I was at inpatient for three months. Well, let’s be honest. I was there for three months minus three days. I was “better” for two months and 27 days. Then for the last three days I internally freaked out that I was nearing my “safe weight,” which to be clear was still significantly less than my goal weight. My discharge plan had me continuing to gain on my own back at home until I reached my weight range. They suggested that I continue on to an R-sponsored home care – RLP — but I was adamant about living back home in the midwest. Or rather, back home in my eating disorder. I was adamant about going to college – About getting as far away from home as possible, back with my ED, and back getting the weight off of me ASAP. At inpatient, I started getting Ulcerative Colitis symptoms, and really played it up that I was concerned about going back into a UC flare just so that I could get the hell out of there and back to my ED.
Although inpatient didn’t cure my anorexia, it did lay the foundation for my true recovery, which happened later. But there was one episode that stuck out to me. Everyone goes through “Family Weekend,” where your family comes out to visit for a long weekend and you work through group and one-on-one therapy sessions. The purpose is to help everyone express how the eating disorder has effected them, how they’re feeling, what they’re concerned about, past hurts, etc. The goal is to “unpack the baggage” that has contributed to this ED monster.
The assignment was to make an art project about how anorexia has impacted you, or made you feel. To be honest, I don’t remember much of what my family made or said — I was too busy being preoccupied with self-hatred and thinking about all the calories present in my body. But I do remember what I had made, and I think it will shed a lot of light on the disease to the loved ones of those battling it.
I made a black box, or coffin, out of construction paper. And inside the black box was a bunch of brightly colored confetti.
The box, I said, represented my disease. The brightly colored confetti was who I was pre-anorexia: I was vibrant. I was exciting. I had passion, zest, life, energy, love, zeal. Anorexia took all those things and killed them, as it was slowly killing me.
That’s the thing that people don’t understand. They see their daughter or their friend wasting away. “Where’s the silly girl I love?” “Where’s the goofy girl who loves to play outside, hang with her friends, watch movies and eat popcorn?” “Where did she go? If I could just reach her…If I could just find her again…”
And that’s precisely it. Because the truth is, If I could reach her, then I wouldn’t be here, wasting away. I’ve lost her and I cannot find her anymore either.
Loved ones don’t understand. Anorexics are typically smart girls. Brilliant, even. So then why don’t they just get it? Why don’t they just eat? “She’s a smart girl, why doesn’t she just eat the damn food!?”
I think the hardest thing about anorexia for the loved ones of the sufferers, is that they want to be able to fix it. They want to be able to cure the disease. That was my father. He was always the problem solver. That was his gift. But he saw my anorexia as a problem: I had Ulcerative Colitis and was unable to gain weight because of a medical issue: my pyloric valve was paralyzed and as a result my stomach wouldn’t empty; it hurt to eat; I wasn’t absorbing nutrients. If I could just get enough calories then I would be fixed. So he did what he does best: he problem solved. He researched weight gaining drinks and ended up finding some incredible, non-FDA approved and super-caloric weight gaining drink from Scandinavia that he had shipped to the house. He had crates of Ensure drinks in the garage. He was going to fix it. Fix me. He took walks with me to help me digest the food that I was “trying so hard to absorb.” He believed that he could fix it -That he could fix me.
But try as he might, he couldn’t. Because here’s the long and the short of eating disorders that makes them so deadly and perverse:
She has to want to get better.
Period. End of story. That’s what’s so heart breaking – is that her mom, dad, friends, boyfriend, loved ones – they can pull out their hair, bend over backwards, go to Timbuktu and back to help get her to eat and to gain weight, but at the end of the day, she has to make the decision that she wants to end the disease and get on with her life. That’s the truth. That’s what needs to be understood.
And that’s why it’s so confusing: anorexia is not about the weight. That’s why inpatient doesn’t always, or usually, work. Just because the weight is on, doesn’t mean that the disease has “left the building.” That’s why people relapse. That’s why I relapsed. Because I hadn’t silenced the voice of death yet.