Coming Back to Life
May 28, 2012
This is the hardest part. Rising from the ashes. The particles of dust move to form skin and bones and limbs again. Learning to walk again; one foot in front of the other. And then, again. New lungs stretch their muscles searching for the memory of breath. Blood courses through a map of veins moving outward from the heart. It beats against the cage of rib bones like it wants to be let out.
Being dead was easy. It was like slowly freezing to death in a cold sea. Floating and numb, I could feel nothing.
This, aliveness, this living and breathing, this existing, is the hard part.
The waiting room is living up to its name. My appointment was scheduled for 2pm. It is now almost three. I sit, uncomfortably, as I have had to use the washroom for approximately 20 minutes. I am afraid if I leave my seat, I will miss my name being called. And if I miss this chance, I am afraid it will be like a drowning man missing the life preserver being thrown down to him as he fights with the rising seas.
So I wait, for my chance at survival. It arrives an hour later, wearing a long white lab coat over khakis and a green and blue checked shirt. Dr. B extends a hand and a warm smile. He apologizes for the delay as he leads me to the examination room. He motions to a chair and I sit down. He pulls out a clipboard and looks up over the rims of his glasses as I hold my breath.
“So,” He begins kindly, “What brings you here?”
I freeze. I start to say the words, but my throat closes up and my eyes burn as I hold back what I know are tears.
Dr. B specializes in treating eating disorders. I have done my research. Teenage girls have eating disorders, ballet dancers have eating disorders, rail thin models on the covers of magazines have eating disorders. I cannot have an eating disorder. He will think I’m here for attention. He’ll think I’m too fat to possibly have a problem. He’ll think I’m lying.
“This is hard, isn’t it?” His face is filled with what I can only describe as compassion, and so I release my clenched teeth and I begin to tell the truth.
I am twenty five years old and I have no idea how I ended up in this office.
Growing up, I was taught to love myself. I was told I was beautiful. I was told I was smart, and talented, and that I could have and be whatever I dreamed.
I have been places, and done things, and there have been moments where I almost believed it was true.
I had dreams. I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a vessel with which to share the stories of this world. I thought if I wore a character, I could escape what it meant to be me. When I went to school I discovered that the best actors don’t put on a mask, they take it off. I decided that before I could be one, I would need to be perfect in every way. I did not want to remove the costume if I didn’t think the audience would like what lay beneath.
So I began by taking off weight. I started to eliminate anything that I deemed “bad”. Under the guise of “eating healthy” I said goodbye to meat and sugar. Having always had a sensitive stomach, no one questioned me when I said I was allergic to wheat and dairy. Being a lactose-intolerant-celiac-vegetarian made me a rather difficult dinner guest. It also made it easy to explain the empty spaces on my plate.
I made myself a deal. I would get an agent when I weighed 105 pounds. I shed 10 pounds quickly, but I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t perfect yet. I needed to lose 4 more pounds to make it 101. I’ve always liked palindromes. Eating in the presence of others became difficult. I would see my naturally thin sister guiltlessly savouring a slice of pizza and I would want to rip it from her hands and devour it whole. I swore the candy bars in the aisles of grocery stores were whispering my name. I would go for runs to distract myself from raiding the cupboards. I would go to hot yoga classes and imagine that each bead of sweat that hit my mat was one step closer to perfection.
When I made it to 101 pounds I would stand, naked, in front of the mirror. I would wave my arms and watch the flesh jiggle in slow motion. I would suck in my stomach, but no matter how much air I exhaled, it was not enough to make me disappear.
The more control I gained over my diet, the more my life began to unravel. I ended my relationship of five years. I moved back in with my parents. I couldn’t bare the sight of his ghost on every street so I quit the job I loved and moved away. I thought, in a new city, I could reinvent myself. I discovered that the problem with running away is that no matter how far you go, you can’t escape your own mind. And the perfect city, with the perfect apartment, could not change the fact that I was still not perfect. But now, I could run every day of the year, I lived a block from the yoga studio, and if I wanted to pay rent, I couldn’t afford to eat, so I lived off yogurt and vegetable broth. Until I met a man. And injured myself in a new years’s eve dance off fiasco and could no longer run and do yoga. Even though our relationship was made up entirely of late night phone conversations and bi-monthly visits, he fell hard for me. And I reveled in the attention. From 1000 miles away, he couldn’t tell how fucked up I really was. And I could pretend that I was just as wonderful as he thought I was. After a few months, he came to visit. I knew I had let myself go since the last (and only) time we’d seen each other, so I’d mentioned it before we reunited. You weren’t kidding, he laughed as he put his hands around my waist. Better not gain any more or I’ll have to break up with you. I wasn’t sure he was joking.
I couldn’t see the point of carrying on a long distance relationship with no end in sight. So I attempted to end things. He didn’t agree with me, so instead of creating conflict, I decided I wanted to go back to school. In my hometown. Where he just so happened to live. I was still fat and broke, so I didn’t have much hope of making it in Vancouver as an actor anyways.
The relationship didn’t last, but I had already decided to go back to school, so I packed up and moved back to the prairies. I felt like a stranger in my own home. And I was. A stranger to everyone that loved me. A stranger to myself. I dove headfirst into my studies. I spent every spare moment studying. I used the endless pile of readings to avoid everything and everyone. I especially used them to avoid food. If I was to engrossed in my work I could ignore the gnawing pain in my gut. Where once I might have been called a “drama queen” I now was a monster. Minor setbacks, like a B- on a paper turned me into a volatile beast. I would reach for food to help numb the feeling of inferiority only to feel crushing guilt the moment I took the first bite. So I made rules. I could have three bites of an apple, but then I had to throw it out. If I slipped and took an extra bite, it meant I was a failure. I had to rid myself of that fourth bite. I began to check the scale obsessively. Before meals. After meals. If it went up, I would run turn on the faucet to cover the gagging noises I would inadvertently make as I rid myself of dinner.
For all my efforts, I seemed to hover around 95 pounds. But it was not good enough. I wouldn’t rest until I disappeared. I wouldn’t rest until I died.
I am telling all of this to Dr. B as he jots my words down on his clipboard. He doesn’t look shocked or appalled. He doesn’t accuse me of lying or ask me to come back when I lose another 10 pounds. In fact, from the way he nods his head and interjects at points and asks nonchalantly whether I use two fingers or one, it almost seems like he has heard my story before.
And for the first time in what feels like forever, I don’t feel like I’m the only one in the world that’s losing her mind. As I sit there in his office, he tosses me a lifeline, and for the first time in forever, I know that I am going to be alright.