I am not like them, don’t take me wrong, I have my own issues, I have skeletons, ghosts and regrets, and I am over 25 years sober, I wore out my drinking ticket early on. More so than alcohol I really enjoyed drugs, illicit; I self-medicated for years. Then somewhere along the way I had to decide whether living was something I was game for. I had lived through physical and emotional and verbal abuse, I had my share of sexual abuse too and I even called some commercial rooftops and bridges my home for a while. That has all changed, I am sober, emotionally stable, well let’s face it stability is something of a moody little…well, you understand, it comes and goes, and I think that is applicable to everyone. But I think my stable days are far more prevalent than those days when I just can’t seem to make sense of how or why I feel a certain way.
But as I sit here in the back of the room, I feel guilty, I feel like I shouldn’t be sitting hear listening to them talk, listening to their feelings, to their honesty, to their admissions. Because I am not like them, I don’t have an eating disorder, I don’t think I ever have. I don’t understand what it’s like to break down over a snack, over eating something that should sustain my life, to not wanting to consume enough calories to satisfy my body’s needs. I don’t get why it’s so hard to stop eating, or to want to force myself to throw up afterwards. It’s not logical. I can listen to them and hear why they do the things they do but I have not experienced it and can’t put myself in their shoes, and as guilty as I feel being in the room with them, I also feel blessed.
When I quit using alcohol and drugs, I knew I could survive because I was no longer doing something that might kill me outright, I didn’t need the drink or drug to live. But with these people the very thing that is supposed to give them life, the very thing that is meant to provide them sustenance so that they may live is something they are deathly afraid of, just the thought of having a snack can trigger a panic attack sending them into a downward spiral leading to dark places, places where they question their very self-worth and depression envelopes them so much so that it blocks out all light, where the very argument for living is a losing battle.
Eating disorders have so many facets and classifications to them, it is difficult to follow for someone whom has never experienced it. There is anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia, restrictive food intake disorder and binge eating. Then there is Other Specified Feeding or Eating disorder and Unspecified Feeding or Eating disorder. The only thing that I can share with these people is the catalyst trauma, for me dealing with my sexual abuse meant doing drugs to mask or hide the pain for a while, for someone with an eating disorder they may quit eating, absorbing the hunger pangs caused by not eating, seeking comfort in the hollow, empty feeling. Or they may seek that pain of over eating and then maybe the dizziness and pain of retching to rid themselves of the food they just consumed. For some there is a seemingly innate desire to rid their diets of everything not deemed healthy to a point where they are so anxiety ridden it affects their relationships with anyone around them, that the very thought of any form of fats or carbs is enough to stress them into a frenzy.
I get those feelings, maybe not the triggers, and maybe not always the behavior but I know what it’s like to struggle, to not see light through your own anxious shadows, or to not have a dream of the future, that the simple idea of living causes me great anxiety. Some people are starving themselves to death, committing agonizingly slow suicide by disallowing themselves much needed nourishment. I have found myself not allowing me to be happy, to do things that I know I might enjoy because some of my buddies never got the chance to do those things and lost their lives somewhere in the desert, face down in the hot sand. Sometimes its difficult not to hold it against people for enjoying themselves knowing that they can do so because my friends sacrificed everything in the name of their freedom to live.
I think the more I sit and listen, the more I hear their stories the more I realize we have more in common than possibly either of us realize. The catalyst may be different, the means of self-medicating may be different and so may the trauma and the forms that each of our sicknesses, disorders take on. I see the sadness and the pain in their eyes, I can hear the struggle and the disparity in their voices, when they speak it’s evident their throats are straining as they wrap their own arms around their knees brought up tight against their chests. They are afraid, they are desperate, and it seems there is no one their to help them. They could be standing deep inside of a crowd of people, hundreds even and still feel absolutely and utterly alone, as though no one can see them, as though no one might ever miss them.
It is devastating to be in the room with them, I want to hold them, I want to allow them to feel safe and loved and valued. I want to help them but I don’t know how, sometimes I feel like I barely made it out alive and still some days I catch a glimpse of my shadow, its cold, dark presence looming behind me, waiting for me to fall and then it can cover me, sucking the warmth from my body and stealing my will to live. Maybe that’s meant to be, maybe it’ll always be there just waiting, waiting for me to refuse to pick up the spoon or stand up and declare power over it, like the devil, just waiting for me to give in and collapse.
When I supported my wife in starting this journey, this non profit to help all those affected by eating disorders I knew I was in over my head, but I didn’t think it would affect me in the ways it has. I know what it was like to be one of the million homeless in this country, standing curbside, having not eaten, not being able to think clearly because I haven’t slept for days and watch as people flow out from the theater and throw their popcorn and half filled fountain soda’s into the trash, not being seen by them, living in the proverbial shadows as if I was wearing the cloak of invisibility. These people are there too, marginalized by society, shamed because they are overweight or ignored by fear because their lack of weight makes people uncomfortable. I admire these people, they are soldiers, the act of fighting natures programming is no small affair. They are dreamers and lovers who can’t love themselves and some of them are barely keeping their own heads above water, their feet burdened with anxiety and shame and guilt and fear and their grip on the world secured only by their fingertips, watching as people walk by over head not seeing them, not helping them.
I feel for them, I get angry at what I determine to be the only option for many, a clinically sterile treatment center that exists only to refeed them and kick them back out, with no skills, with no hope, seemingly knowing they’ll be back again soon with their insurance companies in tow. There must be a better way, no one ever talks about anything other than their shortcomings, than their poor choices and hurting others. What about their strength, what about their desires, what about their dreams and what about empowering them to live life despite everything? There are plenty of people ready and willing to tell them all about all the bad they have done, about their expectations of failure, there doesn’t seem to be enough people ready and excited to help them live out their dreams and find their passions, these are beautiful people, smart, strong, people whom just need a hand, one to pull them out of that frigid water and into the sunlight, to give them a chance and listen to their songs. I want to be one of those people, we all should be those people. I used to think I didn’t belong here, but this is right where I belong, I need these people because they can show me what it means to fight, I need to hear their voices, it gives me strength, strength I want to use to fight for them, because put simply, as a woman who means the very world to me once said, “They are worth it, we all are worth it”.