… and so the story goes.
But this is no joke. This anorexic actually did walk into a bar. She pulled a green number off the rails and painted a face over the frown. She held her head up high, tossed her hair back and laughed until the second hour in that steamy room passed. Then, I let her retreat.
I’m writing this still in my Christmas party outfit. I walked through the door moments ago; made a hot water bottle, washed my hands, and sank into the ringing silence.
Anonymous isn’t good at parties. She just doesn’t know how to do any of it. Her talk is small, her mind narrowed by a crushing awareness of the vastness of her own voice. She’ll stick to me like sweat, my beaded awkwardness glimmering for all to see. She has the arrogance to climb into other people’s heads and guess exactly what they are thinking: that they would be thinking anything of me at all. For Anonymous, it’s all about me.
Anorexia is a heavy body to carry around. She stands out in Ellie’s eyes and no one else’s, and so sets Ellie on the outside of that bustling, lively party.
It is for this reason that I decided to go. There seems no better opportunity to practice being around people than the staff Christmas party at my new job. Not many people here have been introduced to Anonymous yet. Our interactions have managed to thus far be uncrowded by her presence. It is in many ways a neutral setting, made nice by such friendly people. An appealing thought, and an excuse to dress up and make an effort. An obligation to.
I’m trying to learn how to integrate into my generation, and socialise myself. Sometimes it comes naturally; others are lost under an anorexic surge.
Dread and excitement lead the preparation danse macabre. Choosing an outfit felt so easy with my Mum nodding and smiling. Alone back at the flat, twirling in front of the mirror clad in velvet and gold, I could see anorexia wringing her hands in despair.
The jumpsuit I had chosen was different to Anonymous’ usual style. She knows to wear fitted clothes around all the protrusions, to highlight her boney assets enough to inform anyone she encounters to have caution: don’t hurt the sick girl. Until she or Ellie decides what to do about the other bits: those fleshy clumps of recovery around my arms and chest, she hides them under layers.
When Ellie pulled on that cloth of green velvet, Anorexia’s eyebrow raised with my anxiety. She couldn’t quite tell if she’d look fat standing next to someone else. The shadows snaking from my arm hairs made my flesh bulge before me. Thin straps melted into my bulbous limbs. A snapshot of all the pictures I’d be trapped in for virtual eternity flashed before my eyes. She made me practice poses to cover the bad bits, which I of course forgot when confronted by a tipsy colleague with a camera.
Then the pragmatics shunted my meal plan into special measures. I’d have to be late for the party so that I could eat supper at home in peace. Already, I was setting Ellie apart from the party. Already, she wasn’t in on the joke.
I rode to the bar with questions stabbing my esteem.
Will I look fat?
I’m so late, will there be a queue to get in?
Am I fun enough for this?
Nobody has texted, would they even notice if I didn’t turn up?
Am I fun enough for this?
Can I enjoy this?
Ellie gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath. These are the problems she wanted to resolve tonight. We are going to find out.
I managed two hours. The only stranger in the room was my Self; and so was grateful to walk into a room of festive, happy faces. Alcohol fugged up the space between me and them: my sober eyes watched them knock back drinks and merriment with envy. They were all having so much fun.
That alone was enough to make me happy for the evening. That I could witness and even take part in such a festive celebration meant I left at 10pm feeling at peace with my decision to go.
This sweet stench ripening in the fibres of my coat is a pungent trophy for not letting Anonymous run scared at the first whiff of cocktail-infused air. A film of residue from the steamy fug in there wrapped her under that which she fears most: the calories floating in the smells of forbidden foodstuffs. Alcohol is a particularly potent fear, but Ellie is firm in her assurance that I cannot catch calories from that air.
And now, still typing in that coat, I can say I am pleased I went tonight. I’ve been reminded of how far recovery has stretched the limits of Anorexia’s tolerance (just past the time where exhaustion begins to enlarge worry into anxiety), and have appraised the challenges to be taken on, somewhere in that murky future.
Apart from anything else, I needed to get out this evening. Only now I’m cosy in my new flat, do I realise that the absence of fear or threat leaves nothing behind it but Me. I know loneliness lives with everyone, but I actually spoke to it a few nights ago. I had spent hours creating a beautiful revision poster, then realised I had no one to show it to.