5 min read | 1,169 words
This essay was previously shared with my short-lived newsletter. I'm posting it here to build my archive of Serious Writing. Feel free to skip over it if you've already read this one.
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WARNING: This essay contains triggers related to disordered eating.
My girlfriend decided to leave me, and I stopped eating.
Difference is, her leaving was a choice.
She made her decision with thought, although, I could argue, not much considering the violent domino effect of wide-reaching shit show that followed. What she lacked in thought, though, she made up for with uncharacteristic conviction. And that’s the real kicker.
Me quitting eating wasn’t something I decided to do. It just happened, an unconscious and effortless response to her sudden and unexpected departure, made easier, no doubt, by the fact that I already don’t like food. I never have.
* * *
It’s three weeks before I realize I’m not eating.
Three weeks before I pull on a pair of work pants that, thanks to a daily regimen of heavy squats had been on the cusp of needing to be sized up, but that now end up in a pathetic pile of defeat around my ankles, even after adding the belt.
Three weeks before I step on the scale and see a number that looks more like a price tag you’d find on a cheap toy in a bargain bin than a grown woman’s weight (the last time my scale spit out a number this low my diet consisted primarily of cigarettes, ecstasy, an assortment of opioid pills and cocaine (or crack, whichever I could find faster, easier, cheaper)).
I already know I’m at risk for developing an eating disorder; that my therapist thinks I may already be inching toward Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. And, bonus, I already know I’m good at addiction; at being consumed and controlled by a tenacious, taunting darkness that’s isolating and uninvited yet somehow still comforting, satisfying even.
* * *
The digital red numbers are reflecting up at me and I’m scared.
I know these numbers are too small.
I know this is dangerous territory.
I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am now, replacing the drugs and drinking and debt with three degrees, military service and a real Big City Grown Up career, complete with a title that justifies gold-embossed business cards and a corner-ish office. I know— I remember— how easily and how quickly one thing — one action or inaction or mistake or decision — can erase it all.
I recognize this could be the start of an unhealthy routine , of a pattern of intentional deprivation followed by shame-inducing overindulgence. It’s alarming, but it also seems vaguely glamorous, the same way that heroin has always seemed, to me, vaguely glamorous.
And so behind the fear, or perhaps next to it, cautiously (or is it surreptitiously?) moving its way up front, I also feel a twinge of excitement. I’m excited (!) by the idea that this could be something we share. Something we can use to rebuild our connection — something that can strengthen us, deepen us, solidify us. Never mind I know it’s exactly why she should stay far away from me. Never mind that she’s already staying far away from me.
These alarming yet alluring digital red numbers also offer a sense of accomplishment — for not giving in; for besting nature at her own game. It makes me feel tough, resilient, like I’ve achieved something superhuman. Like I’m doing something right, which is an exhilarating feeling to be teased with when for three weeks I’ve felt nothing but failure, defeat, ineptitude.
And, of course, there’s the aspect of control. These digital red numbers infuse me with an orienting sense of control, another welcome illusion* (*delusion) in this shit show of a situation in which I continue to feel wholly powerless.
* * *
I look up and into the mirror and at myself. I didn’t hate my body before and I don’t hate it now. I liked it — fuller, stronger, sturdier — three weeks ago, but I also like it—lighter, leaner, less — now.
My head and my heart struggle to reconcile these dichotomous truths while my eyes study my angles, which are now sharp in places just three weeks ago they were curved. First from the front, then from each side and lastly from behind.
The changes I see in the mirror fill me with a sense of pride in accomplishing something during these few weeks when I haven’t been able to accomplish anything else.
And then: my head and my heart start negotiating.
Head: “This isn’t just ‘not healthy’, it’s dangerous. This has a power to control and consume you that is far greater than the sense of power you could possibly attempt to manipulate from it. This has the power to ruin — to rob you of — your life.”
Heart: “But it’s not fair that she left me. It’s not fair that now, because she left us, we have to leave everything. It’s not fair that we don’t all get to leave, that I have to leave behind my oldest (again!) and that I have to take my two youngest away from their dad. It’s not fair that I’m going to lose my job, my home, my friends, my routine, my life. It’s not fair that none of this was my choice; that I had no say; that I still have no say.
“Can’t I have this? Just this one thing? I deserve it! I deserve to feel accomplished. I deserve to have a bit of control, a bit of power over at least myself.”
* * *
I want to blame her for this. And to punish her for making me suffer so severely, for breaking my heart, though “heartbroken” is not big or deep or sad or isolating enough to convey how I feel; “heartbroken” does not describe the total sense of loss, of dejection, of sorrow and grief and anguish that has left me paralyzed in the wake of her unwarned and unexplained departure.
This is her fault and I want revenge. I want her to hurt as badly as I do. I want her to hurt like me.
* * *
When my girlfriend left, unexpectedly and suddenly and without warning or explanation, she not only shattered my heart, she extinguished my spirit. She took with her my sense of self, my sense of worth, my happiness, my future.
She took with her, I think to myself, all of the pieces of me that were worth something; anything.
And that’s when my head and my heart plead: “Don’t let her have this piece of you, too.”
So I step off the scale and close up my robe and pull my socks back over my feet, and I head downstairs to where my kids are begging for breakfast. I muster a smile and clasp my hands together under my chin and walk into the kitchen and say: Good morning my little love bugs, what should we have for breakfast?
And I hope — hard, with every bit of my being — that when we sit down to eat my head and my heart will work together to take a bite, and then another, and then another.