing is that first thought, “aw just a little bit of weight,” shared by everyone I know and everyone I don’t know. We have a culturally assumed default to hate our bodies, “aw just a little bit of tweaking here or there.” For some of us, this triggers something very raw, visceral and real. For all of us, it taps into a broader issue of our identities being packaged and sold to us.
We all hear that our body is like a temple, but I think it’s more like a POWERHOUSE. About 37.2 trillion cells in our body are pumping out energy, excreting, growing, sending instant messages, repairing, rebuilding and reproducing 24/7. Our body has had our back from literally the moment we were born. It played with us on our first day of primary school, fought for us when we were sick, partied with us on our first night out, fell in love with us for the first time, dreamt with us and grieved with us.
I have finally learned that to say yes to our bodies’ hunger is to say yes to all life.