As I was helping a girl from my dance studio find a dress for prom out of some of my old dresses (and really, who knew I had so much formal wear?), she pulled out my prom dress and mentioned that it was tiny. It was. Because I was 50 pounds smaller.
And I told her that I had an eating disorder for a long time.
She congratulated me on "getting better".
But I didn't tell her I don't feel like I've gotten better. Not always.
There are days when I look back on the sad girl that counted calories and would exercise in order to make sure she never weighed more than 90 pounds and it makes me sad. I spent all of high school like that. I spent much of my time after high school struggling with food and my weight. And now that I'm closer to a weight that is "suitable" for a person that's 5'11" I'm apparently "better."
But there are days when I think life with an eating disorder was easier than life after.
I miss the days that, even when all else was going wrong in my life, I at least had control over what I was eating and how much I weighed. Work was terrible? School was stressful? Things were going wrong that I didn't have any control over? I could live with it as long as I had that one thing that I was 100% in control of. I knew exactly how many calories I would need in a week in order to make survive and not pass out in the middle of the day. I was able to ignore so many problems in my life because I spent so much time focusing on the number on the scale that I didn't have time to focus on other things. Nothing else seemed quite as important as that number. I know that I'm healthier now than I have been in my life, but I miss having such control over such a large part of my life. I miss people looking at me with awe (or maybe it was pity) when I would turn down sweets and breads and meals.
Of course there were days that my morning and evening weigh-ins would reduce me to tears because I had gained half a pound, but there were also a lot of days that I just knew I was going to have a good day because I had lost a pound that week. The simple joy out of looking at the scale and seeing that I had lost weight was an easy way to brighten my day. Now, I have to avoid the scale all together or tell myself constantly "It's okay, it is just a number. You're healthy now. That's what matters." I can't rely on that number making my day better.
An eating disorder allowed me to pretend like I was a social person but I just didn't want to put up with the temptation of going out with friends. Now I have to accept that I just genuinely don't like to be around most people. I can't tell myself that I want to stay home because I don't want to try to calculate calories while trying to make small talk at dinner. I honestly like to be left alone. It was easy to be small. It was easy to refuse to go on boring shopping trips with people that I was friends with because they wouldn't have my size. Who would have jeans that small? Especially for someone my height?
I try to go through my closet and clear out clothes I don't wear often at least once every six months. I don't need a closet full of shirts and jeans that I never wear. I would rather donate them to people that actually need them. But when I come across a pair of size 24 jeans, I just can't let them go because a small part of me still wants to be able to fit them. These ridiculously small jeans shouldn't cause me so much stress about the size of clothes that I wear now. I should be happy with the clothes I wear now because it means I'm healthy.
I can't help but feel a twinge of envy when I see a wisp of a girl pass me on the street. I can't help but think "I used to be that skinny, what happened?" I can't talk about the fact that I feel fat today because other people don't see that. It doesn't matter that what I feel is more important than what they see. I'm not allowed to complain about my weight because I'm "healthy" and I've "recovered." I'm not allowed to talk about going on a diet. Other people can participate in their company's various weight-loss competitions but I can't. I never can. When my friends talk about the fact they want to lose 10 pounds, I can't say "Me too." I'm supposed to be healthy. I'm supposed to be better than that. I'm supposed to be okay with how I look.
It got to the point where people just accepted that I would go to lunch with them and not eat. People became resigned to the fact that I had an eating disorder. Friends and coworkers and people I dated finally came to accept it. They knew that I would go out and drink and party, but the next day I would work off every calorie that I had consumed. They knew that I would turn down any invitation to go out to a restaurant. People didn't question what I was or wasn't eating. Now I feel like people are constantly judging whether I'm eating enough because if I don't they're going to think I've relapsed. If I don't behave a certain way and go to certain things, people will think I've relapsed.
It doesn't seem fair that even though I'm "better" and I've "recovered" I still struggle with what I eat. Am I eating enough? Am I not eating enough? I shouldn't eat that, it has a lot of calories and it is really fattening. I'm not allowed to worry about calories or fat content. I'm better. But I want to be healthy, so shouldn't I worry about that? Am I allowed to order the "light" lunch off the menu or will it mean I've relapsed? Have I really ever gotten better if I still feel huge? Have I gotten better if I still struggle with what I see on the scale? Did I actually recover or am I just better at hiding it?
When younger girls at my dance studio talk to me about the fact that I had an eating and I made it through, I feel guilty. Because I don't always feel like I "got better". I feel like I'm lying to these girls that may be struggling already with their body image. I feel like I'm lying about the fact that I have a normal relationship with food.
And maybe that's the secret.
Maybe you never really get over an eating disorder. Maybe I shouldn't act like I have a totally healthy relationship with food. Maybe I don't need to act like there are times when I want nothing more than to limit myself to 500 calories a week because everything else in my life is shit. Maybe girls need to know that all of these feelings of self loathing don't just go away over night; this may be a battle that is faced even when you "get better". Maybe people need to know that if they are struggling now, it wont just go away. This might be a battle they face for the rest of their life.
Maybe people need to know that life after an eating disorder is just as difficult, if not more so, than life with one.
It isn't easy. Even though doctors have told you that you're all better, it is okay to struggle. Sometimes knowing that it is okay to battle and fight will make it easier than pretending you're okay.