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February 22, 2018

Writing My Way Out of Anorexia

Writing My Way Out of Anorexia

This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

by Caroline Morris

I remember reading the following in Fasting Girls by Joan Brumberg two years ago, while I was researching for my master’s thesis: “Published case reports repeatedly said that girls with anorexia nervosa were ‘sullen,’ ‘sly,’ and ‘peevish,’ implying that they were as parsimonious with their words as with their food.”1

I laughed and immediately emailed the quote to my thesis advisor, knowing she would, whether she admitted it or not, recognize something of me in the description. I was no longer parsimonious with my food, perhaps, but I certainly could be with my words and thoughts. I am far less miserly in my writing.

Writing has always helped me express myself in ways that I never could otherwise. I don’t mean to suggest that I write to express myself to others, though I do. More often, I write to understand. I write to connect with myself and to work through my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It makes sense to me that I was only able to talk to myself about my anorexia by writing about it, and it also makes sense to me that I was unable and unwilling to talk to anyone else about it until long after I had processed on my own. I am convinced that writing saved me, though it was years before I saw the fruit of my processing before I felt saved, recovered, healed.

The summer of my conversion, or what I half-seriously refer to as my conversion, I read two books concurrently: one about anorexia, the other about the furious longing of God. Whether the reading selection and its repercussions were divinely orchestrated or coincidental, my experience of anorexia was spiritual through and through. My anorexia was an ascetic disorder and my “conversion” a movement from death to life.

The book on anorexia that I stealthily borrowed from my roommate’s bookshelf that summer was Life Without Ed. I figured she had read it for class, but I didn’t know. We weren’t really close. I wasn’t really close with anyone. I read the book, as I did most everything, in secret. I didn’t want her to think I had chosen it as a “cry for help.” I was merely gathering information.

I spent the evening poring over the book, transfixed but still very much composed. And then something happened that made me lose all composure. Somewhere near the end of the book, light shone up from the words and pages and into my mind.

All of the sudden, I saw.

I stood up, dropped the book, covered my mouth, and gasped and heaved and cried and coughed until there was nothing else to do but fall to the floor. Before I could consciously call for movement, I felt my hands reach out and find my computer, and I began writing.

I wrote down everything I could think of, all the thoughts I had but never acknowledged, all the fears that haunted me. That night wasn’t the first night I experienced the very rational fear of dying, but it was the first night I admitted it to myself.

I obsessed over the document for months because I was convinced that if I could only keep writing, something would work together and make sense. I believed that if I could just keep writing, I could find a way to make my story end well.

I did find a way, though the written story never came together: circumstances were such that I eventually needed to put it away—I needed to live the story. Life after anorexia is both beyond my best and wildest dreams and, depending on the day, so exhausting that I almost feel disappointed. I am weary, and I am also happier than I could ever write to be alive.

Writing aided my recovery by giving me something to do, some task to busy myself with. It reminded me that I have thoughts, depths—feelings, even—and that those things are worth fighting for. The more I wrote, the more lucid my writing became, the more lucid my thoughts became, and I steadily regained a sense of self. Most significantly, writing served as a reminder of what I saw the night I began to talk to myself about my anorexia: that I could die at any moment, and that I wanted, more than ever before, to live.

[1] Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Fasting Girls: the History of Anorexia Nervosa (New York: Vintage, 2000), 165.

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