They assured me I was going to die. I beamed. At least I would die skinny. I was 14 years old and my anorexia was at it's peak. Though I was weak of body, I was frighteningly strong of constitution. That's where this illness gets you. No other voice has a chance against the one that tells you to ignore the pain and sideline the tears of the people who love you. It's just you and the voice. The voice has your back. Your skeletal, hunched and hairy back. Everyone else is against you, trying to thwart your plans, trying to make you fat. And yet you love them. You love so deeply and overwhelmingly that it knocks you off centre. But like a remorseless dictator the disease makes you steely. It is perfectionism. It has elements of anxiety and OCD. From what I've read it feels a lot like addiction. I can promise you, it's a real fucker.
I started dieting at 13. Skinny equalled pretty in the summer of 1996. And pretty equalled loved. And I wanted so badly to be kissed in a pool like Leo kissed Claire in Baz's R+J. That was love! I was a chubby kid (though on reflection, much less chubby than I told myself) and I went through puberty very young. My curves billowed out of me in obvious contrast to the slender frames of my pre-pubescent peers and I hated it. Losing weight was pretty easy! The metabolism of a teenager ensured the 'kilos melted away'- just like they promised on the ads. Then, when I began to receive compliments I stepped things up. No cheat days, and exercise. Lots of exercise. Soon I had made it my mission to defy DNA and become as skinny/loveable as my great role models of the time, like Victoria Beckham, Nicole Ritchie and Kate Bosworth (all of whom I now send boundless compassion). The world seemed to be relentless toward women and the perfection of their appearance and I would be nothing less than that on myself. Eating's cheating.
I wouldn't moisturise in case the calories seeped in through my skin. I would stand allll daaaay and isometrically contract my muscles to burn more calories. I would frown because we all know it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile (NB: the frowning may have also been because I was painfully miserable. But hey, there was a silver lining!) I hated my body. I hated it with a visceral passion that made me want to tear at my own 'fatty' flesh with my fingernails. I threw myself out of a car as Mum drove me to a rehab centre and almost drowned myself after drinking 14 litres of water in an afternoon. I was 32kg.
The bigger issue was, my desiring love is a basic human need but the absolute truth in my mind was that I was only worthy of love if I was perfect. Perfect equalled skinnier than anyone else. So it was not just a teenage phase or even a determined mission- being skinny became completely entwined with being loved. And a human will pursue their basic needs at all costs. That's how we survive and that's what I did. (Tricky part being that another basic human need is food. But the disease conveniently switches off any feeling of hunger).
The truth is I still can't define a single incident as the catalyst for my recovery. It's little by little, reframing the way you see yourself and the world. In my case, applying the same relentless commitment to seeing beauty and being compassionate as I had applied to berating myself for all those years. I have made friends with my thoughts again. That's been crucial. If you are friends with them, you are more likely to recognise them. They will knock before entering your house and wipe their shoes before they come in, at which point you have the opportunity to say "thanks for coming over and trying to brighten my day. I know you think you're helping me, but I'm kinda busy right now living a great life sooooo.... See ya!". A good friend won't demand to come in your house if you're in the middle of a role play with a hot foreign lover, you know? But if you're not friends with them, they don't care. They'll just knock the door down and ransack the place before you have a chance to put your knickers on. The commanding yet compassionate part of me is in charge of them now. That steely voice doesn't get any air time.
At the time this went to press, Nikki had still not been kissed in a pool but was boundlessly optimistic about the future.
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