Tag Archives: eating disorder

Shauna

We sprawled out on the floor between the beds, squeezed hands, and then rolled over so we could scoot underneath our respective mattresses. The light from the hallway flooded the otherwise darkroom. Each of us had a single crayon clutched in a fist; mine was red, Shauna’s was purple. 

“What should we write?” I stared up at the bottom of my mattress, squinting in the low light.

“Ourselves,” she replied simply. “Shauna. Was,” she dictated as she wrote each word. “Here.”

I raised the crayon above me in the small space and pressed it down against the white fabric. It seemed to me, in that moment, like the words I would write were very important. They would be there forever, while I would most certainly not be.

Slowly, carefully, I began to write.

*

Shauna was one of those cute preppy girls I would never have been friends with outside the eating disorder treatment center. On that first day, I sat sullenly on my bed, resenting her mere existence in what had been a single room for me for two whole days. She sat on her bed, staring at me, her feet dangling over the edge and swinging back and forth in a way that made her entire body bounce—all the way to her curly blonde cheerleader ponytail.

“Hi.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“I’m Shauna.”

“I figured.” I pulled my book back out from under my pillow and started reading.

“That’s rude,” she informed me, flopping back across her mattress. 

I didn’t respond. 

“What do we do for fun here?”

I blinked in her direction, slowly. “We aren’t here for fun…” I let my voice trail off in a way that indicated my feelings on how ridiculous she was.

Shauna sat up, leaning on one arm, and glared at me. “I’m going back out where the couches are,” she informed me before flouncing off.

This continued for a few days; after meals, I would read on my bed and she would loiter in the couch area, talking to anybody and everybody but me. Which was fine with me. I preferred my space solo. I talked to people when I had to, but I avoided it as often as I could. When they took us to the cafeteria for our three meals a day, I stuck to the back of the line and I sat by myself. Because I could. Because it felt right.

Or maybe not right, so much as appeasing. Maybe I was just afraid.

After we had been roommates for a week or so, Shauna stood in the doorframe one day and folded her arms in front of her chest. 

“So, I mean, obviously. No one wants to be here and all. But you could at least try and have fun once in a while. Get out. Do things other than read.”

I laid my book down across my lap, still open. “Why would I want to do that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” She rolled her eyes. “To maybe get out of here at some point?”

“I don’t see how my hanging out on a bunch of couches is going to get me out of here any faster than sitting on my bed reading a book is.”

“It shows initiative.” She sat down on her bed, staring at me. When I didn’t answer she asked, “What are you reading?”

I picked the book up and turned it so she could see the cover. 

Speak. Good book.”

I nodded, wishing she would let me get back to it.

“That’s it!” She got back up, snatched the book out of my hand, and tossed it back on my bed.

“Hey!”

“Hey what?”

“Come on.” She tugged on my shirt sleeve.

“What? Where?” This was the most words I had said to any one person the entire duration of my stay.

“Out. About. Be here.”

I reluctantly got up and followed Shauna out to the bay of couches, where we perched in front of the television that was playing some crazy cartoon show I had never seen before. I folded into a corner, holding a pillow to my chest and staring at the television while the other girls stared at me. Shauna was talking to everyone, and I admired her for it. The easy way that she could just float in and out of the conversation. I wanted to be like that. Better. 

On the third day Shauna pulled me out into the bay of couches, I didn’t put up a fight. I even put down the pillow and attempted conversation.

Sometimes all it takes to get the ball rolling is a little push.

*

Sliding back out from under our mattresses, we crawled up into our beds and pulled the covers around us. 

“Good night,” I told her, staring out the window through the bars at the stars beyond.

“Good night,” Shauna replied.

When I got up the next morning, she had left for her therapy appointment. She never came back; I never got to say goodbye, and I never saw her again. That’s the way it is with some people, I think. They flit in and out of your lives so quickly it is almost like they were never there, but they leave a change behind that is permanent. I knew Shauna a short time, but she changed me.

The words I had written on the underside of my mattress the night before echoed through my head that entire day, and for many afterwards.

I am here, and I will love myself today, tomorrow, and forever.

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“Eating Disorder Recovered”

My nemesis is small.  Gray.  With a tiny display.  I could smash it into the ground and break it into smithereens.  I could beat it easily.  And yet it beats me, time and time again.

Slowly the numbers creep up.  Higher.  Higher.  I don’t like where they are going.

I told E that I wouldn’t do this.  I wouldn’t come home and get on the scale.  But even as I said it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.  I knew I would do it.  Nobody wants to hear they’re fat.  I needed to know.

“Have you gained weight?” he asks me.  “You’re looking fatter.”

I open and close my mouth.  I don’t know how to respond.  I know full well how dangerous this statement is for me.  I know that I need to have an answer.  But there isn’t one.  I haven’t seen this man in two months, but I’m fairly certain I haven’t gained weight—I’ve lost it.  I think. 

“You should weigh yourself.  Start keeping track.”

The numbers stop.  I blink once.  Twice.  I get off the scale and then back on.  The numbers tick up quickly this time, because I know where they will land.  They are higher than I would like.  This is why I do not often allow myself to look.  This is why I have not looked in almost a year.

*

The first time I took my measurements and weighed myself after being pregnant was for a dress fitting shortly after Carter died.  When I was “eating disorder recovered.”

I tried dress after dress, trying to force my body to be the body it had been before.  But I couldn’t go back.  I couldn’t erase what had happened to me.  They whispered about me—the salespeople and my friends.  That I had lost a baby.  That I didn’t know how to adjust to the weight.  They acknowledged that I was grieving.

I only heard how fat I was.  Baby fat goes away when you nurse.  I wouldn’t nurse.  I didn’t have a baby.  Just fat.  Their words echoed, banged around inside my brain.

Fat.  You.  Are.  Fat.

I cried.  I was afraid to come out of the dressing room.

Words are that powerful.

*

I have often tried to psychologize my eating disorder, with little success.  In her book Wasted, which I read and reread and highlighted incessantly, Marya Hornbacher writes, “We turn skeletons into goddesses and look to them as if they might teach us how not to need.”  This is a perfect summation of society and the way that people are viewed.  Our self-worth as woman is based upon the size of our ass, not the size of our brain.  It’s based on the way we look on the outside, not on what we legitimately contribute to society, our real worth.  I think of the eating disorder, in a way, as a denial of my own self worth.  A refusal to see that I am as good as people say I am.  Food is a basic need.  In order for the body to function, it must be fed.  Denying the body that basic need is like saying that the body, and therefore the person, is not worth enough to warrant even something as minor as food.  So when I don’t eat, I am telling myself I am not worth enough; that I don’t have needs.  That I will be worth something when I am, as Hornbacher puts it, a skeleton.  I hate that.  I hate that part of myself.  I prefer “eating disorder recovered.”

“Have you gained weight?”

The phrase echoes in my head.  I step on and off the damn scale again.

“You’re looker fatter.”

I think of a ton of responses.

“Fatter isn’t even a real word.”

“You’re an asshat.”

“Just who exactly do you think you are?”

But it’s too late to say anything to him.  The moment when we are sitting together, conversing, has passed.  I let him say these things and didn’t stick up for myself.  What does that say about me?  It is easier to let the world tell me I am worth nothing than it is to accept the things that have happened to me; it is easier to say that these things are my fault over admitting that things happen.  It is easier to dismiss myself rather than dismiss others.

“You should weigh yourself.  Start keeping track.”

It is easier for me to listen to the word of a man who knows nothing and wants to control me than to my own self who knows so much better.

*

When life was overwhelming last semester, I heard those words in everything again.  That it was my fault.  That I deserved what happened to me.  That I was a horrible person.  That I was not good enough.

The answer was simple to the old me; not good enough, don’t eat.

But unlike in my marriage, I had more important things in my life.  More worth.  “Eating disorder recovered.”

I was more.  Worth fighting for.

*

People shouldn’t say things like this.  They shouldn’t make ignorant comments.  They don’t know who they’re talking to.  They don’t know people’s past, or the battles they have fought.  They don’t know where they are in life.  There is a sensitivity that some people severely lack.

I have fought through many things and won.  But this is something I can’t triumph over, not fully.  This is something that will not go away.  It is hard.  I know that I will run on the elliptical tonight while I watch the next episode of Orphan Black.  I know this like I know that two and two make four.  I want to eat and be okay with myself, so I will take care of myself in the only way I know how.  I will run him away.  I will run his obnoxious comments away.

I told E I wouldn’t do this, that I wouldn’t get on the scale, but I did it anyway.  And though I’m precisely where I thought I was in terms of weight, I am afraid of the number that I saw there.  I know that it’s okay.  But I don’t want to know it.  I also know I will not keep track.  I will not weigh myself again, because it will break me.  If I keep track, I will do whatever I can to make sure the number is lower each time I write it down.  I can’t do that.  I won’t do that.  I will not allow myself to do that.

It won’t be like when I said I wouldn’t get on the scale.

I want to be rational about this.  I want to know that he is full of shit, that I don’t need to freak out.  I want to not cry at the number I saw, at his words.  I want to know that they mean nothing.

I want them to not hurt.

Because I am “eating disorder recovered.”

As I sit here and eat a donut, I tell myself that I am okay.  That I am worth it.

That I am enough.

This fight, this weakness to certain words, to certain actions, is what it means to be “eating disorder recovered.”

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