How To Relapse


Wake up.

Feel bad about something, like: the person you’d like to kiss the most right now probably does not feel the same, or you’re stuck in a dead end job, or that you didn’t stay in the city for the summer, or that your friends are prettier than you.

Anything, really, so long as it slowly chips away at your self worth and makes you feel wrong, wrong, wrong. Be unable to stop thinking about this thing. Keep touching it, like a toothache you can’t help tonguing.

Ignore the Galway Kinnell poem posted by your bed for occasions just like this, and do not “reteach a thing its loveliness.” Look at yourself in the mirror. Stay oblivious to the fact that all the negative flotsam & jetsam in your head is messing with the view.

Notice how your thighs touch (for the rest of the day, you’ll be aware of just how much they rub together), the roll of fat at the top of your hamstrings under your butt (it’s the reason you keep your back slightly arched when you’re naked), and the pudge under your belly button (which is why you haven’t been wearing crop tops). Your arms jiggle, your face has no definition, your waist isn’t as tiny as it used to be, but the biggest problem is that your mind is rebelling and offering solutions that you haven’t considered for years.

Decide you need confirmation. Sneak into your parents’ room to use their scale, since yours was taken away when you were 15. Know that they would kill you (or throw you into Intensive Outpatient, so, basically the same thing) if they saw you.

Know that this is a terrible, terrible idea.

Look at the number. For about five seconds, feel nothing. Think to yourself “Oh, this isn’t so awf—” Realize very quickly that this is like a stubbed toe, and while you can’t feel the terror yet, it’s quickly rising.

And so is bile. Barely lean over in time to reach the toilet. Vomit. Get a little in your hair, and try to contain the panic by cracking a joke to yourself about being out of practice. It doesn’t help.

Ignore the fact that you haven’t been on a scale in years, and whatever amount of pounds you saw has no actual value. Ignore that your weight can “confirm” neither your weight gain, nor your supposed worthlessness as a human being. Ignore what you’ve known, or tried to know, for the past four years: no number on the scale is ever going to be good enough in that f-cked up brain of yours, so why bother?

Get off the scale. Know that you are the lowest of the low — you are scum, you let your life get out of control, just like your body. Realize you have to go to work — at a bakery. Feel overwhelmed and contemplate calling out, but what are you going to do? Sit at home and raid the cupboards, fatty?

Go to work. Almost cry. Multiple times. Especially when, on your lunch break, you buy some of the foods you used to use to binge without calories: sugar free syrup, fat free cool whip, shredded cabbage, Crystal Light packets, mustard, nori strips, rice cakes, and a bag of spinach you know you can eat in one sitting. You will feel like you’re starting to shatter — don’t worry, that means you’re doing it right.

Somehow, make it through work. Your hands will be shaking when you leave. Make a pit stop in CVS — buy a box of Extra Strength ExLax. Two stoplights away, throw it out the window, unopened. Feel like you’re gluing yourself back together, until you realize you’re in the parking lot of a Walgreens with the sugar coating of three pills from the new pack you bought coating your tongue.

Get home. Eat two rice cakes and do mind-numbing cardio circuits in your room for two and a half hours. Find yourself unable to stop until your legs simply won’t move. Since you won’t be able to climb into your loft bed, fall asleep on your hardwood floor. Wake up in the middle of the night wracked with cramps and hating yourself. The walk to the bathroom is one of the most painful in your life. Do not turn on the light.

In the morning, stretch on the floor like a cat. Run your fingers lightly over the bumps your ribs make. They certainly didn’t appear over night, but perhaps now you’re just more grateful. Feel light, beautiful, effortless. Your body is like the surface of a frozen lake — so easily cracked and so very very thin. You are giddy and euphoric and it is because you haven’t eaten anything except puffed rice for 36 hours.

This feeling will last until about 1:30 in the afternoon. Then you will find yourself at work, sluggish with fatigue, and with a pounding headache. Gone is the frozen lake of your body — your limbs are lead, you blood is syrup, and you are heavy, heavy, heavy. Curse yourself and hate yourself more for not being as strong as you used to be — three days with only a few handfuls of cereal and some Exlax used to be nothing for you.

The fact that you have a very warped idea of the word “strong” will escape you. Don’t worry, this means you’re doing it right.

While walking through the pharmacy section of the supermarket, looking for aspirin for your head, a litany of long-term complications will run through your head: dysmenorrhia, but that’s okay, because your period was a nuisance, eroded tooth enamel, but you have full dental insurance… they get harder to justify: edema, electrolyte imbalance leading to heart attacks, pancreatitis, liver failure, infertility, kidney infections… it’s as though years of therapy have booby trapped your mind to fight a relapse. You don’t even have the sense to be grateful.

Feel faint. This makes sense, considering you’ve been on your feet all day and have only eaten two spoonfuls of frozen Cool Whip. Grab something, anything, whatever’s close. There’s only one thing that could derail you from such heavy restriction: fainting at work would put way too much of a spotlight on you.

Chug half of whatever you bought before realizing that it’s a vanilla Ensure — the same things they used supplement you with in treatment if you didn’t finish your meals or had too much bone showing. Dump the rest down the bathroom sink. Tell your manager you don’t feel well and head home — she’s sure to believe you, you look like crap.

Once home, take three long pulls from a bottle of Nyquil. Chase the taste out of your mouth with some of your dad’s scotch. Before crashing, send a text to a few friends that you know you can count on.

Wake up. Look at your phone. Look at the poem taped next to your bed. Know “down through the great broken heart” of yours that this is not the first time, nor the last that this will happen. Know that you are strong in a way that will never be reflected in a scale or the mirror but only in your determination to keep going. Know that falling into the arms of a disease — and that’s what it is, a disease — is not a viable option, but it will occasionally be an attractive one. Know that there are people looking out for you that will reteach you your own loveliness when you can’t do it for yourself. Know that a bad few days is not a bad forever.

Know that you can get through this.

Go eat breakfast. It’s okay to cry.

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image – Rudolph Vicek