Author’s note: This is one person’s account of her experience with an eating disorder and it should be noted that one need not reach such a point to warrant medical attention or treatment. Everyone is different and deserves treatment regardless of weight, age, medical status, number of hospitalizations/treatments, or presence or absence of specific symptoms.
by Christina Grasso
It is said that the only time we should look back is to see how far we have come.
A year ago today, I was admitted to the hospital due to an eating disorder that, according to my doctors, was close to making my heart stop. One week later, I was transferred to a residential treatment center where I spent the following three months fighting for my life and against my own brain, alongside an army of remarkable young men and women battling the same demon.
At the time I was plagued with guilt and shame, and felt like a complete and utter failure as an eating disorder advocate and as a 25-year-old person in general. I blamed myself for my illness and despite my desire to get well, I was unable to envision a life not tethered to the toxic fibers of anorexia. I had resigned myself to a half-life I didn’t want because even after several prior treatment attempts (ten, but who’s counting), I still struggled tremendously to a point where my life was in grave danger.
Then, being in such a weakened state clouded my ability to imagine a recovered life, or even remember periods of time where I felt stronger and more positive. I feigned optimism, but deep down I was terrified and completely disheartened. Recovery, at the time, just felt like it was another word for weight gain, and if that were the case, I was just going to turn into an appalling object of derision and life would be over.
It took me until recently to realize that, No. Life was not, and is not, over, thank God — it is just beginning, because those hard-fought pounds and ounces I desperately tried to avoid are giving me my life back.
For me, I try to think of those pounds as my armor, my weapon. Because when every meal is a battleground, they are a little reminder I am advancing in the war. Those pounds embody life. They are comprised of tears, anxieties, and snow leopard ferocity. Those pounds have rebuilt me into the whole person I was created to be, rather than a starvation-induced Christina imposter who dwelled within the deep chasms of illness and disorder. They have rekindled my creativity, my sense of mischief, and my fervor for life. They were carefully formed by the fierce love and steadfast support of my family, close friends, and very special Doctor, who have stood beside me throughout this painstaking process, because I would have never survived alone. They exemplify my own resolve to beat this illness, no matter how many times I have faltered. Those pounds symbolize, in this past year alone, repeat hospital visits, countless EKGs and blooddraws, weeks of bedrest, a truckload of Ensure, several IVs and one very unpleasant nasogastric tube. And yet, as bad as it was, as many times as I was knocked down, I grabbed ahold of life and got back up. Those pounds signify the cumulative years I have spent in treatment centers and hospitals, removed from the world in which I was created to live a life spent living, not dying or merely existing.
And yet, with all that being said, my objective is to not measure myself, or my progress, by gravitational force, but instead, in strength. Strength is much more meaningful to me, and unlike anything appearance-related, it will not fade or wrinkle over time.
And if I am measuring my worth based on strength – resilience, really – I needn’t look further than the storms I have weathered in this past year alone. In moments of disordered thinking, with which I still struggle every day, I may feel as though the weight I have had to gain is a sign of weakness. I know it is, in fact, the opposite. This whole process has taken a hell of a lot of grit and guts to put one foot in front of the other with the focus and trepidation of a tightrope walker wearing a blindfold. I have not advanced down this path without battle wounds, no. But they have bent, broken, and duct taped me into the person I am today. And as I am beginning to believe, that person is enough – boisterous old man laugh and all.
One year later I don’t necessarily feel an absence of the eating disordered thoughts that initially drove me to that dark, sinister place. It will take longer than a year to carve new neural pathways and abolish the 15 years of judgments and beliefs that have kept me sick. It is very much an uphill battle, but I am sensing an influx of fortitude, determination, and zest for living that help me combat the eating disorder each day with intention, tenacity, and an admittedly bizarre sense of humor that very much defines me. And so long as I continue to turn my face to the light, I know the darkness of the past will continue to fade.
So today, as I look back upon that day one year ago, my kneejerk reaction is to pause and lament for the shadow of a person I was, hooked up to machines and doubting her ability to recover. But then I remember, 12 months later, I need instead celebrate the person I am becoming. Because of everything I have gained and restored in this past year, the most significant thing is a lot more of myself.
And with smiling eyes to which light and sparkle have returned, I turn back around (*Bonnie Tyler voice*) and keep walking.
This post is dedicated to my loving family, supportive friends, Dr. G, my allies in the war, and Betty Littlepiddles, my recovery cat, who turned 1 today. I love you all.