What It’s Like to Be An Anorexic In a Thanksgiving World (as told by a Recovering Anorexic)

I’m Italian. I’m Genetically-bred to love food.

My mind, however, once believed food to be my enemy.

You see, throughout High School and into my first year of College, I had an Eating Disorder. (For those keeping track at home, that’s 5 Thanksgivings.)

Thanksgiving is literally the worst time to have an Eating Disorder. It’s a day about giving thanks. It’s a day dedicated to eating food, and for people like me who tend to avoid eating food at all costs, it’s a day dedicated to our worst nightmare. It’s like diving into shark infested waters when you’re terrified of sharks. It’s a special kind of hell.

You’re surrounded by food all the time. You feel guilty for not eating the food. You feel guilty for eating food. It’s the everlasting battle between being told to eat and telling yourself you don’t deserve to eat. You want to eat the turkey, but you don’t want to be compared to the turkey. 

Your stomach is telling you to eat, but your mind is telling you, “Nah, bro. No good.” And how can you argue with that? You know what they say: Mind over matter. Or in this case: Mind over stomach growling. It’s finding the perfect balance between how much you want to eat and how much you’re willing to let yourself eat. It’s about taking one bite at a time until you hate yourself so much you can’t take another bite. And then it’s about repeating this action over and over.

And every year I thought to myself, “How am I supposed to be thankful when I want to change everything about who I am? I don’t match society’s idea of beauty and therefore, have nothing to be thankful for. How am I supposed to make it through this grand feast when I can barely eat a bird’s amount of breakfast?”

They’re valid thoughts. How is anybody supposed to be thankful when they are so depressed they can’t get out of bed in the morning? How is anybody supposed to be thankful when they find so little value in themselves they don’t eat? Because really, the only thing I’m capable of feeling is nothing.

For some people it’s hard to hide Anorexia. For me it was easy. I’ve never eaten a lot, so when I took smaller portions, it was easy for me to take a few bites and leave the rest, because my plate would have the same amount of food left as it normally did. I would eat just enough to stop my stomach from growling, enough to quench the hunger, but not enough to feel stuffed.

I don’t know how many people in my family knew.

And when people ask me why? I respond: I felt like my whole life was out of control. So, I tried to control the one thing I could: how much I ate.

And I don’t know when things began to change. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to start eating. And I don’t know why I had the sudden change of mind. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was worth enough to eat. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was beautiful. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide my life was back in control, because it’s not. I don’t have my life controlled. At all.

All I know is somewhere between then and now I started eating again.

So, this year when Thanksgiving rolled around, I decided to make a list of things I am Thankful for (which can be read here).

This year I was actually excited to eat lots of food.

So, I did.

This year I had two Thanksgivings. This year I ate a lot of food at both. This year I didn’t feel guilty. This year I took too much food instead of not enough. And if that’s not something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.

Because, yes, I still felt like a turkey when I was done eating. But I didn’t hate it. Because I realized that despite what society tells me: I am beautiful. And that’s enough reason to eat.

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Thanksfullgivingness *

*Yes, I am aware it’s a made up word. But there are so many great words contained within its borders, I just had to use it.

Thanks. Thankful. Giving. Full. Thanksgiving. Fullness. Thankfulness.  The way I hope Tom Hanks signs his autograph: T. Hanks.

So many great words, and I hope to touch on most of them in this blog post, but first, can we look at the word thanks. Look at it. Soak it in. It’s such a weird word. It’s one of those words where I second guess the spelling when I write at it–are you a real word?

Anyway, I digress. That was a tangent.

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for all we have, and today my College did exactly that. They held a Chapel where students could get up and tell everybody what they have to be thankful for this year. The only catch was you only had two minutes to do it.

Yeah, no. How can I begin to sum up what I have to be thankful for in 2 minutes? The answer is: I can’t. But, I’m going to try to sum it up here.

I’m thankful for the way God has brought me through so much. I’m thankful for the way the sun rises and sets everyday and the way it paints the sky with all the colors of the wind. I’m thankful for the way the waves refuse to stop kissing the shore no matter how many times it’s sent away.

I’m thankful for my whole family, and everybody’s sense of humor. Speaking of which, I’m thankful for laughter, and how, if you laugh hard enough, you can forget your name and what year it is. I’m thankful for my friends, who they are, and what they’re going to become.

I’m thankful for my overactive writer’s imagination, and the way it plans out all these ridiculous scenarios that will never happen, but I know what I’ll say in case they do. (unless of course a guy talks to me, in which case, I’ll words my over stumble). I’m thankful for the way everything can become a poem if you try hard enough, because the two things I know best in this world are music and poetry.

I’m thankful for the way I can think of a good comeback… 5 minutes too late, but if you ask me for a pun, I’ll be so sharp I’ll be banned from airplanes, which is a shame because 37,000 feet in the air is beautiful.

I’m thankful for the seasons, because just as they change so do I. Spring reminds me of fresh life and beauty. Summer reminds me of all the dreams I have. Fall reminds me that everything beautiful has an end. But ends bring new beginnings. Winter reminds me I’m still alive even on my worst days. Because some days it’s so cold, my lungs feel like they’re on fire, but in those moments, I remember I’m still breathing.

I’m thankful for the beauty of the first snowfall and for Christmas lights and Thanksgiving dinner and for how giving so much can make you feel so full.

I’m thankful for light breezes, because being kissed by the earth reminds me how beautiful this life can be. I’m thankful for rain, because it can wash everything away if you just let it. I’m thankful for the strength to get out of bed in the morning even when I don’t have much faith.

I’m thankful for the phrase, “Blood is thicker than water, but maple syrup is thicker than blood.” Because I don’t like pancakes that much, but one day, I’ll meet a guy who will make me want to eat pancakes with him.

I’m thankful for language, and the way it can change lives. I’m thankful for the places I’ve been, the memories I’ve created, the relationships I’ve formed.

I’m thankful for my past, because, yes, it hurts, but if I hadn’t gone through it, I wouldn’t have formed the relationships I have, and my life would be a lot less meaningful.

I’m thankful for so many things, and since I can’t number the stars, I can’t list all of them either. But, boy are stars beautiful, and so is life. And that’s what I’m most thankful for anyway: life and all it has to offer.

And so I ask, what are you thankful for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open Letter to Society

I read somewhere once that it takes 21 days to form a habit. I also read somewhere that people who are anorexic believe themselves to be larger than they are, and they will turn their bodies when they go through doorways large enough for them to fit, because despite the vastness of the doorway, they believe they occupy more space than any doorway ever could.

I was anorexic for 4, almost 5, years. I was anorexic for 1825 days, give or take a few. That’s enough time for me to form 86 habits and 9/10ths of another. That’s 60 months of training my body to not need 3 meals a day, training my body to not need very much at all.

It’s taken me longer than 21 days to get in the habit of eating again, because I still don’t feel confident enough in my body to think of eating as a top priority.

And sometimes I still find myself turning my body when I walk through doors. Some habits are harder to break than others.

I stopped cutting myself 41 months ago, and sometimes I think if I day gets bad enough, I could start again.

I was raised in a society that taught girls how to protect themselves from sexual assault, but didn’t teach guys how to not rape. Fat lot of good that did me.

I was raised in a society where beauty is found in Photoshop and good lighting. And even though society’s beginning to change, I think it’s too late for my generation.

It’s too late for those who have already starved themselves to the point of hospitalization. It’s too late for those who have killed themselves because the pressures of society were too much. It’s too late for those who have already created enough scars on their skin to map the constellations in the sky.

But it’s not too late for the next generation. That’s why I’m going to teach my children to be more than pretty. Because pretty is boring. I’m going to teach them to be pretty amazing, pretty funny, pretty inquisitive, pretty respectful.

I’m going to teach them that ‘hate’ has four letters, but so does love. It’s easy to hate, and it’s hard to love. But love makes the world go round.

I’m going to teach them to love the 26 letters that make up this alphabet. Because language is powerful, and sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can also hurt you. Which is why I try my hardest to build others up, because I know what it’s like to be torn down.

I’m going to teach them the importance of equality and mutual respect, and the things you learn in school can have practical importance if you know the places to look.

I’m going to teach them that no matter their past, no matter what they’ve been through, they can do great things with their life. Your past does not define who you are. You are so much more.

And I’m going to teach them the following:

Girls, if a guy hits you, do not hit back. Walk away. Tell yourself that you deserve so much more.

The correct response is not, “Don’t hit me because I’m a girl.” The correct response is, “Don’t hit me because I’m human.” Guys don’t like being hit either.

Guys, if a girl hits you, do not hit back. Walk away. Tell yourself that you deserve so much more.

The correct response is not, “I can’t hit her back because she’s a girl.” The correct response is, “I can’t hit her back because she’s a human.” Do not answer violence with violence.

Girls, if a guy tells you that wearing a dress makes you look more dateable, wear sweatpants every day. Dress up to make yourself feel beautiful. Do not dress up to impress the guys.

Guys, if a girl tells you that they are into guys with six-packs, keep your shirt on. Go to the gym and work out. But do it to make you feel better. Do not do it to impress the ladies.

Girls, do not find a hero in a guy. Be your own hero.

Guys, be a hero for a girl. Do not be perfect.

Girls, do not let a guy kiss you/ touch you/ do anything to you without your consent. It’s not ok.

Guys, do not let a girl kiss you/ touch you/ do anything to you without your consent. It’s not ok.

Girls, do not fall in love with a guy who has the perfect body. Fall in love with a man who is not perfect, but who has a heart filled with the Perfect Man who died for us. Fall in love with a man who respects you, who knows you, who loves you for who you are. Fall in love with a man who isn’t afraid to express his feelings.

Guys, do not fall in love with a supermodel. Fall in love with a woman who is far from it, but who has been made beautiful by the washing with His blood. Fall in love with a woman whose heart is so lost in God’s that you need God to break through. Fall in love with a woman who respects you, who knows you, who loves you for who you are.

Girls, do not for a minute let a guy treat you like trash. Do not let a guy control you. Do not find your value in a guy. Walk away.

Guys, do not for a minute let a girl treat you like trash. Do not let a girl control you. Do not find your value in a girl. Walk away.

I’m going to teach my son that if he likes a girl, he should not pull her ponytail, he should not be mean to her. I will tell him, Honey, if you like a girl, buy her flowers or chocolate or make her a card. Do something, anything that will show her how special she is.”

I’m going to teach my daughter that a guy pulling her ponytail is not ok. I will not tell her he likes her. I will tell her, “Honey, if a guy really truly likes you, he will show you how special you are over and over and over again.”

If someone has a history of being abusive, do not get involved.

If someone has a history of being abused, do not continue that cycle.

If someone is making you uncomfortable, walk away.

If someone is hurting you mentally or physically, walk away.

Do not for a minute believe that the world is better off without you. We all have a purpose. We all have talents, but sometimes we doubt our abilities.

If worse comes to worse, rely on God. You are loved by a God who is far greater than any love you can find on earth.

But most importantly, I’m going to tell them over and over again about the importance of faith. Because there will be days when the size of life’s problems will be too much for their small hands to handle, but they have a God who has hands big enough for all of us.

Speak

“IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding.”

“I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?” – Speak, by Laurie Halse Andserson

In my Adolescent Lit class on Tuesday, we discussed the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. At the beginning of the Semester, my Professor introduced the book by saying, “It’s a book about Sexual Assault.”

And immediately, right there, my mind stopped. I thought to myself, “Wait, what?” So, after class I went up to my Professor and said, ” Prof Q, I don’t know if I can read this book.” And I told her my story, just like I’ve told it so many times before. And she understood, and she told me I didn’t have to come to class the day we discussed Speak.

I didn’t have to go to class.

Half a semester later, my mind was telling me “Don’t go to class,” but my feet weren’t listening. So, I showed up to class, and was immediately told to write a 10 minute response to the following question, “How accurate is Melinda’s (the main character) portrayal of High School in this book? Use examples from your own life or from somebody else’s.”

I am Melinda. Melinda is me. As I read this book, I was in tears from laughing at Melinda’s scathing wit and biting sarcasm. As I read this book, I was in tears from crying because of the experience we share. High School is exactly as it was portrayed in this book, at least for me. I remember thinking these things. I remember doing what she did. I remember doing it all. This is the most believable book I’ve read thus far to date.

As we discussed the book in class, I felt awkward, compressed, as though there were 4000 pounds of weight on my chest. I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest, unless of course the pressure surrounding my lungs didn’t kill me first. I sat there in silence, doodling in my notebook, checking my phone, analyzing Beauty and the Beast in my head, and doing pretty much anything that distracted me from the conversation at hand.

I didn’t say anything until Prof Q asked the last question, “How did you like the ending?”

I immediately got angry. I hated the ending.

(SPOILER ALERT: The book ends with Melinda confronting her assaulter in her hide-away closet at school. She threatens him with a shard of glass to his neck.

And then some other stuff goes down, but those details aren’t important).

I spoke up, “I hated the ending. It makes for a better story, but it doesn’t actually happen that way. I don’t know, I mean, I do know. But, ya.”

As much as Melinda and I have in common, our stories are just as different. We were both Sexually Assaulted at the end of 8th grade. But it took me two years to admit anything was wrong.

Melinda had one IT. I had 5 ITs, which means I had THEM.

THEM.

And while IT happened at a party for Melinda, THEM happened in a school bathroom for me.

I didn’t have a place to run and hide in school. I didn’t have a place I belonged. I haven’t told anyone their names even though I saw their faces everyday until they either dropped out, moved away, or until we graduated together.

But, like Melinda I know the fear of THEM. I know the not wanting to get out of bed. I know the wanting to tell someone but not knowing how. I know the self-hatred and the self-blaming. I know the grimacing when I hear their names or their voices. I know the thought “what if I said ‘no’ one more time?” I know it all.

I struggled with self-injury for years before I stopped. I struggled with Anorexia all the way through High School and into college. And I’m lucky if I don’t have a mental breakdown anytime I run into someone who even remotely looks like one of THEM.

So, no. I don’t think my story will ever end like Melinda’s. And that’s ok. Because they took a lot from me, and I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to reclaim it as my own.

And it’s taken me a long time to get where I am today, and it’s been a lot of baby steps along the way. I’ve stopped cutting. I’ve started eating. I’ve started believing myself to be beautiful. I’ve stopped wanting to jump every time I’m up high.

Yesterday, I saw a picture of one of THEM on Facebook because of a mutual friend, and I didn’t slam my laptop shut, want to throw up, or take 5 showers. So, ya. That happened, and it was big.

And 5.5 years later, I’ve gotten to the point where I can finally identify THEM by name (but I won’t list them here, because this is the internet, and this is not the place for naming names). And one day, I may even say “Hi” to them if I see them in Walmart, that is if I don’t go cry in the bathroom first.

No, but really though. One day I will say Hi, because I want them to know they don’t have a hold of me anymore. I’ve reclaimed what was mine. And yes, I still have flashbacks from time to time, but I’ve learned that when I speak, people will listen. They told me I would never amount to anything in my life. Clearly, I’ve proved them wrong.