Little Light Bulbs

I don’t think I’ve quite gotten the hang of drinking tea.

I boil water. I select a mug. (Switch mugs.) I add a little satchel. (Peppermint, lately.) I add spitting hot water, which obviously-obviously needs to cool. I distract myself. Continue to eye the cup. Love-love the swirls of steam, climbing towards the ceiling. Wait another two minutes, at least, and sip one sip. Burn my tongue, instantly. Kick myself for not being more patient. Resolve to BE more patient. Start typing — and promptly forget all about the tea.

This is what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that I am bigger, but it’s not so horrifying.

What’s horrifying is the last time I stood at the base of Multnomah Falls, I looked at the bridge between the Waterfall 1 and Waterfall 2, and I thought too tired. Too tired, to walk the 4-minute walk to stand up on that bridge.

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Yesterday I played tour guide (I have family in town), and nearly skipped my way up to that bridge. Linked elbows with my mom, looped back for my brother, giggled with his girlfriend, and smiled at a stranger, also taking a picture. I showed them all of the waterfalls — all of *my* waterfalls — and I felt so normal. So good. So healthy, so happy.

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When we got home and sat down to dinner, I realized it had been a long time since I’d given food any thought. Several hours, anyway. And then I realized something else: I’ve spent the last 7 years thinking almost incessantly about what I was going to eat, and when.

This is such a break. This is so wonderful. This is what I want.

I’d been feeling all over the map about having my family visit. I almost told them not to, that it was just too soon — I wasn’t ready. But it’s turned out to be such a gift.

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Eating around other people again has shown me that I’m not, in fact, eating a colossal amount of food — I’m eating a normal amount of food. I’d just been having so little before. And it’s also shown me that oh my goodness, there is so much more to life than food. So, so, so much more.

Some of my favorite moments this week have been at the dining room table, long after our plates were cleared. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to focus. Laugh. Have a conversation. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be around people who tease, instead of tiptoe.

I’m remembering, all of a sudden: this is how I used to be. I used to be so easy to delight. So quick to smile, squeal. Not all the time, of course — I still need to be alone for 60% of the day, so I can be “on” for the rest — but most of the time. This is how I used to feel. And this is more or less how I used to look. How I sort of expected I’d look. This isn’t so awful, so alarming.

Because of the holidays, it’ll be 3 weeks until I see the nutritionist again. She’s hopeful that by the time I see her again, I’ll be weight restored. I hope so too — some days I feel like I just can’t take it anymore. But more and more, I’m beginning to feel like it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how much longer it takes — my weight will stabilize, eventually.

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And my brain will follow suit. I’ll get there. I’ve already come so far. My disordered thoughts are further and further between. And when they do appear, I don’t have to fight them as hard as I once did. It’s more like I’m annoyed by their presence. (Not necessarily surprised, but not really scared, either.) Then I come home and see another email from a friend, or a library book that’s been patiently waiting, and I forget they were there at all.

That’s what I hope it will be like, more and more of the time. I hope one day it won’t feel like this ongoing battle. I hope that will feel like much too strong a word. It’s not that I expect the opponent to cease to exist entirely, but I do expect that it will cease to matter, in any real way.

I know the chances of relapse are high. But I’ve already gotten my relapse out of the way — the fall before I moved to New York. I completed a refeed but panicked and began to restrict again, because I didn’t have a fourth of the emotional support, sense of self, or intellectual understanding I have now.

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I can see it so clearly now: I’d returned to a healthy weight, but I was still so deeply entrenched in my eating disorder. I hadn’t freed myself from any of my disordered thoughts. All I’d done was move along the spectrum. All of a sudden I had orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy eating), and anorexia athletica (an eating disorder characterized by excessive and compulsive exercise).

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Now I know what my triggers are. I know what I need to watch out for. I know myself so much better than I ever have, right now.

And I know the next way to challenge myself, even though I made sure to run it by my nutritionist first. I’m ready to do a little more guessing and a little less obsessing, when it comes to following my meal plan.

If I eat 200 calories extra one day, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s white fish or steak, or quinoa or a bagel, or dark chocolate or a Christmas cookie. It doesn’t matter if I eat something I can’t measure exactly. The really comforting thing is I know I like variety. I’d been so worried about silly things, like whether I’d want white pasta every single night, forever — and I don’t. I want white pasta two nights in a row, maybe, but then I want a sweet potato. And then I want farro. And then I want garlic bread. And then I want those little fingerling potatoes from the farmer’s market, roasted until crackly.

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But I don’t have serious cravings anymore, because hey — light bulb — now I get enough of everything, every day!

I just trust myself more now. I know what an appropriate serving looks like. I know I can make a pretty good guess at an ounce of cheese, 4 ounces of protein, a cup of carb, a tablespoon of fat, 2 ounces of bread, a handful of nuts — whatever.

I also know that I will overeat, at some point. People without eating disorders do, every once in a while. But here’s what they don’t do: they don’t go home and say oh no, okay, no breakfast and a long run, tomorrow. Everybody eats more than they really need sometimes — nobody on the planet is able to get it exactly right, at every meal. There are so many other reasons to eat. (Eat, and enjoy.)

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Want to know what else I know? I know it takes an incredible amount of strength for me to remain soft. I know I won’t be able to get away with the mildly disordered thinking that people who have never been sick seem to be able to stomach. I know I won’t ever be able to diet again. I know the second I feel the urge to restrict, I’ll need to call a friend, get myself back into therapy.

I know I’m anxious; I know I’m imperfect; I know I’m afraid to fail. I know I’m lovable; I know I’m so compassionate. And I know I’m well on my way to coming out of this — a different person, in all the ways that matter.

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