Readers please note: this story describes anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder which can be life threatening. If you or someone you love needs help, contact the National Eating Disorders Helpline.
Let me introduce you to an old friend. Or rather, an enemy disguised in friend’s clothing.
Her name was Ana. The first time we met, this is what she told me:
“Be careful. It’s an insensitive and hostile world out there. People will treat your tenderness and love with indifference or, worse, cruelty. They will tear it apart carelessly and leave you out in the cold. You won’t belong. You won’t have anyone to lean on. You won’t matter.
You won’t be loved.
That is, you won’t be loved as you are. Because let’s face it, you just don’t match up. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? No wonder J stopped messaging you and disappeared. No wonder P didn’t want to be called your boyfriend and cheated on you. No wonder A pathologically lied and only wanted to use you. No wonder the girls didn’t invite you to those parties. No wonder they never texted unless they wanted something.
What was the common denominator in all those experiences? You — there’s something wrong with you.
But don’t despair — there’s a way out! I know just the thing: the shiny, shimmery protection of beauty. Once you have it, no one and nothing will hurt you; you will be invincible. You will have an armor made of glamour and charm and endless grace. Everything will be set right. You will live on the edge of a golden world and the entirety of that world will love you. I will love you.”
She whispered such enticing words. And I, like a fool, believed every single one. If it meant I wouldn’t have to feel the sting of rejection and the emotional pain of heartbreak, I was willing to subject myself to the physical pain of hunger, the thing that Ana demanded. Ana, otherwise known as the voice of anorexia.
It felt good. It felt really really good. Because being so thin made me fall under the illusion that I was worth more than I thought I was. But my dance with anorexia was a dance with the devil. It was just like a drug — the more I took, the more it took away. And no matter how much weight I lost or how little I ate, my friend Ana couldn’t fill up the devouring emptiness I felt inside.
Funny thing is, except for myself, nothing else changed in my life. That is, people’s treatment of me didn’t change. Sure, I kept getting more and more compliments on how good I looked (even those stopped once I didn’t look so good anymore) but I wasn’t suddenly treated like a queen. I didn’t suddenly have more love in my life. I didn’t have men falling at my feet or caring for me the way I wanted. I still felt like I wasn’t being seen. If anything, I felt increasingly less and less seen.
Because here’s the thing: I continued to be ghosted, gaslighted and “zombied” (that’s a new dating phenomenon apparently) even when I looked like a model. People I thought were my friends still betrayed me. My relationships still disintegrated into the ether because other people wouldn’t invest as much time and energy as I did.
What I realized was that what Ana had convinced were all the ways in which I wasn’t good enough, was a load of crap. The problem had never been mine to begin with. I had punished myself needlessly.
The details of my journey navigating my eating disorder and its complexities are far too many to try to crystallize into one article. This is just one of the many brushstrokes in the entire picture but I will say this:
Be careful about falling into the trap of believing that the peace you need exists in some external thing outside of yourself. Sometimes that thing is an eating disorder; sometimes it’s a substance; sometimes it’s a person.
You might think it’ll give you everything, but whatever it gives, it takes more away.
The reality of it is that people have their own unspeakable issues and gory bits of their mind that they carry around with them. Like Lori Gottlieb says, “People act a certain way because they have to keep you at a distance so that you can’t see their pain.”
Our past experiences color our perception of the world and different people act differently in response to those perceptions. How others treat you doesn’t actually have anything to do with you, and everything to do with them. We’re all just trying to figure out this messy, ridiculous and beautiful thing called life.
What I’ve learned is that the guy who will ghost you won’t suddenly think, “She’s got washboard abs so maybe I’ll stick around.” He’s not going to change his stance on commitment because you have a gap between your thighs.
Similarly, the one who truly loves you and sees you won’t abandon you when you need him the most just because you’ve got hip dips or stretch marks. He won’t go looking for affection elsewhere because your legs jiggle when you walk. He will stick by your side, regardless of how many pounds you weigh or how many calories you eat.
You have to make yourself invincible from the inside out, not from the outside in. Nothing and no one can give that to you. Not a friend, not a lover, not even a family member. When all is said and done, what matters most is what you think about yourself when you’re by yourself. This body is the only one you’ve got. It’s gotten you this far. It’s allowed you to take in the splendor and magnificence of life — to feel the rays of the sun warming your insides on a hot summer day; to feel the throb of passion in your heart when in love; to enjoy all the various tastes of food which is the very nourishment of life itself. If you don’t take care of the vehicle for your experience of life, who will?
Protect the body you live in because it houses all the tenderness and love that you have to give to the world. All the brilliant ideas that have yet to flow out of your mind. All the memories of anybody who has ever given their affection to you, which just the simple act of recalling gives wings to the heart.
Our bodies are made of (star)dust and to dust, they’ll return. But that thing that lives inside of you, that makes you you, is something infinitely more magical and it doesn’t speak the language of matters as shallow as external beauty. It operates in far greater and vaster ways. It has the potential to do so much — if only you stop and promise to be its friend.
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