Today is a special day, and not because it’s May the Fourth. I’m not a Star Wars nerd, so frankly I don’t give a shit. Today is May 4, and that marks two months of recovering from anorexia.
I could tell you that this has been a miracle, that this has been a happy sixty days, but that just wouldn’t be the truth. The truth is that this has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through, and the only thing pushing me along is the knowledge that this is the right thing to do.
The truth about recovery is that it isn’t pretty. You don’t start eating three balanced meals and suddenly become normal again. You have to go through hell—payback for the hell you put your body through all those years.
When I first began recovering, I thought I was dying about fifteen times a day. It begins with the increase in metabolism, which is sudden and dramatic and you are just not ready for it.
Starting out, I couldn’t eat like a normal person. Based on the danger my body was in, I had to eat like a teenage athletic boy just to make any semblance of progress. No matter how much I ate, it wasn’t enough. My metabolism, which I had so cruelly ignored for three years, was back and vengeful as hell. My eyes would glaze over, in desperate need for food almost every hour on the hour. I would shake until I got something in my stomach. My heart rate would rise and fall drastically throughout the day, a reminder that I was still at risk for a heart attack (and still am). I went through a period where I swear I could literally feel my food metabolizing and disappearing before I had even finished swallowing it. I had to keep eating, eating, eating, but don’t forget: I have a disorder.
“Have,” because even though I’ve chosen to recover, I’ll still live with anorexia. The experts say you can never get rid of an eating disorder—only learn how to manage it. “Have,” because even though I want to get better, I want to be happy, I want to be healthy and normal again, there’s a voice in my head that will never stop telling me to put down the food. The voice in my head will never stop telling me to exercise longer, to run faster, to drink more water instead of eat. The voice is getting duller, but it’s still there.
After the metabolism began to regularize, I noticed another wonderful (note: heavy sarcasm) side effect of recovering: it all goes straight to your stomach at first.
A doctor explained this phenomenon to me: when you starve yourself, the first thing to break down is your muscle. Next, your bone density. Then, brain chemicals are messed with. Eventually, your stomach lining begins to deteriorate, causing your organs to sag. When you begin to refeed, your body isn’t sure whether or not you’re going to put it through a deficit again, so to protect itself, the fat all goes straight to your stomach to protect those vital organs. After you’ve been eating regularly for a while, it begins to redistribute and you have a normal, balanced body again. But this can take months—even a year.
Beyond the fact that I’ve been wandering around the past two months looking slightly pregnant, I’ve been experiencing a resurgence of hormones. Another thing that happens when you starve yourself—your body stops producing enough hormones. Get down to a low enough body fat percentage and you lose your period, too. This sounds like a dream come true, but it’s a nightmare. Imagine not feeling like a woman anymore. Beyond just the loss of sexuality is the loss of feelings in general. Happiness, sadness, anger—it’s all numbed. You’re not really a person anymore. You’re not really living.
Recovery is the exact opposite. About a month in, I began to feel thirteen and raging all over again. Mood swings, random fits of anger/sobbing/hysterical joy. Deep depression for what I put myself through, followed by delirious happiness that I’ve been able to pull myself out. And then, after three years without, I got my period.
As of today, I am the minimum “normal” weight for my height, gender, and build. I am menstruating again, I’m experiencing life, and I’m eating enough to make it through the day without collapsing mentally, emotionally, and physically.
I know I still have a long way to go. Shit, I haven’t even really gotten past the stage of looking slightly pregnant at all times. I have a lot to learn, a lot of fears that remain to be tackled, and a lot of physical and emotional damage to repair. But two months ago today I decided to live my life again, and I’m really proud of myself for sticking to that.