By Eryn Connery
My eyes lost their brightness in that January, when the dark and the cold wrapped themselves around the city where I lived then, when the snow settled into every available crevice and muffled every sound. It turns into an easy story to tell in retrospect – I stopped loving myself, I stopped feeding myself, and the weight disappeared, gone, the last light of day sliding down the horizon and sinking into the black winter night.
My ribs held an emptiness, a dark thing crouched with its fingers wrapped around the bone, a hollowness that was more alive than its host. Those ribs were counted under my fingers as were all the bones in my body, my hands reaching around my back to feel my spine, sliding over my nearly translucent skin and gripping the sharp edges of my hip bones. It is miraculous what people won’t notice. I was the only one who bothered to study myself, to trace the blue veins appearing in my wrists and temples like rivers, moving, but with something that was barely life – that sickness that lived, caged in my body, was pulling me deeper into it with each of my heartbeats.
The numbers didn’t matter when I was starving. The numbers – statistics, my blood pressure, my cholesterol, the days I’d gone without touching food – slipped off of me as quickly as they were thrown at me, the words clattering against my bones and falling to the ground, meaningless. All I had been taught was numbers, all I had been given was the knowledge that I wasn’t supposed to compare myself to the women in the magazines. I wasn’t. They didn’t matter. No one taught me the power of desperation for control, the pleasure that comes from counting the minutes between bites of food, stretching that time out as far as you can make it go until you come too close to the edge, until you snap. No one taught me that this obsession with control could lead to so much denial that even when my size zero jeans stopped fitting, I wouldn’t admit I had a problem. I concealed my shoulder blades beneath my leather jackets and lined my eyes in heavy makeup to distract from the dullness of a blue that seemed to be fading out to gray. Don’t I look the same as I always did?
It was a need for control that drove me to secrecy. I was afraid to reach out – independent, I told myself in the dark and quiet of my room, not afraid. But I was. I refused to tell anyone what I was doing to myself because I was terrified of being invalidated, of being told I was just a silly, impressionable girl who wanted to be thin and nothing more. The fear of that judgment kept me silent, kept me locked away that winter. As the rest of my life seemed to fall apart before my eyes, I convinced myself that control was the answer. If I could survive starvation – glancing at the clock, feeling the dizziness grip my eyes, the emptiness stretching a bigger space in my body – if I could just survive until two fifteen without eating, I could survive anything.
I couldn’t have. I couldn’t have survived it without my friends, who grabbed me by the shoulders and refused to let me fight my sickness alone. Despite my resistance, they clung to me and begged me to look at them, to eat. To do anything but let myself give in.
To begin letting go.
I want to say it was easy. That I let my hands fall open and my troubles slid between my fingers like sand to the ground. I want to say we walked off into the warm summer nights together, those that loved me holding my hands as we laughed and I healed, healed easily. I did not heal easily. They held my hands, of course they did, but it was as I bent double, coughing darkness out with shuddering ribs, with gasps for air between my sobs. The disease did not fade simply with the first mention of love, it was torn from my body with a sickening rip. The only beauty born from the tragedy is that I survived.
Know that reaching out is not defeat, it is victory. Strength isn’t found in forcing yourself to go it alone, strength is admitting you need help and fighting back alongside people who care about you, who want you to make it. Recovery is painful, recovery is gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to do something even when it feels like an admission of weakness, but recovery is worth it. I carry the weight that I regained with pride – it is lighter, somehow, than emptiness.
I give of the stories closest to my heart with the hope that someone who needs to read them will find them, that someone who is struggling will know that they are not alone. I am here to be a relatable voice in a world that often feels, to me, to be far too silent towards those who are aching. I am still struggling, and I know that I am surrounded by others who need the same things I do – to hear that they are under no obligation to fight their battles, whatever they may be, on their own.
It is a new January, and my eyes are bright again.