Choosing Recovery

Author name
Danna Alvarado, ABSN ‘14

I don’t know where to start. I was asked to write about my experience with an eating disorder, but it’s complicated. I’m anorexic, and I have been for exactly half of my life—thirteen years. To me, there’s not much to tell. I’ve known this world so intimately for so long that I simply see it as my state of being. It’s difficult to distinguish where the eating disorder stops and I begin. So, I guess I should start at the beginning…

I was eleven or twelve when I first learned about eating disorders. We watched a video in my sixth grade health class. It was one of those made for TV after-school specials that explained the seriousness and consequences of eating disorders. I remember very vividly walking through the gym after class and thinking, “I can do that.” I remember being fascinated by those girls. Their resolve. Their willpower. Their determination. It all seemed so attainable, except the part about losing control and being sick. That part seemed messy, and I knew that I could do it, and do it right.

In retrospect, and to my best guess, this is where it started. This is where I chose it. I often tell this story starting a year later, around the age of thirteen. This was the time when the symptoms became visible. However, I think I’ve always known the truth—I chose to have an eating disorder. I often lie and say it in terms that people can better understand…I say that it was a diet that got out of control. No. I wanted it. The thrill. The power. The simplicity. I don’t know what about it made it so attractive, or what it was about me that made me so inclined to pursue it. But I did, and a year later I met the criteria for anorexia nervosa.

My weight dropped from 120 to 90 lbs (and would continue to decline in the years that followed), bradycardic (with a resting heart rate of 40bbm), and orthostatic (with the nasty habit of passing out if I stood up too fast). I was constantly cold, my nail beds were blue, my skin was dry, my hair fell out by the hand-full, I outgrew all of my clothes (including children’s sizes), my bones ached constantly, and I was too tired to do anything but not eat and exercise. I was hospitalized three times. And at my worst, I was just under 80 lbs and bat-shit crazy. My life was reduced to food, weight, and exercise. I did nothing else but think about food, weigh myself, and exercise. I could go into the details, but they’re painfully boring.

I had a bunch of therapists, doctors, meds, etc., and by the end of my fourteenth year, I had gained enough weight to lose the panicked attention of my parents and healthcare providers. I was not, however, in any way better. I hadn’t changed. I had just gained enough weight to be left alone. Fast-forward thirteen years of self-loathing and resentment at having to keep up appearances, and we arrive to a relapse. The details and even the reason why are largely unimportant to me. What is important, this time, is that I made a choice. This time I chose to try and get better, instead of succumbing to the idea that is who I was. I looked in the mirror and chose a reality that is completely foreign to me. It’s scary and difficult, and I resist and fight it every day (much to the dismay of my support team). Like I said earlier, I don’t know where the eating disorder starts and I begin. I don’t know if I’ll ever know. I do know that I’m tired. I’m tired of counting calories, having nightmares about gaining weight, choosing the eating disorder over my friends, and hating myself. So, in the end, I try. I succeed and fail on a daily basis, and that’s a part of getting better. And honestly, it’s better than the alternative…loneliness, sickness, and death. All for what?