Last fall, I traveled to Iceland with my husband, a long-awaited trip to celebrate our five-year
anniversary. It was my first time in Europe, and the first trip in memory that my eating
disorder did not come along. To put the magnitude of this in context, I’d like to briefly go
back in time…
When my sisters and I graduated from high school, my Nana took each of us on a special trip.
My older sister went to Greece and Italy. My younger sister would go Kenya. And I, now
almost a decade ago… New York. I was still fresh out of the hospital, after almost losing my
life to anorexia nervosa, and my parents decided that leaving the country and trying to follow
my strict meal plan was out of the question. I was devastated. Although there’s a certain,
lovely energy to the city that never sleeps, this alternate trip, and the one I truly wanted but
never took, has sat in the back of my mind for years now, taunting me.
Three years after that, the summer before my senior year of college I went on a service trip to
Guatemala with a program through my university, but my going was continent on my
parents’ communication with university administrators to ensure that I would be able to – you
guessed it – follow my meal plan. Although I had an amazing time, intruding into my
memories of teaching children in rural villages how to brush their teeth and assisting in the
delivery of medical services are ones of daily food logs sent to my doctors and weekly
weigh-ins at the Guatemalan clinic.
Although I have now been in recovery for many years, I feel I hardly need to clarify that an eating disorder does not simply go away. Yes, it can fade, become less pervasive, less
abusive, less demanding, but the process of rebuilding a life free from it’s clutches takes
years, even decades. And so when I boarded the plane for a weeklong adventure to the land
of fire and ice, and my eating disorder did not jump on board with me, this was a BIG DEAL.
For years, I trudged along in recovery, thinking, “Well, this is it. This is as good as it gets.” I
almost accepted the idea that ice cream would always induce panic, exercise would always be
about burning calories, and buying clothes would never be fun. I almost believed doctors who
warned me that I would likely be sick forever, that my anorexia could be managed, “like
diabetes,” but a full recovery was unlikely. I’d like to take a victorious moment to say how
wrong that thinking is. I stayed in the recovery-version of purgatory, that no-man’s land
between dying and really living, for years, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, life came back
into color, regained its vibrance piece by piece.
Our trip to Iceland was filled with spontaneous hikes to majestic waterfalls, late nights in our
tiny campervan cooking backpacking food over a finicky stove as the wind whistled across
the tree-less ground. There was overpriced soup, and the donning of the traditional
lopapeysa, watching seals lounge on icebergs in the Jokulsarlon Lagoon. Songs sung in the
singing caves of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, moon-lit soaks in geothermal springs, and land
so wild you feel like you’ve left planet earth. This was the first major trip in memory that
wasn’t also marked by constant body scrutiny, food anxiety, and attempts to squeeze in extra
physical activity. And let me tell you a little secret, it was SO MUCH BETTER this way. So
hang tough, and keep trudging through purgatory, because there is a beautiful world that
awaits you just on the other side.