How My Battle With Anorexia Kept Me From Having Intimate Relationships
It's 2:12 pm on a Thursday, and I should be at work. Instead, I'm tucked within the confines of my tiny pale blue bedroom, sicker than I've been in god knows how long. I haven't left my bed in over 48 hours, and I haven't eaten a single thing. I feel like I'm losing my mind.
I don't remember the last time I was sick like this. Maybe it's a wicked case of food poisoning? Maybe it's a severe form of that pesky virus that's been lurking around the Elite Daily office?
Whatever it is, it's awful. It's something awful that has made my body (violently) throw up any bit of sustenance I've attempted to consume.
I don't even feel like a human being. I feel like a shadow of a human being.
As my head throbs and the room spins from dehydration, I can't help but feel like it's all such bizarre timing. This week is "National Eating Disorder Awareness" week. I had no clue that it was (bad Internet writer) until I received a work email about it just two days ago -- the very day my body decided to turn on me and dispel every nutrient living inside of me.
Oh yeah. Now I remember when I felt this sick.
"I can't believe I used to do this to myself," I think, as I attempt to soothe myself on the stone-cold tile of the bathroom floor. I have lain with my back flat against the tile so many times in my life. Only, in the past, it wasn't my body betraying me; it was me betraying my body.
There are so many parallels between being physically sick and having an eating disorder, and whatever virus I had this week was a brutal reminder of the anorexia that once consumed me:
The heavy-boned weakness. Seeing stars in the shower. Living in a surreal world of dizziness. The incessant shaking of my fingertips. The balmy sweatiness of my palms. And, most of all, the isolation I felt between myself and the outer world.
You know when you've been homesick a little too long? By day three, you begin to feel sorely disconnected from your life. In fact, the thought of even venturing outside of your bedroom feels almost jarring. The lines get blurred. You can't tell if you're still sick or if you've just become a little too comfortable in this safe prison you've created for yourself.
That's exactly what an eating disorder feels like.
My anorexia first crept up when I was 16 years old, and it has hung around for a the better part of the last decade, still continuing to rear its ugly head when sh*t goes down.
Like a lot of girls with eating disorders, I'm a f*cking brilliant hider. I was never open about my broken relationship with food or my self-destructive relationship with my body. We tend to be perfectionists who are experts at hiding the ~ugly things~. We want to show you the beautiful things. The "perfect" things. I'm a fabulous curator, hand-selecting the sides of me I want you to see and tossing aside the broken, screwed-up parts.
I have bold-faced lied about already having "had dinner, so sorry!" so many goddamn times. I can't tell you how many times I've run the shower and blasted the radio as I stuck my pretty nail-polished fingers down my throat and wretched up my lunch without anyone ever knowing.
I've had every "food allergy" possible. I conveniently haven't "felt well" at so many dinner parties that it's a wonder I still get invited. And anytime a questioning entity presses me about it, I expertly steer the conversation in a different direction. (I usually starting asking questions about his or her life. From my experience, people will drop anything to talk about themselves.)
I'm good at these things. But Kittens, it's not good to be good at these things.
I remember seeing a therapist when I was 24 because I was having debilitating panic attacks (that I didn't believe were panic attacks and chalked up to being "sick").
"You're a dangerous person," the therapist told me during our third session. I was sitting on her beige couch gazing at her Chanel brooch, transfixed and distracted by those pretty, shiny, interlocked CC's.
"How am I a dangerous person?" I asked, incredulous and wildly offended, still staring at the Chanel logo pinned to her chest.
The therapist's light blue eyes stared at me so coldly, it froze me to the core. She was an icy blonde, who was chilling the fragile bones of this warm brunette.
"Because you hide it all so well," she said quietly, her stone gaze softening. The comforting Chanel brooch became hazy as my eyes filled up with tears.
She was right. She was the first person to call me out on my sh*t, and it scared me. I wasn't ever going back.
"F*ck that woman," I said to my best friend, who came to pick me up in his beat-up little car. "I'm never going back to her. She's nuts!"
But her words continued to haunt me. I shoved them so far back into the depths of my brain; they only surfaced when I was drunk or dreaming.
Because. You. Hide. It. So. Well.
I don't think I was aware of the fact that my secret anorexia had entirely stopped me from having intimate relationships. Yes, I had a ton of friends, but they were only so close to me. When you're swallowing a secret of any kind, you emit a closed-off energy. People can sense when you're hiding a huge part of your life, no matter how brilliant of a liar you are. I've always said it's hard to be self-destructive and have close friends.
The people who care will see through your sh*t and will try to help. If you're anything like me, your self-destructive behavior will come first, and you will push the people who care away. You will have only surface-level friendships with people who don't care to question your behavior.
And yeah, I dated. But my anorexia came first, and I've never been the type to juggle two lovers at once.
There was always a distance that I couldn't ever figure out, a distance that prevented me from ever experiencing real intimacy, both sexually and emotionally.
Sexually, in the sense that I felt so disconnected from my body that, no matter how much I believed I was into the "sex," I was removed from it the whole time. I was never really present for sex at all, even if I made a big show of acting like it. In fact, I think this is when my whole thirst for rough sex started, because I was hungry to feel.
Emotionally, in that when you get so used to hiding such a big part of your life, it gets hard to open up about anything else. You expel so much energy into masking your eating habits that you forget how to be real about anything else.
It wasn't until I really fell in love that I realized what I had been missing out on. I met a girl, and we had that insta-chemistry, that intoxicating, fiery passion. It was the first time I experienced something that could challenge my anorexia.
She saw through my sh*t, and I knew I stood a chance at missing out on this profound love if I didn't let her in. I showed her the bad parts of myself that I was so deeply ashamed of. And she still loved me. And the shame started to lift.
It was with her that I first experienced "love sex," sex that was intimate and real. Sex in which I wasn't self-conscious, or putting on a show, or feeling the need to go to drastic measures to hide the fact that I hated the skin I was in. Suddenly, my body seemed like a place worthy of being loved and nourished. It wasn't just a battleground of self-punishment.
Most importantly, I learned that being vulnerable, as foreign as it is to someone like me, is the only way you can ever have an intimate relationship with anyone.
And there is nothing more f*cking beautiful than real intimacy.
Time has passed since the darkest days of my eating disorder. I've gotten a lot better. I still have bad days from time to time, but I value my health. I value my life. I value my intimate relationships more than anything in the world.
Not just intimacy with a lover, but intimacy with my friends. Intimacy in my writing. That's why I throw all the dark parts of my life out there, because while I know I might be setting myself up for heaps of hate from the trolls or endless embarrassment -- I know that I can't have real closeness with my readers if I'm keeping secrets from them.
So yeah. As horrible as being sick the past few days has been, it circled me back to a place I don't ever want to forget.
A time when I used to make myself this sick as an attempt to achieve an unattainable body and glean control over an out-of-control life. It's so easy to dump the past in the past, but if you neglect the past too much, it has a sneaky way of creeping back in your life and repeating itself.
Don't let your secrets fester in your body and make you sick. Secrets will always make you sick.
And most of all, don't let your secrets rob you from experiencing raw, intimate love. I still get really nervous about dating. But I choose not to listen to the fear. Listening to the fear only encouraged me to hide things. Life is too short to hide things.
The only way to experience real love is to let someone into all parts of yourself. Not just the parts you want your partner to see. And in my experience, the more you dare to REVEAL your authentic self, flaws, disorders, breakdowns, insecurities, quirks and all, the deeper in love with you he or she will fall.
Because nothing is sexier than a whole, real person. A sketch of a person only scratches the surface. And real love manifest far below the surface. Real love exists deep in the core of who you really are.