In hiding and out of hiding

My mid twenties were the years of food as the enemy.

I had trained myself to look for ways to ignore it, to allow myself to grow disgusted by it, to cut corners with every meal, to gently shave off what I decided I didn’t need.

I sent myself messages, again and again and again about the lack of necessity for most kinds of food. I taught myself that food (aside from vegetables) was deeply flawed. Fruit had too much sugar, brown rice was laced with arsenic, beans couldn’t be digested. Soy gave you cancer. Fat was simply….well….fat. Something to be avoided at all costs.

Three weeks into my recovery I had a phone conversation with my mother and she cried.

“I just need you to be better” she said. “What will it take to make you happy?”

I had no answer for that, but I did have a desire to make my mom stop crying.

I’ll just eat a piece of toast I thought. I went to the store, bought a gluten-free loaf, and put a chunk of it in my toaster. I carefully measured my almond butter and spread the bread with a thin coating. All the messages I had taught myself about how negative food could be flooded my brain and I tried to picture my mom’s crying face.

You need to eat bread, probably a bunch of times, so you will be well and your mom won’t cry whenever you talk I told myself.

I lifted the bread to my mouth and my hands shook.

I was deeply, deeply afraid.

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Every week I saw a therapist, an eating disorder specialist, an eating disorder support group, and a nutritionist. Part of me wanted to want to be better, and I was going through the motions, but it took years for me to actually put the theories of wellness into practice.

I was afraid that when I wasn’t the thinnest person in the room, I was no longer special. Without my smallness I felt I didn’t have a self.12 (7-23-14)RGB

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Before I was the girl who lifted weights, the girl who talked every day about the importance of body image and self-esteem, the girl who made her living based on the tenants of treating herself really fucking well, I was the girl with the measuring tape around my waist, the girl constantly stepping on and off the scale.

I was the girl who didn’t know who I was with more weight on my frame. I was the girl who didn’t really want to be strong.

And then, inexplicably, as my waist grew wider, my shoes grew a whole size and a half. I got two inches taller. I stopped having a wishbone where my backbone should be.

I was stable.

My mom wasn’t worried about my health anymore.

People didn’t look at me and wonder if I was restricting my food.

When other people talked, I listened, because I was no longer categorically plotting my meals all the time.

I didn’t do sit ups on public bathroom floors because I was afraid of my lunch.

I wasn’t ashamed of my behavior.

I had nothing to hide.

(Illustrations from Handbook Number One by Kevin Budnik. Handbook Number One is the first in a series of ongoing autobio comics detailing the contrast between Kevin’s life in 2014 and in 2012 when he was in therapy for Anorexia and Anxiety Disorder. The autobio comic is totally brilliant and poignant and beautiful and important. You can read all about Kevin’s recovery by buying the comic here)