Anorexia in the Mirror

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As seasons shift from winter to spring (hopefully), it is time to swap out my closet from my fall/winter collection to my spring/summer collection. A task I usually love. Last spring I especially loved it because I got to throw away all my “fat clothes” and feel accomplished about the amazing progress I had made in losing my “winter cuddles”.

This year, the clothes swap presents a whole new set of challenges. I have avoided doing this for weeks. Kept the bins hidden deep in my closet. (Yes. I have bins of clothes. Four to be exact.) Not wanting to face what I knew was to come and wondering if I truly could handle the emotions that are tied to one of my biggest triggers… a damn pair of shorts.

Those of us that suffer from anorexia are VERY reluctant to share our triggers. Mostly because we don’t want anyone in our lives preventing our “motivation” to remain faithful to our anorexia. A critical part of early recovery is for those that love us and are around us to be informed of these triggers because there is no way in hell we will 1. Stop trying to utilize them or 2. Won’t even recognize we are summoning them until it’s too late.

Read more: I Have an Eating Disorder and I Can’t Fully Recover

The anorexic unconscious behaviors run deep. Sometimes to a cellular level. And most days we are glad for that. But bringing our triggers to a conscious level means we must face those demons that we have often viewed as our “saviors”.

Like most things I’ve written about, triggers for anorexics working to recover are all different. (Which makes this part of recovery SO frustrating to providers and those that love us. Because there are no instructions on what to look for. And we can switch triggers on a dime when we get busted. We are crafty little suckers.) Some are triggered by the number on the scale. Some of the number associated with daily caloric intake. Some of the fluctuation of the circumference of their thighs. For me, it is full-length mirrors and this year…a pair of shorts.

I have avoided full-length mirrors successfully for 10 years. We don’t have any in our house. When shopping, I have someone cover up the mirror in the dressing room. Even my doctor knows to not put me in any room where there is a full-length mirror or a way for me to stand on a chair to use a mirror. (Yep…I get that jacked up about mirrors.) Then, I started working for DOC…where EVERY bathroom has a full-length mirror. Now…I could have found a way to avoid them. Or ask for help with this. But my good old anorexic brain rationalized not needing to ask for help. “Asking for help would lead to people knowing about your ED. You can’t have that.” “People will judge you and think you are crazy.” “You are being a big baby. It’s just a damn mirror.” Thank you fucking voices in my head! I thought I could handle this. That I could talk myself through it.

Until one day this week when I realized that I had been in the bathroom for 20 minutes examining myself IN THE MIRROR. Lifting my shirt to see if I could see any ribs. Watching myself use toilet paper to check the circumference of my thighs and measure my waist. HOLY CRAZINESS! Guess this mirror thing still is a big damn deal. I still don’t know how I will handle this.

What I do know is that I can only use TP to wipe my ass or to cover my eyes as I walk past the mirror. Wonder how far of a walk it is to other bathrooms around here? Great idea one would think. Nope! Very risky. Because if I find one that has a full-length mirror and don’t tell anyone, there is the potential for me to disappear for HOURS to mind fuck myself. Crazy how my anorexic mind works isn’t it?

Read more: Life is Too Short to Count Your Fruit Loops

The one good thing about these office mirrors is that if I am lucky, I only need to enter that bathroom a couple times a day. I now have a trusted cube mate I can take with me (After all, girls go to the bathroom in pairs anyway) AND I am only in that office 40 hours a week, tops. A bit more manageable than the “skinny shorts” trigger that lives in my basement.

Below you will see these famous shorts sitting next to my old size 8s.A size I had comfortably lived in for 8 years. You may want to scroll down to check them out before you read the rest of this. It will give you a deeper understanding of how something that will shock many of you and what someone may think are “just shorts” can create such a mind game for me and other anorexic sufferers.

As I pulled the shorts from the back of my shorts/tank top drawer, I started to wonder if I could really do this. Keep in mind that I have not pulled clothes out of or put clothes in this drawer since August. I was grounded from this drawer and until this week it had been locked. My hesitation should have been my first clue to WALK THE FUCK AWAY! But clearly, I wanted to punish myself so I continued with the “challenge”.

Now to walk you through the greatest mind fuck I’ve done to myself in 8 months. As I held them in my hands, I immediately looked for a tag. Usually, those were cut out of my pants upon bringing them home. However, last year, my sneaky self had made sure to leave this tag in and do a damn good job of not sharing this trigger with people. Size 1. Suddenly my heart started to race. Wow! That is the smallest I have been since I was 12. I remembered how these shorts had barely fit…falling off my hips last August. The pins that held them up were still on them. Then it started to happen. I put them on the bed and looked at the backside and said “Jesus Michelle! Your ass was that big? Gross!” Next came me measuring the circumference of the legs of the shorts. “How embarrassing to have thighs that HUGE! Did you have to jump off the bed into these damn things?”

Notice how in a matter of a minute I had activated both pride and shame related to the size of these shorts. CRAZY! Ana was raging. I wondered, could I withstand this storm? (Clue number two to WALK THE FUCK AWAY!) But nope. I unbuttoned them and decided I needed to see if they still fit. (This is the part where I bet many of you are screaming like you would when someone enters a room in a horror movie… “DON’T DO IT”.)

Read more: Getting to Know My Eating Disorder

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought this might be a bad idea. (Clue number 3. Had I turned into Peter?) Then this happened in my brain. “OMG! What if I can’t get them past my thighs? And if I do, what if I have a bubble butt? What if I can’t get them buttoned? Or if I can, what if I have fat rolls that hangover? If I do, should I measure them? Should I measure the thigh gap? OMG…what if I don’t HAVE a thigh gap? Or my leg fat hangs out of the shorts like my belly fat?” The worst thought of all came next. “If they don’t fit, only one thing to do. Starve and run until they fit and you aren’t so disgusting.” And there you have it, people. One pair of shorts took me back to last August, when I was close to death, in a matter of minutes. Instead of celebrating how I don’t look like death and may have “outgrown” these shorts to feeling ashamed that I “let myself go”. I had freely and swiftly handed over my power to a pair of shorts in a matter of minutes.

Sadly, I started to pull them on. “Let’s see just how fat you have gotten. How weak you have been. How disgusting you are.” Well played Ana. Well played. The tears were streaming down my face. I got them to mid-thigh without any issue. I stopped. Worried I wouldn’t get them past my hips without doing the “jeans wiggle”. That I wouldn’t get them buttoned. But even more, terrified of what would happen if they DID fit. Did fit? WTH? Wouldn’t that be easier than if they didn’t? Welcome to mind fuck number 2. Anorexia can spin ANYTHING to its advantage. If they did fit, I could use these shorts as my “measuring stick”. A way to be sure that I gained NO weight and maybe lose a little over the summer which would be a direct violation of my treatment contract.

Weight stabilization is the primary focus right now and if I let these shorts deter me from that there is a huge probability I will not survive the summer. So, I did the one thing that has saved me from myself time and time again… I thought not with my brain but with a different brain. Someone’s brain that was always centered around doing things that supported recovery and didn’t undermine it.

Once I could think with “that brain”, as quickly as I had pulled those shorts on, I pulled them off and threw them across the room. Screaming at the top of my lungs. I sunk to the floor, curled up in my blanket and cried so hard that I had snot running down my face and eventually threw up. I just couldn’t believe that that much energy had been spent on a PAIR OF SHORTS.

Read more: Struggling with Refeeding and the Long Recovery from Anorexia

I remember thinking later that night about how exhausting those 5 minutes had been. And how scary it was to realize that my anorexia still sits just below the surface. Ready. Waiting for the perfect moment to strike. How I cannot underestimate its power and how quickly I could be sucked back into that hell if I am not careful.

Bet you are wondering what happened to the shorts. I was able to pick them up this morning off the floor. But what I couldn’t do was throw them away. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So back in the drawer, they went. Like my anorexia…waiting for when I called upon them again. I wish I could say that the next time I pull them out it will be to destroy them. I do hope that is the case. I do hope that I can ask for help and bury them and grieve the loss of that part of my anorexia leaving me. What I do know is that it will take great strength for me to do that. And a shit ton of help.

So, until I know I can pull them out and burn the fuckers, they will sit in the back of that drawer. But why you say? Isn’t that dangerous? Sure is. So why would I do that to myself? Here is another glimpse into the power of anorexia and how fucking hard it is to recovery. I’m ashamed to admit this but the truth is, no matter how committed to recovery I currently am, there is still that part of me that wants that reminder as I walk past my dresser every morning. A part that still isn’t convinced I should let my anorexia go. A part that is still attached to a pair of shorts. A part that still believes I am destined to live with my anorexia forever. That believes I do not deserve to recover. And never will.

I know many of you are yelling “Throw them away. I’ll come do it!” But what people often don’t understand is that while you could do that for me, you doing it for me actually undermines my recovery. It gives YOU my power and does not allow me to conquer those demons on my own. And honestly, right now, I’d find another way to hold on to this trigger anyway. So you’d end up super pissed off at me which would push me to turn back to my anorexia. Mind fuck number 3.

Read more: I Have An Eating Disorder

I did debate about writing about those suckers still living in my drawer because of how you might feel. What I realized is that the purpose of this blog is to educate and share my journey so that part of the story is SUPER important. And sometimes telling my story is about being honest and real which isn’t always sunshine and roses.

Telling all pieces of the “shorts story” again sheds a bright light on the struggles those of us with anorexia face. How difficult the journey can be for us. How shit can turn on a dime and in a matter of minutes. How much strength it takes to turn the voices off in our heads and make the choices that lead to health and not death. How little things to you are big things to us. How your excitement for steps you see as milestones in recovery can bring about such fear and shame for us. How telling the whole story will hopefully help you to understand why something as silly as not putting away my own clothes can be SO critical to my recovery and one way to keep my anorexia in the back of my drawer with those shorts until I have the strength to accept there is more to me than the size on that tag.

Until I am able to celebrate what it will mean when I can finally pull one from the pages of Michael Jackson and take a look at myself in a full-length mirror and make a change.

What part of your Condition is most difficult for people to understand? Show your support by Commenting!