Today is cause for celebration. The reason? I am enjoying food.
Those who know me best may already know how I’ve struggled with anorexia since age twelve – secondary to what we now know as an autism spectrum disorder. While it would be impossible for me to ever rewire the autism out of my brain, for the first time in over two decades, I can actually sense my brain truly healing from my severe, chronic and enduring eating disorder.
I am doing things I never imagined possible, and the best part is – I’m not even thinking about them beforehand. Not feeling guilty about enjoying food. Putting as much (hypoallergenic) butter on a (hypoallergenic) bagel as I want (…yes, hypoallergenic, due to true, medical allergies and not eating disorder rules or behaviors). Heck, eating and enjoying a damn delicious bagel. Being brave and adventurous about trying new foods – even reintroducing new meats into my diet (helloooo venison!). Walking into Trader Joe’s and grabbing what sounds the most delicious rather than what fits a set of arbitrary rules my brain is screaming at me the best … all without even thinking about it. In a lot of ways, I feel like I am a kid again. My mind feels wiped clear of diet lies and I’ve forgotten all the calorie contents I memorized at age 18 — I now even forget to look at calorie labels at all.
Even attempting to describe this feels like it falls painfully short of capturing the rediscovered freedom and innocence of seeing food as simply food again. It is nothing short of miraculous. In fact, it just may exactly be miraculous.
Sometime shortly after the 20th year with anorexia mark, I made a decision to give up on the idea that recovery was possible for me. Yes, some people can get better, I reasoned with myself, but I was not one of them. It wasn’t a very sad decision, more like a matter-of-fact realization peppered with the relief of a self-granted permission to stop trying. I was just going to be one of those functionally anorexic people who keeps their weight at a low-but-not-deadly-just-above-hospital-admission-criteria and that was that. I was never meant to be happy or free … And I was okay with that.
Fortunately (?) for me, my body had other plans. Despite my plan to stay out of the hospital, I began to develop medical complications of anorexia one after the other and paralleling these serious complications was another equally serious phenomenon – autoimmunity. The autoimmunity felt as if my body had internalized all my past acts of self-destruction, and they had now taken on a (molecular) life of their own. My list of illnesses seemed endless.
But back to my miracle. So yeah, I am not really sure when (or how) the change in my brain started. I can’t begin to pinpoint when the experience of enjoying food began again. What I do know is the more my body uncontrollably rejected food – in the form of SMA syndrome, gastroparesis, and autoimmune illness – the more I began to feel grateful for the simple act of eating/ability to eat anything at all. It became harder to do things to make myself sick or cause myself more pain when I was already locked into a severe sickness and unrelenting pain.Yet even this seems like a miraculous mystery, when you consider in the not-so-distant past that it was still quite easy for me to abuse food in order to deal with the stress of autoimmune illness. So how this all changed I will never know. The last time my autoimmune colitis flared (this winter) and my weight predictably plummeted was the very first time I actually didn’t want to lose any more weight and the first time I didn’t get the endorphin high that starvation would always give me either (another sign my brain was healing). Thank God I am beginning to see self-abuse as a truly nonsensical form of coping with pain. I am finally weary of adding to my own suffering.
The other half of this equation is autism/ASD – the more I began to understand about ASD and myself, the more I began to realize just how many anorexia behaviors I was using to self-medicate – so to speak – for my autism. I’ve endured quite a few misdiagnoses, a lot of doubters, a lot of stigma, and over three decades of living before coming to the correct diagnosis. This has been a hard and painful journey of feeling constantly misunderstood. But it has also explained why it was so difficult for me to even begin to heal/change.
So am I cured? No matter how well I feel, I will never feel brave enough to use that word. I am far from well, and it would take quite a few more miracles for all of my health problems to disappear. And an adversary as cunning as anorexia is not one to ever be unguarded around. Very much like every cliché horror movie plot: the moment you begin to believe think the monster is gone forever is the very moment it resurrects for a surprise attack. But I am healing. I can feel it. And I’m healing from anorexia in ways I never imagined were possible for me and had completely stopped daring to reach for. And that feels pretty goddamn miraculous to me.