You know that “On This Day” thing on Facebook where they send you the posts you made in years prior? You know, the memories that inspire you to either nostalgically repost, note how far you’ve come, or crawl into a ball for a few hours wondering where your “best laid plans” have gone, what the hell you’ve been doing with your life, and when the hell you became someone approaching 40 with wrinkles, a spare tire, who still rents an urban apartment full of mismatched Ikea furniture?
While my reactions to “On This Day” have run the gamut from “AWWWW” to “SHITTTT” depending on the memory, this year, one of the memories included in my feed was a video from Thanksgiving that my stepfather took four years ago that really hit me hard.
It was, at first glance, a pretty happy video. My stepfather filmed the family taking a musical break from preparing our meal. My mom, brother, and I stood at the kitchen island, various kitchen implements in hand (me with two carrots over the cutting board), banging and dancing to the Irish celtic music playing in the background.
Four years ago I remember seeing that video when my brother posted it on Facebook and thinking “Holy Lord, take this down. I am so large. This is ridiculous.”
This year, I saw it and thought, “Holy Lord, I was absolutely wasting away into nothing.”
I wore a shirt and jeans I stopped fitting into a long time ago. My face was drawn, caked in makeup to hide my exaggerated under-eye circles and pale complexion. My clothes swum on me.
And this year I noticed, after we danced (a dance which was not, by any stretch of the imagination, overly physically taxing) I said “Okay, enough,” put my carrots down, stood back from the cutting board, and bent over noticeably out of breath.
I remembered it was because I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours in preparation for the meal.
I remembered the meal, almost to the T: a small slice of turkey, a medium pile of salad, and some brussels sprouts.
I also remembered what happened after the meal. I was horrified by the “grotesque quantity” I had eaten (as my diet at the time consisted of a steamed vegetable here and there). I was also used to purging said steamed vegetables after eating them, and so was hankering to run to the bathroom.
My brother recognized my distress after eating that year, gave me a larger-than-usual dose of Ativan for the panic attack I was having, and was kind enough to take me for a long, brisk walk so that I would not throw up in my mother’s house — something I was horribly loathe to do. At that point in my disorder, I had limited my purging to my own bathroom.
I obsessed over that meal for days afterward, and compensated by restricting my food with renewed gusto. I continued to lose weight.
A year later, I was in residential treatment at Oliver-Pyatt Centers, trying to remember what the sensation of chewing felt like, unable to see forward, hating and judging myself as a failure in a way that I could never possibly explain to this day and that makes me cry when I think too long about it.
I consider myself 99% recovered now as I come upon my three year anniversary since I self-admitted to Oliver-Pyatt Centers and then served my PHP/IOP time at Monte Nido EDTNY in NYC. I am 100% physically recovered, but there are still stubborn thoughts that persist, which I still fight every day of my life.
Because I am a violent perfectionist — the sort that causes one to starve and throw up and abjectly hate oneself — I sometimes forget just how far I’ve come.
My experience this Thanksgiving has reminded me.
I was feeling pudgy (thanks to PMS, being a woman, and a stint of sickness that kept me in bed for over a week and inactive) but I ate before I went to my grandmother’s house. This is something that I could not do even two years ago, and that I could never even consider during the 21 years my eating disorder controlled my life.
People without eating disorders like mine do this regularly, and laud it, actually — it’s called “compensation” and it is, I know now, neither healthy nor necessary.
I went to my 95-year-old grandmother’s and there was a highly stressful episode I won’t get into for privacy reasons, but one that is common to a family caring for an elderly relative.
Normally, this kind of stressful episode would have sent me into a tailspin. Heck, given the nature of the episode, many without eating disorders would have lost their appetites. And for a good half hour, I did.
But I rallied. I took some time away to breathe, and came to the Thanksgiving table, and ate a normal portion of food, and didn’t really think twice about it (in fact, I wished there were mashed potatoes I could have eaten). I even took a gander at dessert even though I’m not a sweets person because my mother and cousin made it, and because that’s what you do.
Then today, I met with my family again for lunch, and I ate a pile of french fries and a club sandwich with them, and I enjoyed it.
This year, I ate what I wanted, in a normal amount, didn’t restrict before, and didn’t restrict after. Sure, the thought crossed my mind as I stared at the menu that I should eat salad, but I didn’t want salad.
I mean, I did, but I wanted a Cobb salad (which is essentially meat and olives and cheese over some pieces of lettuce) and the only reason I didn’t get it was because it wasn’t on the menu anymore.
I ate what I wanted.
And it was okay. Sure, I had thoughts about what I ate. 24 years of a certain thought pattern is hard to break so soon. But I let them go, and I moved on.
I talked a little with my mother about that. She is good and doesn’t bring it up, because that is how it should be — what I do now is normal and not something that warrants conversation or comment. And I’m not quite out of the woods to the extent where comments are not triggering. She is respectful.
But I brought it up and we both thought about how incredible these seemingly small triumphs are for me.
The me in the video from four years ago was such a radically different person. She was in pain, removed from life, from joy, from self-forgiveness.
The me now is willing to try, and takes the leap of faith required to not be the way I was most of the time, and even though I still can’t really look at myself in photos and not be frightened, or put on the jeans three sizes bigger than I was before treatment without a mini perseveration, I am eons beyond where I used to be.
I am thankful for where I am, and I am proud. And I hope it continues.