Items I was not allowed access to while in treatment included gum/candy/non-cafeteria food, books, digital devices of any kind, magazines, cosmetic/hair/oral hygiene products containing alcohol, scissors, newspapers, medications (those were doled out by staff), “inappropriate” attire, bottled water, perfume, nail polish, knitting needles, and the scale in the hospital unit.
I never heard an official explanation for why the scale was off limits, but I assume the rule is there to prevent patients from obsessively weighing themselves. Between the heavy meals, the hours of sitting, and the fact that most people arrive in, let’s say, a sub-optimal state of wellness, weight gain is pretty common. I know it didn’t take long for me to start loosening my belt, before eventually sending home a pile of clothes that no longer fit.
When I checked into rehab I weighed less than I ever have in my adult life. Family members had started to express concern, but the truth is I enjoyed sailing past the L, M, and even S sizes to the exotic, never-before-worn XS section. The truthier truth is that I was quietly thrilled with the unfamiliar sights that had started appearing in the mirror: the knobs of my spine, the veins in front of my hip flexors, the shrunken breasts, the deep shadows around my collarbone. The pallor of my face, even. Every night when I undressed for my bath, I would gaze at my disappearing body with a sense of triumph.
There’s a picture of me that was taken when I was in detox, and on my last day when I was finalizing some paperwork, one of the nurses flipped his computer screen around to show me my file. “Just as a reminder of how far you’ve come,” he said kindly. The woman in that photo looks starved in every sense of the word: grey and lifeless, aged and empty.
I don’t look like that any more, and for that I am grateful. Still, my eyes keep skipping over the color in my cheeks in order to focus on my freshly padded midsection, my suddenly-too-small bras, the dimples that have returned to my thighs.
I know there’s no reason to mourn the sickly version of myself. I know my appetite was artificially suppressed and my thinking wasn’t clear. But now I’m hurtling in the exact opposite direction. The rapid gain continues, even though I’m no longer underweight by any measure, because day after day I overeat. I binge and binge on crappy foods — mood-crashing foods, energy-sucking foods, foods offer little in the way of actual nutrients — until I physically can’t down another bite. It’s not about pleasure; if anything, it’s about punishment.
It’s like I still have that emptied-out person inside me. She’s a howling void, and here’s the question I can’t seem to answer yet: Why are you determined to keep her that way?