If I stretch out far enough, my fingertips will brush against the cool air. I feel as though I’m so close. The thing is, there is no demon holding a knife to my throat to stop me from going. I am not a hostage, nor a prisoner of another entity anymore. I am free to go whenever I please. Why, then, is it so hard to break free from myself? For thousands of days I was swallowed whole, stolen into a sea of destruction and bars. I fought tooth and nail to make it back to land, to be standing on my own two feet. I have done one hundred things I never thought I could, because the eating disorder told me I couldn’t. I have rebelled, and I have found myself. Now, it is only me standing in the way. Tentatively, hesitatingly. Shuffling from foot to foot. To stay or to pass? To step forward or to buckle? The cool breeze is so sweet.
I consider myself largely recovered from my experience with an eating disorder that lasted around seven years. Not recovered in a, I’m back to who I was when I was 13 type way, because I don’t listen to Panic! At The Disco very often anymore, and nor do I still rock a side fringe. Recovery isn’t going back to exactly the person you were before the eating disorder took hold. Mental illnesses, and recovery from them, are life-changing experiences. They mould you, they shape you, and recovery strengthens you. However, I do see myself as mostly recovered because I no longer engage in eating disorder behaviours, and although the thoughts are still there (do they ever go away?), they don’t control me anymore. I’m slowly learning how to replace these lies with reality – how to tag and label them as they rudely zoom into my brain, shouting profanities about a slice of bread, a grape, a glass of water.
Am I there, fully, willingly, yet though? To be honest I’m not, and its myself that is refraining from taking just a couple more steps. Over the past few years I have fought and grown and broken down in the waves of recovery. But now, I have reached the top. The steps have never been as smooth or as gentle to take. What initially appears to be the easiest, most straightforward part of my journey; these last few steps are more meaningful and difficult than I could have imagined. To be finally leaving it all behind is a heavy gift.
Deep down, there is a part of me that snares encouragingly – “go on, do it again, just to prove you can. Sink to the depths of the eating disorder, just to make sure you’ve still got it in you.” Like, what the heck? I know that I can, all too frighteningly easily, and anyway what is worst is that this should be irrelevant because who would want to? I don’t want to. The eating disorder wants me to. I know what’s down there, and it’s desolate; dire. It’s isolation and jagged edges and an all-consuming war. I have been there before, time and time again, and upon each visit I lose a bit more of myself to it’s grasp. I don’t want to disappear again.
Where does this desire to become sick, weak and small come from, when recovery has shown me that everything worth living for comes with a full, rich life? Since beginning recovery, my relationships with family and friends have blossomed and grew. I got married, I’m able to stay at university, and I can hold down a job. I have the potential to have our babies. Recovery has given me moments of ice-cream with friends, of being able to concentrate in class, of going swimming. Recovery has given me everything, when all the eating disorder did was take and shred and scream. Why does this tiny part of me crave to become nothingness, when I have worked so hard to escape and become a person, rather than a shell?
This is what’s holding me back from saying, “I did it, I beat it, I survived an eating disorder.” I want to be that so badly. But her cruel fingers beckon, and her words twist, snaking around my now lack of a thigh gap, and jeans two sizes bigger. When will she ever let go? When will I have the courage to let go?
Right now, I’m proud to say that I think I have a pretty good relationship with food. I’m working on my body image everyday, and I don’t over-exercise anymore. I can recognise and ignore most of the eating disorder thoughts. I’m good at tuning out during diet talk, and at pretending that I don’t mind my body. In all traditional senses, I’m recovered, I’m new, I’m a healthy person in a healthy person body. But it’s my mind that has been unwell. And my mind has the power to infect the rest of me.
The competitive nature of many eating disorders means that we can never win playing their game. We are never thin enough, hungry enough, full enough, good enough. Rock bottom is never low enough or sharp enough; we will always fall too far but it’s never far enough. Where does this leave recovery, then? If the pits of hell is not punishment enough for the eating disorder, then how can I ever be far enough away from the person I once was, to consider myself recovered?
Although these moments of craving and longing are small, they are big in intensity, and their lure frightens me. Within this temptation, the past seen through rose-tinted lenses, and everything is glorified; romanticized. What if I give up everything and become nothing all over again, just over a few rolling punches aimed at my brain? I am so afraid of losing everything during a moment of weakness, of falling into a trap.
In these fleeting, brief moments where I wonder why it all matters, why not lose every bit of myself that I hate by starving myself once again, I stop. I stop and I look at my husband across the room, telling a lame joke that will make me laugh too hard, and playing the music that he wants to share with me too loudly. I stop and I look in my planner, and see all the birthdays, parties and dinners, moments with the people I love, waiting to be made. I stop and I look at photos of my dog and think of how much I love taking her to the beach, and trying to coax her into the water. I stop and I softly whisper our future babies names under my breath “A, L, K.” I stop, and here I am. On the brink of being recovered.