For some reason while skiing today a couple images from my past badgered me, wanting to be expressed in words. Both instances relate to the skewed relationship I had with my body and my self as I struggled with anorexia and worked to recover.
~ The hot water of the shower steams as it hits and runs across my chilled body. I look down my naked side to assess the curve of my hip. A sick feeling bubbles in my stomach. It makes me queasy to see that small bulge above my hipbone. Fat. It puts a metallic taste of disgust under my tongue and at the back of my throat. I pinch the tiny piece of fat (one of the only left on my body) between my fingers, hard, and wish it would disappear. ~
During the year I spent flirting with anorexia I often engaged in what I later learned was termed “body-checking.” I would assess my body—and thus also my self worth—by pinching, measuring, feeling, and looking at certain parts of my body. I remember making a bracelet around my wrist with the thumb and fingers of my other hand and running the loop up my arm farther and farther. I was pleased by the progress towards my elbow. Similarly, I would measure my legs by making a circle with my hands. My knobby elbows, the gap between my thighs, and the definition of my abdominal muscles were all assessed harshly. The most important body-checking areas for an individual with an eating disorder vary from person to person. I was never concerned or pleased with my shrinking arms while others spend hours staring at the skin, muscles, and bone of these two limbs. While the body dysmorphia may differ from person to person, we all do it for the same reason: we hope that with more lean arms or butts or abs we will be enough. We are not so much checking our bodies but rather checking our significance and value.
~ Even though we fit together perfectly, two teens learning to just BE together, the guilt and self-loathing slips between our spooned bodies. His hand across my stomach intends love but as it touches me ripples of shivering self-loathing spread through the perceived fat I feel growing on my recovering body. I feel ugliness crawling under my skin like the imagined bugs addicts feel during withdrawal. I shrink under the discomfort; simultaneously I want to do anything to stop the sick feeling spreading from my core—sit ups, running, not eating all race across my mind as possible solutions—and I feel utterly powerless. In that moment I am so small, with my body little more than skin, bone, and sinewy muscles and my self worth shrinking as it is squeezed by disgust and guilt. How can the brush of kind fingertips cause self-hatred to soak my being?
I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want a loving touch to cause such discomfort. I want to love my body instead of feel lost within my own skin. I don’t want to be thinking about my lack of a six-pack flat stomach and how many sit ups would be required to attain it instead of reveling in the present. I want to enjoy this precious moment in his arms. I pinch my eyes shut and wish I could love me as much as he does. ~
Throughout recovery I experienced many moments of self-hatred related to the way I perceived my body. In recovery gaining weight little by little made the already horrible discomfort with my own figure even worse. Waves of disgust would hit me randomly; I felt gross, fat, and repulsive. I wished I could step out of my skin and float free of the never-ending negativity, self-criticism, and guilt. My disorder wanted me to fix that feeling with over exercising and food restriction. However, I learned to sit with the discomfort. It was terrifying to sit in the restlessness of that disgust but also magical as I came to realize that those moments passed by and life went on. And…as time passed a strange negative correlation appeared between my recovery and moments of slimy-shoulder-wriggling-body-disgust. As I stepped away from the eating disorder to engage in more fulfilling and valuable things, I cared less and less about the shape of my body. Every once in awhile one of those moments will take me by surprise when I am tired or stressed or anxious. However, they no longer sink into the core of my being to poison the love I have for myself. While at times during my disorder and subsequent recovery I could barely stand the painful reality of living in my own body, I now consider my body a place to call home.