Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Identity, Take 3

Okay, I’ll get to the second third installment in my identity series (first post and second post).  The following question was posed to me on my topics page: 

What was recovery like, in the very beginning, and how has it changed for you as you’ve progressed?

As I stated in Identity, Take 2, the beginning of my recovery was ugly as hell: depression, anxiety, more depression, more anxiety, the internal crisis of Who the fuck am I without the eating disorder?  I ended that post in the following manner: 

“The first months of recovery were terrifying.  I didn’t know how to cope, I didn’t know who I would be in the end, I didn’t know how I should tie my shoes in the morning.

But I kept doing what I normally did, minus the eating disorder symptoms.  I went to work.  I went to school.  I talked to people.  I talked to my treatment team.  I kept working on recovery.  

And I settled into life.  Life, with all its rawness that can leave one feeling whipped at the end of the day.  

Life, with all its promises for joy that can leave one feeling loved and nurtured at the end of the day.

You can’t have the latter without the former.”


I know, I know, I made that last bit sound so easy.  It wasn’t.  The “settling into life” took a good several months.  I am serious when I say I went about my daily actions because they were there.  Without the anorexia, I had no idea if I still wanted to be a writer (why my career depended on my illness, I have no idea).  I considered dropping out of my MFA program and not taking the GREs and the GRE Literature Test to apply to PhD programs–because why would I take the tests if I didn’t want to get my PhD?  But I couldn’t think of anything else to do instead.  I had wanted to be a writer since high school, going through the “It’ll just be a hobby” stage into the “I’ll write on the side of a “real career”” stage to the “I”m going to follow this with everything I’ve got stage.”  I didn’t have anything else I wanted that much.  

I was scared shitless when I returned to school that fall semester.  Most people hadn’t seen me since I had dropped out of the spring semester in the beginning of March, right before I went inpatient the last time.  Of course I was prepared for the “I didn’t recognize” you comments and the head-to-toe-to-head scans that result in a slight moment of shock in the onlookers eyes.  Both of these happened.  

I remember one day, sitting in the English Grad Student lounge, a mentor and professor–who had visited me while I was in the hospital–walked passed the door to the lounge and then walked back and looked at me.  He said, “I didn’t recognize you.   You look completely different.  You actually look alive.”

My reply shocked me.  “I know,” I said.  “Isn’t it wonderful?”  There were no “He thinks I’m fat” thoughts or “He’s only saying that to be polite.”  I knew him, and I trusted him not to bullshit me.  

Our poetry workshop that semester was nothing short of . . . intense.  Out of control.  There was a dynamic in the classroom that raised the electrical current in the air a few levels.  Fingers were pointed.  I was proposed to.  Excellent poems came out of that workshop.  And I was a part of it.  Never before had I been so vocal.  I would bring up my points, but I would never dare get excited or flare up.  Not this semester.  I was in the middle of things.  And it was an amazing experience.  We had the perfect people for that type of workshop.  That much drama could kill another group of people, but we fed off of it and let it lead us into really great places.

Our writing workshop classes were always evening classes, and that fall I took both Nonfiction and Poetry.  Often, the nonfiction crew would grab coffee afterward, but the poetry group always went out to this Mexican restaurant for margaritas and dinner, professor included.  We had the best, most intense talks about life and art and poetry and love.  The first time I went out, I had a diet coke and nibbled on tortilla chips, nervous about what others would think if I ate in front of them, not knowing what was “okay” to eat.  The second time I went out, I ordered something small.  But no one commented or even looked at what I ate.  We were too busy talking and having an intensely good time.  After that, I ordered whatever I wanted.  I spoke up in the conversations, let myself get carried away in the laughter.  Let myself be present. During a meal.  In a restaurant.  Two of my previous triggers.  Two of the things that kept me from engaging with people and with life.  

I went out with friends for coffee that semester, and the following semester.  After taking the GRE Literature Test (which equals Hell), a friend and I went and got burgers and fries and stopped each other from bashing our heads into walls because of the stress.  I let someone cook for me.  I let someone tell me what I wanted to eat–not as in taste wise, but what my body wanted because of my emotions at the time.  This friend has an uncanny ability to appraise someone’s emotions and inform them what foods will help.  And before you all think “Oh, emotional eating, bad bad bad.”  No.  Responding to an emotion with a food that feels good is healthy and normal.  Sometimes it was meat she suggested (you need to keep your iron levels up during this time of the month), sometimes it was ice cream, sometimes she stopped at a fancy candy shop and bought four pieces of really good, expensive chocolate and we experimented with our favorite flavors and textures.  

Without realizing it, I began wearing clothes that fit better.  I used to wear these jeans that were about four or five sizes too big for me, along with XL hooded sweatshirts.  When my brother came to take me on a pass during my last IP stay, we went to buy two pair of jeans that fit since I wasn’t allowed to wear a belt on the unit.  I bought them so they were still a little roomy, so I was still in my comfort zone.  But as I returned to full health and weight restoration, those jeans became the size I should have always been wearing.  I had stopped hiding in my clothes.  This didn’t mean that I was wearing skin tight clothes and low cut tops–that’s just not my style–but it did mean that people could actually see me and not layers and layers of clothing.  

I recently purchased a sweater from a friend who was cleaning out her closets.  A few days after I “ordered” it, I thought, “that looks familiar.  I wonder if it’s from Old Navy.  I think I had the same exact sweater in the same exact color.”  And when I got my package, I was right.  Same sweater, same color.  FOUR sizes smaller.  And it fits perfectly.  When I owned the much larger sweater, I was at a much lower weight.  But I was determined to hide, no matter how ridiculous it must have looked.  

All of these things have helped me as I moved 1000 miles away to my PhD program.  I can’t say I wasn’t nervous eating in front of people I had only  met a few days ago, but in grad school, the way to get people to attend meetings is to provide food.  (And coffee.)  I’m still introverted by nature, but I always have been.  Fourteen years ago, I first took the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory and I was an INFP  (we’re the introverted, idealistic dreamers of the world). That has never changed, and I’ve had to take that test several times.  

Recovery didn’t change the core part of who I am; it allowed that person to surface and grow stronger. It doesn’t mean that life is easy with this knowledge.  It means that life is real with this knowledge, that I am a part of it.  For the first time of my adult life, I am a part of what is going on around me.


August 11, 2009 - Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Our personalities are very similar – I’m an INFJ. I’m still in that “Who the fuck am I without the eating disorder?” stage….and it’s so incredibly hard. I mean, I see my team 3-4 times per week, so it feels like it IS my life. But it’s great to read your thoughts and experience, to know that it’s eventually possible.

    Comment by Jen K | August 12, 2009 | Reply

  2. I have been pouring over your journal entries since you posted again, 308 days later. I was one of those people who started following a while back during the non-writing stretch and thank you so much for reminding me that your little corner of the cloud exists. And I’m another INFP, recovering chick, PhD student (math over here!) and in so many ways, the things you write ring truer for me than anything I’ve read in a long while. Thank you for your inspiring writing, it has helped me keep my fighting spirit going.

    Comment by bittersweetwonders | July 27, 2014 | Reply

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