(tw: eating disorder)
by Amy Clarkin
I used to soothe myself to sleep with a sense of smug satisfaction borne from the protests of a gurgling gut. I would wrap the feeling of emptiness around me like a thick blanket, comforted by its reassuring presence.
It was the one thing that I could control: food. What I ate. When I ate. How much of it.
Trapped in the undulating uncertainty of chronic illness, confined to an unruly body that refused to work like everyone else’s, the iron grip that I had on my diet was a source of pride. There was a nugget of hope too that if I just followed certain rules and ate a certain way, I would get better. A dangerous connection forged between health and virtue, restriction and escape.
Now, emptiness is often replaced by fullness, a victory over a vindictive voice that fills my mind with venomous hissing:
“You shouldn’t eat that.”
“That will make you sick.”
“You don’t deserve that.”
The crunch of freshly toasted bread between my teeth momentarily drowns out the whispers.
“I would wrap the feeling of emptiness around me like a thick blanket, comforted by its reassuring presence.”
I miss it: the Emptiness. I feel ashamed to admit this, to confess it to this piece of paper, wet ink shining disapprovingly at me.
I know I shouldn’t. It was a cage constructed from illusions of control, slowly constricting until all pleasure in food was squeezed from my life. Yet it still provided me with a false sense of achievement woven from a skewed list of priorities. There was a sensation of safety, of comfort, of hope.
It was a pyrrhic victory: a bitter triumph over an uncooperative body. A comfort cleaved from a groaning belly, it was only hurting myself, yet a part of me still craves it. That pride in control, in feeling as though I had tamed some part of myself. The staunch belief that eating a certain way would fix everything. Even at the price I paid: missed experiences, a mind filled with anxiety, the overwhelming guilt that accompanied each morsel that passed my lips. The fear. The shame. I miss it but I do not want to be shackled to it anymore. I thought I had power over it, but in truth it controlled me. The emptiness spread much further than my stomach.
I do not want a hollow life.
Now, each bite becomes a tentative step towards freedom. I cannot control my illness but I can stop punishing my body for it. Food did not cause my condition and it will not cure it. Each swallow is a declaration of war against a fearful mind. Each meal creates a memory of a time spent with others, of the pleasure that can be harvested from tastes and textures.
It’s tough. It’s exhausting. It’s getting up each day and starting over, no matter how the day before went. It’s trudging on even when there’s no end in sight.
It’s a journey. A destination. A hope.
It’s something to be proud of.
Amy is a 28-year-old writer from Dublin. She can generally be found drinking coffee and reading, writing or watching stories.