“Never, never underestimate the power of desire. If you want to live badly enough, you can live. The great question, at least for me, was: How do I decide I want to live?” –Marya Hornbacher
How do you decide you want to live?
It’s about being careful.
It’s about stopping yourself from those thoughts, thoughts like “I can’t eat that” or “I’m fat.”
Most importantly, and also simply, it’s about just doing it.
A large portion of people who experience some type of eating disorder are perfectionists. Perfectionism is shown to be a fairly significant risk factor for the development of an eating disorder, and the levels of perfectionism tend to improve slightly when the person is in “recovery.” A study done by Anna Bardone-Cone, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found that a fully recovered group largely resembled a non eating-disordered control group in terms of their perfectionism, while the partially recovered group more resembled those still in the full throes of their disorder. Perfectionism lingers even in recovery.
This perfectionism can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, from always having to do things right the first time to needing to earn straight A’s, to having to order your clothes a certain way. But the disorder isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about being thin. It’s about knowing that there is one thing left in your life that still belongs to you, one thing that you can still control. It’s about having the power to slowly disappear.
That is the only power you still wield.
The eating disorder fills a hole; it provides something to hold on to where there was previously only empty space. For a lot of people, and for you, it is about being numb. It is about creating your own despair before someone else can create it for you. Where people can always take things from you no matter how hard you fight back, this is something that you can take from yourself. The key to staying alive is finding other ways to fill the hole. Because the thing is, real power does not come with the choice to disappear. Rather, it comes with the choice to live. And that choice is not small at all.
It begins with the decision to eat one thing, however small, and then it snowballs. First one thing, then another, then another. Until you wake up one morning and eat your Cheerios just like everybody else, without a second thought. But some things don’t change. You can go for days eating the same thing. You go out to restaurants and know what you will order before you get there. You make eating into routines. On Mondays, you can eat certain things. Tuesdays, other things. On and on and on. In this way, you have accepted your decision to live but still maintain some modicum of control. The eating disorder lies dormant. You are “better,” but it does not go away. Not completely. You wonder when it will come back.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much.
A night in the back of a car.
You are that little girl again, the one with the pink lunch box with yellow handles. The one that everyone made fun of, teased, tormented. Your fingers graze over the Barbie picture that is raised from the fabric. You want to empty your lunch box, just like she did, so you eat your banana and nothing more. You can not handle life. This act of withholding is all you can do.
You remember that it is easier to deal with this than it is to deal with what has happened, and you realize that maybe you aren’t “better” after all. Maybe you’re still the same as you always were. Maybe you have to decide to live all over again.
The decision is about remembering what you are here for. It comes from the faces of the students who look up to you. From the friends you have made. From the people who have supported you. From the things you have to draw on that you never had before. From realizing that you too, like all of us, have a purpose.
From integrating your experiences and accepting them as a part of yourself, and then letting them go.
The desire to live requires constantly making the decision to do so. But you need to be careful, because you are well aware that it can always, always, come back. So you must always know that you are better than it. You are more. You are worth it.