*CW: Mention of eating disorder behaviors
“One last thing: I congratulate you on your journey of recovery.” Recover: Verb, to return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. Was I…normal again? I look at my computer screen, the pale glow the only source of light in my apartment. My legs are curled underneath me as I stare at the Facebook message, rereading each word while enunciating them slowly under my breath. That’s what I thought I was doing. It’s what I tell everyone else when they ask me how I’m doing. Blinking, I let a stray tear roll down my face, refusing to let my lungs exhale as it trails down my skin.
I rise from my bed slowly, turning a centimeter every few seconds as my feet hit the wooden floor beneath them. I stand still for a few moments, listening to the roar of my overheated laptop. My chest is tight, my stomach hurts from the amount of heaving I forced myself to do only moments ago. Is this really what recovery is like? I walk through my tiny apartment, reaching the bathroom door frame in seconds. I stand in the darkness for a few moments, letting my eyes adjust and focus on my outlined shadow. My mind is trapped far, far away in another place. My body is hollow, empty. My stomach grumbles, angry at me for expelling its contents once again.
I slide my hand up the wood frame slowly, fearing what will look back at me when I turn the switch. My clammy finger brushes against the plastic light switch, shaking, before flipping it to on. I knew what to expect when that wretched artificial glow revealed my form, but still I flinch and grimace. I walk forward until my toes are pressed against the sink. The more in focus I become, the more shame I feel.
I force myself to look at my reflection, eyes red and irritated, face flushed, snot and tears dripping down my face from purging. I never cry on purpose. I don’t enjoy the bloodshot eyes. Purging means nothing to me. It’s automatic, a natural reaction I have; just the way that it’s natural for someone to squint when they walk outside on a sunny day.
“I congratulate you.” I don’t deserve that. I press my fingers into my face, underneath my eyes, pushing my pointer and middle finger into my wet skin before dragging my nails down to my chin slowly, stretching my skin. This is not recovery. This is not healthy. This is not what “recovered” people. As if it’s so easy to fully recover from an eating disorder. As if it’s a seven-step program, and all you need to do is follow that list in order from one to seven until you no longer feel the need to get down on your knees in front of that white porcelain, forcing a toothbrush down your throat til’ it smashes your uvula forcing your body to convulse as you gag, your shoulders hunching forward as you prepare to expel the thousands of calories you just binged in ten minutes flat.
“Journey.” Perhaps that piece was beautiful and inspiring. At the time I was perfectly fine. I thought it would never happen again. I thought my confidence came back. It’d never leave me again, I thought. How do I tell them? How do I explain these flare-ups? The loss of progress? Losing everything, again?
Everyone sees what they want to see when they look into my face. They want to see a healthy, happy woman who does not, will not ever purge again. I don’t know where I went wrong. I don’t know what happened. I can’t answer those questions no one ever bothers to ask. I thought I was doing fine. I thought I didn’t need this anymore. I hate the satisfaction I feel after the clench and squeeze of my stomach between my abs and diaphragm as I wretch until the only thing coming up is clear phlegm. I hate it. I hate myself. Vomiting is a defense against poison my body has given me and in return I thank it by rotting my teeth with the acid from my stomach. I thank it by damaging my intestines. I thank it by raising the risk of cancer in my esophagus, internal bleeding, heart attack, and even death.
“Congratulations on your recovery.” Recovery is not a straight line. It is not crystal clear like the mirror in front of my face. I am not always okay and I am not always confident. Sometimes I still fight the urge to run to the bathroom after a meal. I almost always win that fight now, almost. Tonight I did not. I did not win this fight even though all I had was a couple of slices of pizza, and dabbed all the grease off using exactly three napkins on each slice, spreading it over the pizza gently pressing down as I watched the grease leak through the thin fibers.
I did not win this time, but perhaps I will tomorrow. I pull my hand away from the mirror looking into my eyes as I wipe the tears off my pale skin. I swipe my pointer finger under my right nostril and push forward feeling knuckle rub across into the next hole smearing the snot along the back of my hand before pulling away. I may not be recovered right now. I may not be in a normal state of mind, but I will be. I have to be. I can’t tell them its back. I can’t tell them I’m struggling again.
I back away slowly, watching my figure in the stainless glass stand in the open door frame of the bathroom. Without looking away from the mirror, I slide my hand up the wall of the frame slowly and trace my fingertips across the recently painted wall til’ they run against the plastic light switch. I flick the lights off in one swift motion, standing momentarily in the darkness. Tomorrow I will look and see someone better. Tomorrow I will recover again.