Friday, May 18, 2012

Day #18: Changing Places

Today's prompt for the Hungry for Change Blogger Challenge is a very interesting one and definitely one that will allow you another glimpse into my personal life. Today's prompt invites me to tell my eating disorder recovery experience from the eyes of someone who knows me, who's seen me. 

I thought about writing from the point of view of my mother. I considered writing from the point of view of my former therapist. But then I thought - who has seen me at my very worst and also seen me at my very best?

And I was left with one answer: my best friend, Libes.

There are some things in life you think will never happen to you. That’s the way it always is…until one day you look at yourself and say, “It DID happen to me. I’m exactly like that.” That’s how it was for me in college at age 18, the day I actually came to the realization that I had an eating disorder.

I counted the calories in everything I ate. It didn’t seem dangerous at the time, but soon I made limits for myself. It didn’t help that I was constantly critical of the way I looked. I needed a tan, shinier hair, more muscle, more height. I would tell myself that I had dry skin, dull hair, small breasts, not-white-enough teeth, and any other criticism I felt was true. I even went as far as to make the declaration that my eyelashes were too short. But of all these, the criticism I told myself the most was that there was too much fat on my body.

Thus, the restrictive behavior began. I cut back on food and I kept lists of what I ate, tallying every calorie like a never-ending math problem. During my second semester of my freshman year of college, I was thoroughly aware of how easy it would be to skip meals. There would be no parents keeping a watchful eye on me and I had any number of excuses ready if asked to dinner in the dining hall by one of my friends. I was hungry, but I just considered it a great accomplishment that I could conquer my hunger.

The semester progressed and so did my eating disorder.  I began to fast completely for days at a time. Then, ravenous with hunger, I’d eat a normal meal and feel horribly guilty. I knew I had a problem, so I went to the counseling center at my university and told them about it. No one else knew—not my parents, not my friends, not my then boyfriend—no one. My eating disordered behavior worsened. My friends were worried about me. They watched me all the time. It wasn’t long before the best friend I’d made at school confronted me. Libes knocked on my door one day while I was crying in bed (a common occurrence in those days) and asked me through the door to let her in. She wanted to know what was going on, but I was afraid to tell her…afraid she wouldn't like me anymore…afraid she wouldn't want to live with me next year. She didn’t judge me at all and she didn’t think I was crazy. She sat there on my bed with me and listened while I cried out everything I’d been keeping to myself. She hugged me at the right moments and told me she would help me. She was relieved that I was going to counseling.

I was surrounded by support and coping was easier, but my eating disorder was still there. I slept often, and I didn’t do very well in my classes. With the help of Libes, I tried to eat at least one substantial thing each day, which was by no means healthy, but was nevertheless an improvement. I stopped listing, but I was always mentally counting. I was irrational and emotional. I took naps to save my energy. Everything was going downhill. Libes saw it all and she never rescinded her friendship.

I was scared. So scared.

I have so many sad little memories - like going to an amusement park one weekend with Libes and getting colder and colder until I was shivering and my teeth were chattering. I felt miserable but the worst part was that everyone I was with was just fine. When we left the amusement park that night I saw that my lips were blue and it took me at least half an hour to get warm inside Libes’s heated car. When we got back to our dorm, I almost passed out, so I immediately sat down on the floor and knelt with my head to my knees to make the feeling go away. She got me water and demanded in her maternal yet firm way that I tell her what was wrong. We talked for a long while and she said something I never forgot. In fact, I wrote it down in my journal back in 2003 so I could be sure I wasn't making it up. She said she’d never leave my side throughout college and that she would help me in any way she could. It meant a lot to me to have someone say that.

I also remember taking a shower and watching a lot of my hair come out. With many long dark strands wrapped around my hands and my pink towel around me, I called Libes to the bathroom and showed her. Meaningfully, she said, “This is your worst nightmare, so you know what you have to do.”  I nodded and laughed nervously to cover my alarm that came from seeing my long hair somewhere other than on my head. 

These memories make me sad because no best friend should ever have to see the things she saw or worry about the things she worried about in regards to me. But as days turned into months and months turned into years, I had more good days than bad and recovery was a work in progress that was actually progressing. In the fall of 2002, Libes became friends with a girl who was timid, struggling, and ill. I came with baggage, but she saw through the bad stuff and loved all the good in me. These days, she gets to see the real me. I'm thankful for that. My best friend, my Maid of Honor in my wedding, my other half - she has seen it all and then some. And while I'm sure I gave her a damn good education on what to expect from someone with an eating disorder, it's nice to know that we can just be best friends these days without my old eating disorder lurking around. That time feels like another life. And that is a really cool thing to get to say.

When I think back on some of my college years, I'm not regretful of it all, because I have so many good memories too. But I often think to myself - the ONLY way a girl in my mental and physical state could have even HAD any fun and special memories in college was if she had a best friend like Libes. So lucky for me, I did.

So it wasn't a total bust. In fact, in spite of all the horrid, aching pain that I felt on a pretty regular basis, college was pretty damn great. And if Libes wasn't part of the equation, I truly don't think I could say that. (Am I trying to say that I have the best friend in the world? Oh yes I am!)

Libes and I have been friends for 10 years now. My heart says, "Is that all?" because I feel like I've lived 10 LIFETIMES since the day I met her.  

As for the NOW, what you see is what you get. And if you see it, she sees it too. I've come a long way and who I am now doesn't need as much of an explanation as the past me. This entire blog is the window to my now, so there's really no need to toot my own horn as the saying goes. Suffice it to say: a recovered life is FAR, FAR better than an eating disordered one.

This blog has a point and a purpose. Not only that, it has a message. I have a goal. It's here to give people hope. My goal is to be an example—to cause people to say, "If that's what recovery looks like, sign me up!"
That's how it started almost 5 years ago, plain and simple, when that bad/sad part of my life was ending and I was in a place where I could call my own body HOME. Since then, I've embarked upon a journey to become a professional in my own rite.

In college, which to be perfectly honest, was years after my eating disorder REALLY began, even though the official diagnosis didn't come until age 18, I was always one of those people who put on a happy face—who smiled even when I was hurting and joked around, making others laugh, consistently concealing the emotions at battle inside me. In a way, it sometimes helped not to talk about it. I liked trying to forget, to be able to have a good time with friends, if only for a few fleeting hours.
It was sad, because something always seemed to fall. I always seemed to fall. I wanted to enjoy myself, to be happy with my friends, to let my mind free itself of numbers and perfection, but I could never enjoy myself completely.
It was like I was at a party, having a blast with a big smile on my face, but there was someone in the corner, wearing dark clothes and looking at me with a scary expression. My eating disorder, my inside pain and dissatisfaction, was that dark, scary someone in the corner. I could still have a great time, could still make great memories, but I was always being watched by something that wanted to take it all away.
When I think of times like this, I am reminded particularly of a few nights out with my college friends. We'd drink and have a good time dancing and laughing…and on the way home, when the alcohol had loosened the strings around my turbulent emotions, I'd start to cry relentlessly, usually on Libes's shoulder. It's kind of embarrassing even now, but I was much more of a mess than I let myself or anyone else believe. Tears typically accompany a mess.
Whether I cried walking home from a bar—feeling as though I was completely ruining the carefree mood—or later in the night back at my old apartment to my best friend, everything seemed to come crashing down after having fun. It took me a while to learn that I'd never really be able to be happy again unless I fixed myself first. Until I took care of what was making me hurt, any fun or happiness was temporary. Temporary.
I knew I didn't want to live like that. After all, who does?
Looking back, nights like that feel like a turning point, or several of them. I knew my entire life was going to be like that if I didn't change something. If I hadn't had the best friend I do, I would have fallen into a sad little hole and lied there 'til something drastic finally pulled me out…if anything pulled me out at all.
This realization came after years of unhappiness and what can only be described as sh*t. This realization came after a freshman year of college that makes me cringe to this day. After days and nights of worrying my friends, of sleeping in the daytime for hours at a time, of letting my past of a being a straight A student fall into the trash as I used all my effort to even make it to—and through—classes. After tedious meals in the dining hall, whole Biology classes spent incessantly tallying my food intake, and one distinctly frightening night when I attempted to measure my dwindling waist by fastening a belt around it—then trying to measure the belt with a ruler—only to be stopped by my freshman roommate and my best friend Libes, who both had to hold me down on my bed while I thrashed around and essentially freaked out. After counseling and eating again only to make my sophomore year a near repeat of my freshman year. After group therapy and fainting spells. After screaming matches with my parents. After obsessive term papers on eating disorders in an attempt to teach myself to stop what I was doing.
After all this came those fun college nights that ended in tears. On Libes's shoulder.
And after that came the realization.
That. I. Didn't. Want. To. And. Couldn't. Do. It. Anymore.
So I set out to learn myself and discovered a lot. It has to start with you.
It has to start with YOU.
But most of all, it has to start.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Great post. :-)

brie said...

oh, i'm so glad you have libes. everyone needs a friend like that. i am actually a little jealous, i wish i had someone like that. :) great post, A.