For some reason, YouTube seems to be showing me a flashback of my playlist in 2010 as I search for music tonight. It’s almost impossible to fathom that eleven years have passed since I changed the course of my life. In early 2010, I began treatment for an eating disorder that had comforted me on and off for almost fifteen years. I left a marriage that was nominal only; my husband far more interested in women inside his computer. I had no idea what I was doing. And I was so ill, there was no guarantee I’d live to see the end of the year. So eleven years feels like some sort of achievement.
In December last year, I hit a personal record for the longest time living in the same house. At the end of May this year, I’ll reach another milestone–seven years with my beloved–and not one “break” or break-up. These things may seem trivial but when our future–indeed, our present–has felt as precarious as it has in the last eight months, they are my touchstones. So tonight I’m remembering the woman from 2010 who was brave enough to seek help, brave enough to leave, and brave enough to live. And I’m saying thank you. These songs are for you.
Songwriters: Aaron Short / Alisa Xayalith / Thom Powers
Punching in a Dream lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
And, a bonus song!
Songwriters: Aaron Short / Alisa Xayalith / Thom Powers
Young Blood lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
OK, two bonus songs!
Songwriters: Oliver Sim / Baria Qureshi / Jamie Smith / Romy Croft
Crystalised lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Ltd., Universal-polygrm Intl Pub Obo Universal Music Pub. Ltd.
On repeat, to sleep
Because I cannot write
Instead I scroll and scroll and scroll
To avoid thinking
To avoid feeling
Words want to write themselves
But if I let them
I will break
And I cannot collapse yet
I still have to disappear
A few years ago, I sat down to write a book. And I did it. I wrote “the end” and everything. Now, I am editing that manuscript, my WIP. Which sounds like I’m close to finished. But a terrible truth in writing is that you can finish a draft (or several) and never be finished editing. I could probably drag it out for several more years if I wanted to.
The reason I’m not finished, though, is because the story has changed since I started. As it does. With understanding. Acceptance. Experience. Perspective.
But I’ve set my intentions for 2020. And while I won’t reveal all of them, one of them is to finish finish the book. Finish amending. Finish editing. Finish changing the story. Not because my memory of it won’t continue to shift but because it no longer belongs to me.
As we approach the end of the decade the customary comparisons are surfacing. The way I live my life is completely different. So is the way I love. But the deeper shadow parts of myself still lurk in dark corners, waiting for an opportunity. In 2010, my eating disorder had such a hold over me, the doctors didn’t think I’d see the end of the year, much less the decade. Yet here I am.
I once thought that if I wasn’t different at the end of all this, I wouldn’t be better. And while much has changed in the last ten years, plenty hasn’t. Who I am at my essence is entirely the same. Some days, I’m not sure what that makes me.
It’s impossible to tell by looking at someone how they are feeling. The picture on the left was taken in 2010, eight months into recovery. I had been re-feeding and gained quite a lot of weight, almost 25 pounds. The picture on the right…? March 2019. I weighed quite a bit more than I did in 2010 and had been back in treatment for three months. I’m still in treatment now. Perhaps this fight will always be a work in progress.
But the story of the last ten years no longer lives in me. And next year, ten years after I almost died, I will let it go entirely.
By the time this song was put onto a mix tape for me, Jeff Buckley had already been dead for two years. He was only 30 when, late one night in May 1997, he waded into the Mississippi River and drowned while going for a spontaneous swim. His body was found a few days later, upstream in Memphis.
As 2019 draws to a close, I’ve been watching the rounds of photos comparing people’s current self to their self from the beginning of the decade. In late 2009, I had just turned 31 but was severely entrenched in anorexia and yet to choose recovery. I didn’t believe I’d see the end of year, much less the end of a new decade. By the end of 2010, I was attempting recovery. Cautiously, with only a little hope.
Life has shifted many times over the past 10 years. Many things have changed but unfortunately, some have not. I’m in treatment again and have been for a year. It’s 25 years since Jeff Buckley released this song, a year after I first developed anorexia. But this time, I’m hoping that with the right treatment, I can say the Last Goodbye.
And in the distance
As barren hills are touched by black-tipped fingers
The fading light reminisces about the days it lingered
Over pots of tea with toast
Whispering sweet nothings to its only ghost.
Then the moon rolls across the inky sky
With a gut full of ache and his upside down smile
And he stops to rest in the furthest corner
Heaves in gasps as the solitary mourner
Closes his eyes just for a minute and
Imagines the days when he was thinner.
On a Tuesday because I was at a concert last night. But. Nothing to see here.
Today I wrote two little words I wasn’t expecting to write until tomorrow. And yet, here we are. At this point.
My feet are tingling like they do when you have pins and needles, numb, as if you’ve been sitting awkwardly cutting off your circulation, but in that sweet spot, before the blood rushes back into the capillaries and it starts to sting.
The cells, the atoms in my cells, are vibrating with energy. The energy of having finished. It is a gentle excitement. Soft. Like the way you realise you are recovered. After the fact. You do not notice it at first because recovery, like writing, feels like a slog. Every step is an effort. You wade through concrete. You make progress. And you don’t. There is resistance. The task seems overwhelming and you pause at various points to take a breath. To rest. There is no ticker-tape parade upon success. No party. There might have been, if you’d noticed it at the time. But even as you were thinking your last disordered thought, even as you were writing your final sentence, you didn’t know. And then you did.
So what do you do when you finish writing a book?
- You write the end
- You drink cider in the sunshine with a friend
- You buy yourself some flowers
- You go for a run
- You make dinner for the family
- You water your plants
- You hug your partner
- You feed the cat
- You write a blog post
- You begin again, a new story
I have been finished with the story I’ve written for longer than I’ve been writing it. Soon, lovely readers, I will hand it over to you.
“At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness”
Songwriters: Tobias Jesso / Thomas Wayland Bartlett / Emile Haynie / Florence Welch
I was fourteen. But felt the same. So for the next 20 years, I filled the loneliness with many things. Hunger, food, marriage, alcohol, sex.
One day, I filled the emptiness with myself, and found I’d been whole all along.