“One, two, three, four, five, six…” I whispered the words like some kind of calming mantra, while I pressed my hand on my ribs to count them. I had just finished a high-intensity workout with an empty stomach, and as much as I wanted to pretend the dampness of my face was caused by sweat, I knew it was tears. Yes, I had actually started crying from the pain during my workout, but that wasn’t enough to make me stop. After having completed my daily ritual of pinching my belly and squeezing my arms and thighs in front of the mirror, I proceeded to have breakfast: an apple and three crackers.
It was not always like this though, sometimes I truly felt more powerful than ever after my torture – I mean, exercise – session, almost superhuman. Little did I know this “high” was merely caused by the adrenaline my body was generating as a response to the fact that I was slowly killing myself. Even if I had known, I wouldn’t have cared.
I had this childish fantasy of becoming some sort of winged ethereal being, free from the prison that was my body and able to fly away from everything that made me human. “I can see my bones sticking out, I can feel my body evaporating and I’m pretty sure I don’t need food anymore, so where are my wings already?”
Needless to say, I was delusional and trapped in an erroneously romanticized version of my illness. Unless your idea of a desirable body includes dry skin, purple nails, brittle hair, a heart that might shut down on you when you least expect it and a completely ruined digestive system, Anorexia – or any other Eating Disorder – is not glamorous. It is not a sign of strength or self-control. It is not a diet or a whim, for the obsession with thinness is nothing more than a symptom of something bigger, much more profound. Anorexia is a life threatening disease that should be treated as such. It is a cry for help, and it hurts. Everything hurts, all the time.
I kept fooling doctors and therapists. You see, people who struggle with eating disorders have a tendency to become expert liars: we know when to eat and when to restrict, how to hide food and magically make it disappear; we even know how to make it seem like we’re getting better, just to buy ourselves more time with our illness. I am not proud to say I did this for a very long time.
I still don’t know if it were my mother’s tears, the confusion in my siblings’ eyes or when my nutritionist told me I was dying that made me see things clearly, but something in me changed. All of a sudden, I got an inexplicable thirst for life.
Recovering from an Eating Disorder is one of the most painful, excruciating things someone can experience. It takes unimaginable amounts of strength and willpower, determination and, most of all, passion. You have to want it more than anything you’ve ever wanted. You have to keep reminding yourself the reasons why you’re doing it. You have to be all in.
My decision to recover was not a one-time event, but a series of choices I still have to face every single day. It was not just about opening my mouth, biting the sandwich and swallowing it. I wish it had been that easy. I was forced to deal with everything I was trying to suppress with my illness, along with new feelings of shame and guilt that came with every bite of food, with every second of missed exercise, with every glance I took towards a mirror.
So yes, recovery is exhausting and I constantly felt like a train –or three –had just hit me, but it was worth it. Eventually, I noticed the bad days were starting to become outnumbered by the good ones. I felt like throwing a party every time I got my period and realized I was learning to appreciate things I used to take for granted: an unexpected smile, a goofy dance around the living room, a cold breeze that didn’t hurt anymore.
I continue to make mistakes and fall on my face, yet I manage to get back up and keep going in spite of my bruises. As it turns out, my wings were given to me the moment I let go of my Anorexia. With a pint of ice cream on one hand and a slice of pizza on the other, now I can truly fly. Who knew my worst fear would be the one to finally set me free.
By: Regina G. Santaella
You can find Regina, a photographer, artist, musician, and advocate, on Instagram at @Reginagsant.
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