How to Recover
"You have been through a war and you've won."
This quotation from Alexandra Ballard's novel What I Lost floated across my Instagram feed today, NEDA's post for #NationalBookLoversDay. It's rare that images like these catch my attention; social media is saturated with #deep quotations splashed in a pretty font over a pastel background. But this one- this one made me pause. Stop. My chest tightens and my hands start to tingle, the result of shallow breathing that starves my bloodstream of oxygen. I forget to inhale. My body remembers. My body remembers the war.
I have been recovering from my eating disorder for the last five and a half years, and I still don't know how to describe what it's like to wage war against your own body. I didn't end up in the hospital. My hair didn't fall out, my teeth didn't rot, and thanks to the birth control pill I used to take, my monthly bleeding never stopped. I didn't meet all of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia, so the doctors gave me a different label: EDNOS, which means Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Now it's called OSFED, Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders. EDNOS/OSFED is just as damaging and deadly as anorexia and bulimia, despite often being dismissed as less serious. The diagnosis often just means there's a requirement or two that you didn't meet for any of the other illnesses. The irony wasn't lost on me then, and it still prompts a dark chuckle now: even after literally killing myself, slowly, to be perfect and in control at all times, I still wasn't quite good enough. I wasn't the model eating disorder victim. I never passed out or participated in an inpatient program. I don't have any scars to show for my illness. But my body remembers. My body remembers the war.
My story isn't Netflix-worthy. No one will - and no one should - make a movie about my eating disorder. Eating disorders don't lend themselves well to cinema, anyways. My eating disorder was private. It was a one-woman war of attrition waged over months and years. My recovery has already taken twice as long as that, and I have come to terms with the fact that my recovery will never really end. Recovery is not a healing circle or an epiphany or a touching conversation with your mom or therapist. Recovery is not immediate and it is not rapid. Recovery is expanding your stomach and terrible fear and saying fuck you to low-fat ice cream. Recovery is relapsing and night sweats and smashing your scale with a baseball bat. Recovery is pain and stretchy fabrics and laughing when you walk past the Ensure nutrition shakes in the vitamin aisle because you remember those days. Recovery is quiet. Recovery is what happens when no one is watching and there is no fanfare and most people forget that you were so sick because you are mostly healthy and mostly happy now. You waged the war alone and you waved the white flag alone. There were others lifting you up, to be sure, but you had to do the work yourself. You had to decide to surrender and you had to change the geography of your body. You, I, we started the war and we had to finish it. I wish I had more people to talk to about recovery, to share memories and struggles and small victories. But my body remembers. My body remembers the war, and for now, that is enough.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association by calling the helpline at 1-800-931-2237, texting "NEDA" to 741741, or chatting with someone on their website.