I have been in recovery for five months, but I’m still haunted by the before. I am still trying to navigate life in a new body.
I love and hate my before pictures. No, I am not talking about, like, before and after a hair transformation, no- the before recovery, the in-the-midst-of anorexia, the make people uncomfortable, before pictures. And I know better than to idolize my smaller body. I know that is stereotyping and perpetuating ED stigma, but I can’t help it. Some days, most days, I love the before, even though I know it’s wrong. Even though I know I can’t go back to that if I want to live.
Some days I stare at them, reminiscing. Other days I stare at them in disgust.
It’s actually batshit insane because now when I look at them, I think, why didn’t I stop here, why didn’t I see then what I see now? I wish I could have stopped and enjoyed the moment I had with that body. But it was never enough, and I never had a moment of peace. With each goal weight I met, a new one was forged.
When I was at my smallest I would take pictures and videos of myself at millions of angles with captions about what “problem” areas I needed to work on. There was NO convincing me otherwise, you say it’s skin but I swear to god that it is fat. You are lying, you must be.
I remember the day before CHOP released me back to Renfrew I stood in the bathroom taking pictures and doing math in my head, trying to figure out how I could lose the weight they forced me to gain.
Why couldn’t I see then that I was sick? Why can’t I believe now that even in my recovered body, I am still not “overweight”? Why would that even be the worst thing in the world to me? Why can’t I focus on anything besides numbers, I don’t even like math? Why can’t I just get over this? This is the insanity of eating disorders.
I know my body image is jacked up because I can look at photos one week, even one day apart and assume I was better before based on what I am feeling in that moment, which I then relate to what I ate the night before. I do this almost daily- as if my body has drastically changed from moment to moment. No.
My body image is a direct correlation with how I’m feeling about myself, but I can hardly ever put that into real words that don’t come out size and food related.
I love my before pictures because it often feels like the only way to validate my struggles to everyone, including myself. I remember not wanting to get help until I was sick enough. Sick enough. In the hospital I was not sick enough for my ED. Sick enough looks a lot like a gravestone. Looks a lot my mom and dad crying because they don’t know how to help. Looks a lot like blurred vision and chest pain. Looks a lot like losing happy moments and memories with friends.
I love my before pictures because now they are sick enough- but in that moment, I know all too well, I was never sick enough.
So now, at a healthy body size, when I tell people about a struggle, I feel like it’s not real because I do not look sick enough to have an anorexia, I look normal. I should be normal.
So it becomes about the “Look, I was sick, it is not in my head, it’s real, I was sick. I still feel like this same girl, just not in this body.”
The before also helped me in explaining the irrational thoughts I have regarding my body now at this size. Good strategy, no. Does it help me feel seen and heard, sometimes.
How can I ever believe you when you tell me I am beautiful, when I was once a lifeless ghost. I am not beautiful unless I am dying. I am not beautiful unless my rib cage is like a collection of daggers. Because this is the only beauty I know.
The idolization of female thinness.
You are beautiful if you are thinner.
I was beautiful when I was thinner.
That is the only body I remember. I do not know this body I have now. I feel like an outsider in here. I feel trapped. Or does my ED feel trapped? Who am I without a smaller body?
I look back at the before pictures to remember myself.
This entire stream of thoughts is not only irrational, but it invalidates anyone who struggles with an eating disorder that hasn’t been underweight, that doesn’t have some shocking before pictures, that doesn’t restrict, and it perpetuates eating disorder stereotypes that kill people that need treatment. I have friends that have died at the hands of their ED at normal body weights, you could not have looked at them and known they were sick. I know you cannot look at a person and assume they have or do not have an ED based on appearances. I know all of this rationally. I preach all of this daily. Eating disorders aren’t about food and size they are about feelings. Easier said than understood.
Trust me, I wish I could wrap my brain around it.
Why do I jump at any opportunity to show off my before pictures, why am I obsessed with taking strolls down memory lane? Why can’t I throw away clothes that aren’t meant to fit me? Why am I holding onto my skinny jeans, trying them on every couple of weeks just to feel sorry for myself? When will enough just be enough?
I threw away my scale so why can’t I throw this all away too? It feels scary, it feels like I am getting rid of who I am, who I was.
Who the fuck am I without my eating disorder?
I wish I wasn’t so stubborn. I wonder if I took the advice of my therapist and nutritionist six years ago, would I be in this position still? If I threw everything away, if I just erased the fucking pictures, would I stop thinking it was this beautiful romantic time in my life that was filled with happiness and Kate Moss quotes???
But I could try.
I feel sick to my stomach writing this out, and also a little vain- what about my good hair day selfies and the jeans I spent 100 dollars on, am I tossing that all in the trash? I don’t know if I can. I’m rethinking this.
I think the hardest part about getting better is trying to figure out if I really want to.