The last week in February is Eating Disorder Awareness week, but I like to dedicate the whole month of February to raising awareness.

Trigger Warning

Each morning you open your eyes to a world that doesn’t feel right. You see pain and suffering, but your teachers talk about beauty and happiness and the dissonance creates a feeling of unease so deep that it seeps into your core.

You walk around feeling rage and restlessness, seething at injustice, but questioning the status quo only gets you labeled a rebel and a troublemaker. You lash out at the system, but get shut down with suspicion and suspensions and eventually fall silent. And you try to accept, try to lose yourself in anonymity and conformity, but that simply can’t last.

So you starve away every part of yourself that makes you human. You fall headlong into anorexia, not knowing that you are a total cliché, not know that clawing your way out will be 10,000 times harder than it was to fall in.

You learn to lose yourself in the mirror, that endless sea of distortion. You learn to hang your dignity off your hip-bones and judge your worthiness by the distance between your thighs. You wrap your arms around your scrawny chest and grip your own rib cage, you poke and prod at your collarbones, your clavicle, encircle your upper arm with the fingers on one hand. You reduce yourself to skin and bones, to a double-digit number, to a decreasing BMI and a dropping heart rate and a blurriness that takes over your vision every time you stand up.

You feel your spine grind into the back of the chair and it reminds you that you have a backbone.

You lie awake in bed at night, feeling your heart sluggishly beat — and skip a beat — and you hope it might be the last beat it ever takes.

And as your body begins to metabolize itself, you are filled with endless anxiety, lethargy, confusion, and apathy. Your body doesn’t work right anymore so it’s the only thing you can think about. You begin to fear your own aversion to food, unable to eat even when you are just short of passing out. When the doctor tells you that if you lose another pound, you’ll be forcibly hospitalized, you weakly promise to try your hardest, but know — really know — that you are completely incapable of starting to eat again.

You sit in the waiting room, dead eyes, shallow breaths. When it comes time for admission, you take your suitcase and follow the nurse down the hall, not knowing what to expect. A hospital bracelet gets strapped to your wrist. EKG wires are attached to your chest. You have entered another universe.

Girls. So many hollow-eyed girls. You bond instantly, not needing words to know that you all understand pain. There are girls much thinner than you, girls with tubes up their noses, girls in wheelchairs, girls with bandaged wrists, girls having flashbacks, girls sobbing, girls shaking, so many girls.

You lie in bed and wonder how your life could have taken such a crazy turn. You can’t sleep, but you are still startled when they come to prick your finger for a blood sugar check at four in the morning.

The next day, you cry over your food, because it’s too much. You can’t do this. And you keep crying. You cry because there’s too much food and you cry because the food unlocks the floodgates on your emotions and you cry because the carefully cultivated control that starvation provides has been totally shattered and you are raw and terrified and in so much pain. Your body hurts. You body wants to reject the food and the nutritionist keeps increasing your intake because your metabolism is having a party.

You go from wearing multiple layers to walking around in short sleeves, sweating in the winter because your body is burning calories like you will never eat again. Because, really, your body doesn’t trust you. You have night sweats and your stomach cramps all the time and you watch the clock, scared that the next meal is coming too fast.

After each meal, you curl into a ball and wallow in misery. You curse food. It’s clearly the problem. You curse the nutritionist because she’s clearly a sadist. You curse your therapist because she doesn’t understand that you barely have an eating disorder and you are ready to go home.

You cry in your bed at night. You cry during music group and you don’t even know why. You cry when your friend tells you her tortured life story. You cry when it’s time to drink your fourth Ensure Plus of the day. You cry when the nurses won’t tell you your weight. You cry when your clothes don’t fit anymore. You cry because your family sends you the sweetest cards and you don’t think you deserve it because you got yourself into this mess. You cry when your friends cry because watching them suffer hurts more than your own pain.

And then finally, when the tears start to dry up, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner become something less than traumatic, you take stock of your life. You evaluate everything. You take a deep dive into who you really are, and what you have to offer. You make lists. You complete writing assignments. You write your autobiography. You contemplate your relationship with God. You learn who your real friends are. You take the scattered ashes of what anorexia has reduced you too and you start to rebuild.

You start to realize that you will actually have a future. You recognize that life and pain are a package deal, and you are strong enough to handle both. You learn that while anorexia is deceptively comforting with its promise of oblivion, it can never again be an option. You learn that recovery will be a lifelong process, but that it’s something worth fighting for. You learn that it’s not about being recovered, it’s about committing to staying well no matter how uncomfortable life becomes.

You hug your friends goodbye and shed bittersweet tears because you know you won’t see most of them again. And you know that most of them will relapse. You hug your nutritionist and your therapist as well, because even though you spent a lot of time hating them, they just saved your life.

And then you live. You live the truest, most genuine life that you could ever have imagined. You make choices. You venture into shades of gray and consider alternate points of view. You turn truths upside down and consider the source. You check in with yourself and listen to the voice inside of you that tells you if you are living a life of congruence, or if your life is a tenuous lie, built to satisfy someone else.

You experiment and you explore, and you find your life. Your find joy and love and passion and you pursue it, because that is what will keep you alive. You follow the beat of your heart.

With no shame, you say, “I’m in recovery from anorexia.” With pride, you say, “I’m in recovery from anorexia.” With honesty, you say, “I’m in recovery from anorexia.”

And to you, I say, I’m in recovery from anorexia. Recovery was the hardest journey I ever embarked on, but also the most worthwhile. I’m in recovery, and you can be too.