Last night my therapist pointed out to me that I spend all of my energy critiquing myself for either being too stringent with the rules first laid out by anorexia, or berating myself for not being stringent enough—there’s never any in-between. “I think you need to get more in touch with what you really want, and focus on that,” she told me, following up with “What do you desire?” It’s a simple question, really, and one that you’d think would guide the way I was living my life, but, instead, I’ve swept the notion of desire itself under the rug.
Yes, you could say I desire full health, a fulfilling career, a happy romance, etc. but I’m not at all in-tune with what my gut actually wants and craves, whether that be to indulge in something sweet or something more complex. I’ve turned off whatever buttons allow those feelings to register—as I explained to my therapist, I don’t even crave dessert anymore, it’s simply off limits to me. While she wasn’t advocating for me to act on every single desire I might have—hedonism is not exactly “the way”—she was simply reminding me that what I often tell myself I want or need (to be in control, regimented to a T) is not necessarily the truth. It’s not what I spent most of my life longing for—I used to have an appetite, one with room for spontaneity.
Today it’s as if I have one foot dangling in that world that keeps getting pulled back whenever it gets too close to hitting the ground. The discomfort of hanging around that space really scares me, it causes me to pull back from fully feeling much of anything. My best friend, for instance, has gotten tired of me not enjoying dates for reasons I can’t even explain, joking that I’m “insane” because the guy or the night sounds really great. Of course, they couldn’t all be winners that I was blinding myself to, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have my shades on at all. What’s more, when someone does show healthy, consistent interest in me, I find myself retreating—convinced that their intentions are misguided, that we’d make an ill pairing and it isn’t worth my time.
It’s the same story with food, exercise and the simple fact of how I’m living my day-to-day life. Up until a few days ago, I was prioritizing exercise, for instance, but that’s not truly what I want. Yes, I want it to be a part of my life—I just don’t want it to be the axis upon which it spins. I’m not a professional athlete, I’m not training for a marathon—I’d rather leave a book behind in my name than some lauded set of miles, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from taking a glance at the last few years.
“Do you ever think about having children?” Another question that struck me yesterday, this time from my high school best friend, who is always helpful in pulling me out of the hole I’ve dug for myself. Of course I think about it, but I never dwell on it for very long—after all, it wasn’t that long ago that I wasn’t menstruating, and it was easier to convince myself that if my body was broken, I didn’t care, than to fix my body because, in fact, I did. My anorexia didn’t give a shit about children, and so, neither did I. But now, in my healthier-yet-compromised state, I know that’s not true—that though I’ve never been the girl to dream endlessly of a white wedding and a bunch of babies, I’d certainly like them to be a possibility. In my wiser moments, I even think about some elusive future daughter and what I’d like her to see when looking at me. Someone whose actions boil down to constant self-recrimination are not exactly the image I have in mind.
Tapping into these desires is terrifying because it opens up the door to getting hurt, and to letting go of the false armor of thinness and pseudo-perfection that tries to render any losses obsolete. Trying something new, giving in to my desires—eating the damn cake, for once—will render me more human than robot, incapable of avoiding flaws, mistakes or a bloated belly. But the reality is I’m not truly avoiding that stuff now—in fact, in trying to avoid it all, I’m making the largest, most corruptive mistake of all.My mom pointed out that when I publish things like the above, it can convince me that I’ve learned from them and can now move on, when in fact, I haven’t. It can trick me into thinking the work here is done, that—as I said yesterday—the self-awareness is enough. But it’s not—it’s simply the beginning, and I have to hold myself accountable for putting the actual work into play. Instead of trying to overhaul everything in one go—a common flaw of mine, because #perfectionism—I’m giving myself one simple task, which is to ask myself regularly what I truly desire: to look at a menu and not go straight to the same items, to open myself up to actually feeling something for someone who appears to feel something for me (and not just the people who don’t), to accept when I don’t feel like running, perhaps, and would like to try yoga instead. It sounds simple, and perhaps a little silly, but, given the way I’ve curated my life to avoid it, it’s one of the hardest things I’ll ever do.