Sometimes it feels like I have conquered my demons. I think back on all of my progress, where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Pathologies that used to flood my brain; so many of those are gone, forgotten, hidden in the dark corners and crevices of my brain, memories of that past self collecting cobwebs and piles of dust bunnies.
Sometimes I don’t remember how bad it used to be, the amount of mental energy I used to expend monitoring everything that went into my body, berating and chastising myself for not following rules one, two, and three and breaking numbers four through 5,000. I don't remember the last time I felt frantic looking at a restaurant menu. I don't remember the last time I weighed myself, or the last time I pre-planned a meal, or the last time I ate something without letting it tickle my taste buds, allowing myself to appreciate the food I was eating. I don't remember the last time I ate something I really didn't want, or felt compelled to finish my plate even after deciding I was full. I don't remember the last time I felt guilty, truly guilty, after eating a meal. But mostly, I don't remember the last time I felt utterly consumed by what I put in my mouth.
And yet, for as far as I have come, for as far away as those memories seem, I can't seem to bear the sight of my own body, full on in all its shining glory. The self-monitoring and the policing of my food, that might be gone. But the self-monitoring and the policing of my body… that has stuck around.
I can't sleep with my shirt off because I've always hated the way my breasts flatten out, how they're shaped and how they fall. I can't walk around in just a bra and underwear because I have to hide the rippling, tangled web of red that mars the backs of my thighs, the tops of my calves, the round of my belly, the curve of my hips, the underside of my arms. I can't wear my hair in a ponytail because my neck is too fat, a thick layer prominent against the flat of my throat and outlined by creases that make me cringe. Spaghetti straps intimidate the hell out of me because they expose my collarbones, too cluttered by extra skin and goop to cut me quite the right way. And every time I try to force myself outside of all of the noise in my head, force myself to put on that crop top and throw my hair up in a messy bun and walk out the front door, that creeping voice in the back of my head nags at me all day. How could you go out like that, it says. Fix yourself, it says. And by the end of the day, a sweatshirt has been pulled on and the bun has been yanked free, my hair cascading around my shoulders, shielding me from the rest of the world.
And when the clothes come off, when all those layers are taken away and I am just left with little ol’ me… oh boy is it a trainwreck. I can’t even say the words I am naked. It feels too vulnerable. Too exposed. And I certainly can’t look at my naked body in any kind of intentional way. Mostly I just avoid it; pretend it isn’t there; pretend that this whole part of me, this skin-suit-living-person part of me, just isn’t there. Because it makes me too uncomfortable to really look at myself with any kind of deliberateness.
I find it most uncomfortable when I am in between getting out of the shower and putting my clothes on for the day. The trip from drawer to closet, back and forth due to forgotten this and missing that, is accompanied by the thick clutches of my fists on the heavy towel I’ve chosen to shield myself in. When the time to get dressed finally comes, the full-length mirror that adorns the front of the room acts as a repellent. I turn myself every which way to ensure that my eyes are practically incapable of meeting my own reflection once the towel comes off, my fingers thumbing frantically at bra straps and zippers, limbs flailing wildly as I pull on this item and that. I try to get on as many pieces of clothing as possible before I inevitably must turn and face myself. I avoid, avoid, avoid.
I don't even know what my body looks like if it isn't in bits and pieces. I can stomach it when I'm half clothed. Certain parts obscured, others expertly revealed to spark a little interest; show a little skin; make myself consumable in little, bite-sized pieces. And yet I can't look at myself, my whole body: starting with my face covered in acne scars and oil-slicked skin, down to the slope of my pudgy neck and the jiggle of my arms, past my very uneven breasts and jutted out rib cage, cinching in towards my belly button and over my increasingly scarred stomach, and finally down to my cottage-cheesed backside, lumpy thighs, and strong, thick calves. Those are all of my pieces.
I don’t know what it looks like altogether; I don’t know what I look like altogether.
And if I can barely stand to look at myself in a mirror, the idea of loving myself, being positive and unapologetic and enthusiastic about my body, is something I still can’t seem to grasp. I can’t look at myself and say, I am sexy. The mere thought of those words crossing my lips sends me into a bout of nervous giggles, my body responding to the awkward, uncomfortable feeling bubbling deep in my belly. But really, more than it feeling uncomfortable, it just feels like a straight up lie. It feels like something I don’t deserve. Like something I’m forcing upon myself because I know I’m supposed to be believe it. I conquered her. I conquered her and (at least some of) my demons and I’ve come so far. I’m supposed to be cured. I’m supposed to be beyond this. I’m supposed to be a body-positivity warrior. I’m supposed to be an example of recovery. And yet… and yet I still can’t look at my whole self in the mirror. I still can’t see myself as desirable or wanted. I still sometimes question what recovery even means.
I don't hate food anymore, I promise. But I think, I think I still might hate me a little bit. I’ve accepted me. I’ve decided me is good enough, most days. But mostly, I’ve come to a point where me, my body, is just this thing that accompanies the rest of who I am. I tolerate it. I accept it. But I don’t love it. I don’t embrace it. I don’t even like it.
And I’m not sure what to do with that revelation. After all of the healing and the tears and the therapy, after conquering all of those demons, I still might have a crap ton more work left to do, and I’m not sure what the next step is. But even more terrifying, what if the steps never end? What if recovery is not what people make you believe it to be; not a linear progress; not a you-were-sick-and-now-you-are-better-and-everything-is-sunshine-and-rainbows; not black and white?
Maybe recovery is shades of gray. Darker spots here, lighter shades there, constantly in flux.
I never did like gray very much.