Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Anorexia: a portrait
WARNING: THIS POST MAY BE TRIGGERING.
You’re standing in a bakery. Not just any bakery—-let's say it's the best bakery in Paris. It’s warm, and the room is full of so many wonderful smells: cinnamon rolls, sourdough bread, pain au chocolate. Flaky Napoleons decorated with real gold leaf, the chocolate custard oozing from between flaky layers. Gateau, petits fours, elephant ears, all of them buttery and sweet and warm.
And you’re hungry. Not just a little hungry, not just wanting to eat. You’re starving. Your hunger is a hurricane blowing through you like a thousand fists, battering your insides. It’s a tiger clawing you, its claws sharpening on your insides. As you stand in front of the glass cases filled with beautiful pastries and cakes and breads, the tiger swipes at you again and again. Your stomach clenches and contracts. You swallow again and again.
More than anything you want what’s in those glass cases. You want to sink your teeth into one of those pastries, let almond filling ooze from the corners of your mouth, lick raspberry jam from your lips. You want to bite into an éclair, taste the rich custard, hold the chocolate against your tongue until it fills your mouth with sweetness. You know just how good everything would taste because you’ve been dreaming about it, night and day, for months. Other people come in and out of the bakery, buying white paper bags full of warm cakes. Other people reach into those bags, break off a piece of croissant, pop it into their mouths. But not you. Never you.
Because you are not allowed to eat. Though your stomach grinds against your backbone and your cheeks are hollow, though that familiar wind howls inside you all day long, you cannot eat. When you do, when you manage half of a fat-free yogurt, a pretzel, two grapes, the voice in your head starts up again. It hisses in your ear—how weak you are, how stupid and lazy and gluttonous. It shouts at you all day long: You’re a fat pig. You’re disgusting. You don’t deserve to eat. You don’t deserve to live. You don’t remember when that voice began. You can’t remember a time when it wasn’t inside you, always watching, making you suffer. The voice takes you inside your worst nightmare, to the scariest place you’ve ever been, a place you’d do anything to stay out of. So you don’t eat, even though food is all you think about, all that matters. Even though all day long, wherever you are—doing homework, sitting with friends, trying to sleep—part of you is standing in this bakery, watching, smelling, longing to eat, paralyzed with fear.
And you can’t leave the bakery, either. You have to stand here, breathing in those buttery, delicious smells, the voice growling softly in your ear. You have to stand here, longing for the pastries, terrified and alone. You have to stand in this bakery, shivering now, getting colder and colder and more alone while the rest of the world goes on, full of light and laughter and good things to eat.
You wish someone else could sweep into the bakery, cry, “Here you are!,” hand you a warm roll straight from the oven, and protect you while you take that first bite, the buttery taste of relief. You wish there was someone, anyone, who could shout down the voice, who could keep you safe. But there isn’t. There will be no rolls for you, no pastries, no feeling of relief and safety. There’s only the voice and its torments, and you, more alone than you’ve ever been. You, growing smaller and thinner and frailer. You can't bear the suffering. You want to die.
This is what it feels like to have anorexia.