Dress Code

It was feeding time on social media. A tag dragged my image kicking and screaming before an anonymous audience. Ellie looked to see if Anorexia had been lost in the post. I stalked my Anonymous appearance, scrolling through the costumes and props of a party, trying to spot her. She began to feel Fear Of Missing Out on an opportunity to display herself for all to see. She waited to reap reaction: like, love, anger, sad.
Somebody “liked” it, and another Somebody did too. I hid behind my screen, trying to reel in my imagination. It tried to climb behind Everybody’s eyes, and report back on what they thought of me. Then I saw it: that one photo that let off the aroma of progress. It gave Anonymous away. Compliments circled like vultures, and she realised she had been stitched up.

I had thrown the invitation away as soon as it arrived. There is nothing more offensive than being thought about when you claim to be Anonymous. The font curled like a claw across the card. “Ellie” was embellished with glitter. How had I let it be, that one of my friends had the tenacity to assume that I, the Anorexic, would be capable of attending her 21st birthday party?
Angry thoughts rattled me, and I threw the invite in the bin. Out of sight, out of mind: where we both belonged. The invite was a tasty morsel for Anonymous to chew on, to gnaw at me with. A challenge, thrown down at our feet through my letterbox. It demanded so much: to make an exhibit of this body; to subject it to the stares and judgement of Anybody and Everybody. It asked me to pose in a photograph with the wandering eyes and wagging tongues. To risk being caught in a crossfire of food or fun.
Anonymous was hurt. Anorexia wasn’t the one who had been invited: Ellie had. How insensitive. You see, Ellie, your friend doesn’t see that “anorexic” label hang from your name. She just sees your name. A name.

The dress needed to be confronted. I advanced towards it, holding up a garment I knew fitted: I needed a template. I needed something to size it up against. The dress hung it’s limbs, the silk straps recoiled and the waistline shrank away in my presence. Anonymous gathered her material, preparing herself for the inevitable destruction of her body image.
The dress didn’t look worn out anymore. It had served it’s time imprisoned in the attic, with all the other relics from my university years. The dress had debuted on Anonymous’ final show in Manchester: a society ball, where she put on a display of bones that gagged her friends. She had shoved Ellie to one side, and became the centre of Nobody’s attention. Stroking the silk, Anonymous relished the shapeless memory of starvation.
My Anorexic uniform seemed dull in comparison. I unzipped the dress – wait. I’m not ready yet. I couldn’t lie to Anonymous by trying on the dress on a full stomach. Hunched over the toilet for half an hour, I expelled every drop of liquid my body could muster. My tummy to backed down, mm by mm. I took the dress off the hanger – then Ellie stopped me. One more thing.
“Mum, I’m going to try my dress on.”
“Ok.”
A lot had to fit into that dress.

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Well hello there.

It seems only fitting to accept it. My dress fitted, properly this time. The clasp hugged me around the bust, not shunning my ribcage. The hem only grazed the floor, instead of being dragged along: I wore osteoporosis with pride, and stood up that much straighter. I had taken off an Anorexic layer for the evening.

The impending party tore disorder through my day. 19:00 crept closer, pushing my routine further into disarray.
Suppertime took a direct hit. It is embedded between 7 and 8pm. Ellie had to extract it, and transplant it to 6:15. Anonymous only approved this operation because an early supper would rip my “afternoon pick me up” out of the day altogether. A week before the party, we had stitched together a plan.
It was a misjudged decision, with no get out clause. On the day of the party, Anonymous began to feed scraps of my shredded routine to Anxiety. By 2pm, with four hours left until reaching the summit, I stumbled. The ‘weeping waitress’ must be becoming a regular sight outside my work: I wonder why she has been sent home this time?
Anonymous smacked her lips, then spluttered. She had been far too greedy, and felt sick: bloated on too much time. Being sent home from work bought Ellie an extra hour to fill. She had no excuse not to stuff it with her “afternoon pick me up” – my afternoon snack had been resurrected. Our plan to restrict had split under the weight of that extra anxious hour.

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Milk for pre-drinks 🙂

Minutes melted by. I ticked tasks off my time plan: 4:30 – pack lunch for work tomorrow; 5:00 – afternoon pick-me-up; 5:15 fix hair; 5:20 fix hair again because it won’t sit tight; 5:40 – start preparing supper. My timetable supervised me from my pocket, and we checked on it every few minutes to make sure we were on schedule. It was the only morsel of reassurance I had as time dried up around me.

I made a meal of choosing what to eat. Every mouthful of soup poked Anxiety awake, gagging in horror as it caught sight of the clock. Calories flooded my mouth in an unstoppable stream. It was too early: this body won’t have been ready to intercept all that food. My cells would be caught off guard, and drowned. I felt my belly grow stiff. Bloating would betray me. The small swell of my stomach is a mark of refeeding: I can’t help it. Bloating is just something that happens to me. My tummy still parties hard when it receives sustenance, and that afternoon it began to raise it’s roof.
I swallowed soup with a side of air. Hiccups accompanied many trips to the bathroom.
I was so nervous.
I had been stitched up in a dress by fear.

We had gathered together the material to rise to the occasion. When I arrived at the party, I wrapped myself up in it.

I recognised four faces in the crowd: Everybody, Anybody, Somebody, and Nobody. Nobody knew Everybody, but Everybody had Somebody to talk to. Nobody left Anybody out. I was weary of Anybody who brandished a camera, and carefully held My Body away from them.
Somebody rounded up a group and introduced Everybody. Of course, Everybody was trying to impress Somebody.
“This is Somebody, they are graduating with first class honours this summer.”
“Everybody meet Somebody else, they have been travelling. Around Denmark.”
“Has Nobody met Anybody? They have just been recruited in the city of London.”
“And this is Ellie.”
I looked down, not able to look Anybody in the eye. Silence ripped through that delicate thing that held me together.
“Ellie writes a blog.” Everybody looked at me, whilst Nobody laughed. They were interested. What do you write about? I write a blog about Somebody called Anonymous, I said to Everybody. It’s for Anybody to read, but really Nobody has to.
Sparkling water was put on ice, and I felt the party grow around me. Anonymous waited for Somebody to say it: she waited for Somebody to say I looked “better”. Instead, Nobody did. It had been so long since Anybody had seen My Body next to Some other Body. What Everybody thought of My Body is Anybody’s guess.

Adrenaline was worn out by 9pm. The layers of noise became incarcerating: clinking glasses, breathy sighs, piercing laughs.
Nobody said it, but Everybody knew I had to leave. Exhaustion escorted me back to my car just as Somebody served platters of food. Everybody, please be seated.
I’m sorry, I have to leave. I’m Anorexic, remember?

My imagination had been left behind at the party. It was stuck there, walking around in someone else’s shoes. I had watched other people relish the joy of being healthy, felt hunger bring a lump to my throat.

At home, tears washed away the shreds of my patched up day. Ellie, you did it. So much effort went into making an appearance at that party. So much managed to fit into that dress.

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Anonymous, you are not in my circle of friends.

Rites and Rituals

“Eating” is an ancient tradition.
Preparation is holy, and meals are sacred. Food is not simply consumed: it is sacrificed.
This is a ritual of self care. It allows us to indulge in living rather than struggle through survival.
Anonymous’ preaching was easy to listen to when I had already lost faith in Ellie.
“Punish her.”
Anonymous never celebrates, she mourns.

Anorexia is a cult that seeks to punish, but Recovery is a religion.

“What have you done to be nice to yourself this week, Ellie?”
What indeed.
And why?

I find it hard to be nice to Ellie, because Anonymous has conditioned me to believe that she is sinful.
A requirement in the rites of Recovery is meditation on the positive aspects of yourself. Reteaching myself to see the good in Ellie is frustrating because light and shadows move in pairs: I am blinded by darkness.
“They’re unhappy. It must be my fault.”
“What did I do wrong there?”
“You’re useless Ellie. Useless.”
Surely, not everything is in my control. Not everything is my responsibility, so why am I torturing myself?

The rituals in recovery require practice to become habit.
The pilgrimage to the kitchen allows me planning time, so that I can carry out the “Eating” ceremony safely. Measures are put in place to dilute the corrosive conviction that I am breaking an Anonymous commandment by eating.
Quantities are important: I must have enough to appease Ellie, but little enough to keep Anonymous dormant. I have to eat in peace: food must be revered. Nothing disrupts a ceremony more than interrupting anxiety.
Eating still feels sinful. The myriad of tastes and textures that are unleashed upon my tongue never ceases to shock me. When you’ve been starving, everything tastes delicious.
Is it really so indulgent to expect to be treated well?

This week saw me carry out a blasphemous act against Anorexia: I celebrated my 21st birthday. I celebrated Ellie.
Months of torment lead up to the date. Anonymous walked me through images of university halls, carving the scars in my memory deeper. She talked me into the future and the catastrophes that would surely take place; the many expectations from other people that I would never live up to. She offered me the power to climb into people’s heads, and presume to know what they were thinking. She showed me the selfishness of taking up a whole day in the calender.

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My birthday “cake” made form a bunch of flowers!

On the 22nd November, she was silenced by shock. I have never felt more loved than I did on that day.
Knowing I would never be able to face an actual cake, my parents put candles into a bunch of flowers and made a birthday “cake”.
We had a quiet evening where I managed to eat in front of my grandparents. I was able to enjoy their company and forget for a moment what I was putting in my mouth, and why.
The card my friends at work gave me touched Ellie: surely, she must be doing something right.

I did something to celebrate on that day to: I told Ellie I was proud of her.
I am proud that she let me sit still for an hour and write this blog post.
I am proud that she nudged her BMI up to 14.6.
I am proud that she can climb all 14 steps at work and not collapse.
I am proud that she made it to her 21st birthday: in June, it didn’t seem likely I’d make it here.

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Biggest recovery win yet!

In Recovery, I am able to mark the passing of time with the gift of time. With ‘the present’ in question: it is the thought that counts.
The gift of thought Ellie gives me is tearing me away from Anorexia’s sadistic cult, and I am proud.
That is what counts.