I wanted to write my memoir. I figured a recollection of the ups and downs of eating disorder treatment, the details about recovery and relapse, and an account of the extensive intrapersonal work needed to get and stay healthy were items needed to be shared. First order of business–create a chronological list of highlighted events from when I was first diagnosed to now that depict a significant moment in my eating disorder history. It started off easy enough:
1. My mother’s diagnosis of stage 4 cancer my senior year of high school.
2. Out of fear of getting fat and not wanting to also get cancer, vowing to only eat certain “safe” foods.
3. Vowing to exercise “x” amount a day, and feeling like a failure if I didn’t.
4. Happiness at the first time someone complimented me about my slimmer appearance, and then fear of “what if” I gained a pound or two.
5. The mental and emotional turmoil of keeping the eating disorder a secret.
But then the list grew.
Pretty soon, I had difficulty remembering what event happened next. After the 2nd hospitalization, did I go back to work or stay at home to “get better”? Prior to the 4th time I “fired” Kristen from treatment, was I water loading and hiding weights in my clothes to be a higher number on the scale? When was it that my boyfriend broke up with me because he “couldn’t take my ‘eating stuff’, and why can’t I just EAT?!”
As I gazed at the number of items on my list, I felt sadness. And regret. All those years, all those instances of lying, delaying getting better, and for what? There are so many parts of the past 16 years of my life that are literally erased from my memory. I don’t recollect much besides the runs I did during my work lunch break to burn off extra calories and the food I gazed at and wanted to eat but was afraid to. I thought about what I could’ve done with my life during that time–the books I could’ve read, the stories I could’ve written, the classes I could’ve taken, the places I could’ve traveled to–and my heart grieved.
But then I had to take a step back from that grieving processes, and erase all of the “could’ve” thoughts in my mind. Yes, I “could’ve” done more during that time, but what’s the use of throwing myself a pity party? Much like recovery itself, it’s easy to get hung up on the past, and what “could’ve” been, but in actuality, recovery is looking forward, seeing what surprises await, and taking steps of faith toward that uncertain future. Those involved in eating disorder recovery can never forget their history or the severity of the disease, but it is detrimental to a patient and his/her family to only look at what was lost and not augment what was gained in the road to health.
I’m still in the midst of finishing up my list of recovery events. It’s difficult to see those memories written down, as it brings back the emotions and feelings connected to those times. But seeing them in print, and then eventually writing my experience on having an eating disorder, are liberating and surprisingly freeing. It helps me acknowledge my past, and then plan for the wonderful future ahead.