A person I’m very close to has always described my struggles with food in the terms of a relationship. Food, from her perspective, is our first experience of love and comfort—quite literally, as we immediately bond with our mothers through breastfeeding or the like. Their feeding us is necessary for our survival, but it is also essentially an act of love. Food nourishes us from the very beginning, and serves to placate us, too, when necessary. For most of my life I was fully capable of feeding myself in a ‘normal’ manner, but then somewhere along the way I started to see myself as less deserving of that nourishment—which is to say, less deserving of love.
By now I can draw an intricate map of how I think this mess began—I can pinpoint the climactic point that chewed up a bunch of different factors and spit them out into the consistent act of self-denial. In short, when a lot of things are outwardly going wrong (as they were for me at the time), it can be difficult not to get caught up thinking that those situations are representative of your inherent awfulness. Though we all dabble in these dramatic thoughts, they can occasionally overwhelm…blinding you to the reality that, actually, things are more complex than your just simply sucking. The fact is that you probably do have things to work on, but so do the people in your orbit—an orbit that for me (and many others suffering from eating disorders) involved direct trauma.
And as is often the case when people are enduring the wide array of post-traumatic stress, the receivers—the victims—place all the blame on themselves. We adopt the beliefs of others, or pull the most obvious conclusions from their treatment of us and run with them. I had come to believe that I was too much of everything, and the best cure would be to starve it all out—rid me of anything excessive (be it a personality trait or a pound) so that I could wade through life unharmed, and practically unknown to those around me. I had subconsciously concluded that if nothing about me stood out, there would be nothing for people to poke at, or question. By eating less and less, and treading in more rigidity overall, I could empty my proverbial trash can and start fresh as a blank—and numb—slate.
This is what happens when you experience an act of direct, misguided hatred. Though the act makes no real sense, you make it make sense in the only way you can, by deciding that it is deserved—that you were flawed enough to warrant such behavior. And while everyone’s conclusion isn’t necessarily self-starvation, most people who go through trauma often transform themselves in an effort to ward off the potential for future incursions.
So, not-so-slowly but very surely, I deprived myself of love in both its tangible and intangible forms. First, I passed up cupcakes—on my own birthdays, no less—and eventually weaned myself off of anything that wasn’t an inch away from being air (lettuce, tasteless veggies). The less I ate, the less my personality presented itself—energy, after all, was scarce and couldn’t be used for things so frivolous when it had a body to keep from entirely consuming itself (which, yes, is what happens). I actively worked to become nobody, because I was convinced that being my specific version of somebody was too painful—no longer survivable.
Recovery is about retracing all of these steps and attempting to rewire the way you’ve come to see yourself. While I’m confident in certain areas, I’m still damaged goods in others (and who isn’t?). Everyday I attempt to shake off what some particularly cruel people once told me about myself. Because recovery is learning that you do deserve love again—and that you always did, despite any evidence to the contrary. By feeding yourself, you’re reclaiming your identity—taking it back from the hands of shitty people, warped places, and/or society’s negative ideals.