By Jamie Siegel
Yesterday I celebrated Thanksgiving and gave thanks for all of the wonderful things in my life, things that I didn’t have this time last year: interests, a job, a voice, finally some peace. Yesterday I recognized all that I have gained through my various experiences since I came to LA for eating disorder treatment and yet today I mourn. Today I mourn because of all that I have lost, not as a result of having had my eating disorder for most of my life, but because of letting go of it a little more each day. For a friendly introduction to my eating disorder, take a look at what I wrote when I was in the depths of it almost 2 years ago, a few months before seeking treatment for the second time. It’s very uplifting, I know:
In my closet sits a box
It’s not very big
Inside are the clothes that used to fit me
I mostly ignore the box and everything else around it
Knowing that those clothes are untouchable
That they are just another reminder of how my body has rebelled against me
But today I opened the box, its contents suddenly screaming out to me and begging to be touched
I fell into the trap, pulling out each piece and letting them suck me back in to another place and time
Today I discovered that I have 2 more pairs of pants and 2 shirts that I can wear
Because yet again I have succumbed to the demons within me
The ones that tell me not to eat
The ones that kick me when I’m down and cheer when I have another scale victory or my pants get too big
Today I gained 4 new friends made of cloth while I continue to lose the ones made of skin and bone
But nothing else matters when you’re skinny
Or so I’m told, since I have never achieved it
Today is a good day because those pants fit
My weight is down
And even though the volume of work in my “real life” is suffocating me
I can end my day with a number on the scale that I can live with, which makes the day good
And that is the saddest part of it all
Yesterday I went through a whole range of emotions. I felt heartbroken for the girls I was celebrating “Friendsgiving” with, watching them struggle to find things they could and would eat, and I felt compassion and gratitude for the people who were on the other side of that watching ME struggle…the frustration, the exasperation and the helplessness they must have felt watching me slip away.
Later the girls wanted to visit our old residential treatment center, and I was both excited at who I might run into and nervous because, well, that place always makes me feel nervous for some reason. I’ve never really known why, except a general insecurity…a feeling of not being good enough no matter how hard I try. That was the place that was supposed to “fix” me, not reinforce how I already felt. Their intentions were good; I was just too far gone to appreciate what they were trying to do for me and couldn’t see past how much prettier I thought they all were than I was.
When we got there the house was empty. One staff member to let us in and that was it. I’ve never seen the house so quiet yet able to speak a message so loudly in my ear. As we sat outside and waited for the clients and staff to come back from the beach, I looked around…There was the bench swing I used to get yelled at for swinging too aggressively on to get in a little exercise and the places I hid when I felt like I needed to be alone. The fountain I would walk laps around when no one was looking (and sometimes when they were). The steps where I formed my first real bonds and let myself sing out loud again. I saw the ghosts of eating disorders past; my ghosts. I felt reminiscent in a way and I felt out of place. I’ve felt the separation from that house the previous times I’d visited for alumni groups, but never so intensely, so completely. This world wasn’t mine anymore. My world for 36 years was now a stranger to me.
I saw most of the staff and was surprised when the one person I’d been trying to contact for the past year to catch up with walked through the door. I shrieked and pounced. I couldn’t wait to tell her all about everything she’s missed, to update her on what my life looks like outside those walls. I didn’t get the reception that I expected and that, in that moment, I felt like I needed. It was what I had always planned to come back for. For the people who saw me at my worst to finally see me at my best. But they didn’t outwardly show the pride that I craved and had waited so long to see, to earn. She had already heard how I was doing from someone else and didn’t need as much updating as I thought. I felt my heart drop, the excitement I had felt quickly replaced with the ache of disappointment that started to settle in, and the shame that this was so important to me in the first place.
No one tells you about this feeling. The pride and the loneliness. The gratitude for what is and the longing for what was, all at the same time. No one talks about that moment when you stare your eating disorder in the face and for the first time you don’t recognize each other, like a high school reunion where you don’t realize that the person who just greeted you used to be your best friend. You once shared so much and now there is nothing to fill the awkward silence, nothing to stop the shock from taking over your body, betraying the face you’ve worked so hard to keep straight for so long. No amount of studying or rehearsing can prepare you for this moment, which leaves an impact hours after it’s come and gone. I missed it – the moment I could have snapped a picture of, or captured like a firefly for any time I needed to remind myself that this other person ever existed outside my dreams and nightmares. No one can adequately describe how in that moment, with all the evidence of your past tiny existence laid before you in all of its fractured glory, you can be so much more alive and still really miss your past chaotic shit storm of a life terribly. It was empty and torturous, but it was mine. I felt this in every inch of my body then and this morning it still hasn’t left me.
So what do I do at this juncture, when I don’t want to go back yet the steps forward lead so far away from my safety – without a chaperone or bodyguard to make sure that even without my eating disorder I am still okay and can cope with life in a healthier way? When I can’t trust what I remember and have no frame of reference for what the future will look like. I don’t have an immediate answer to that question, even 9 months into solid recovery, but one day I hope I will.
And so, until then, I breathe.
Jamie Siegel resides in the Los Angeles area and currently works in the public relations field. Her joys in life are music, meditation, her puppies and her (many) nieces and nephews. While she has been writing her entire life, this is Jamie’s first ever submission for publication, online or otherwise.
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