Thursday, May 16, 2013

Snowflakes

I started reading Brave Girl Eating by Harriet Brown yesterday. My mom bought it on a recommendation (it came in the same box as our ice cream maker) and hadn’t started it yet, so I stole it off her nightstand. It’s about the author’s daughter’s struggle with anorexia and what the whole family went through during her recovery. I’m not that far into it yet, but it’s captivating. I rarely--as in, never--just sit down and read. I have to be doing something else. I read on the stationary bike, or in the car, or while waiting in the doctor’s office. But I do not purposely set aside an hour or two just for pleasure reading.

It’s been forever since I went to bed and read before turning out the light. But I did last night. I didn’t want to stop turning the pages, because I find stuff like this fascinating.

There are so many sentences that resonate with me, that I can relate to on some level--whether I recognize bits of myself in the anorexic daughter, or how helpless even parents are as they watch you waste away. The tension that builds between family members, the stress on the younger daughter. It’s scary and enlightening all at the same time.

The part that hit me in particular today was Harriet Brown’s frustration that every first-person eating disorder book she could get her hands on did not seem to fit her family’s situation. Her daughter Kitty was not abused, neglected, addicted to drugs. Their family wasn’t dysfunctional or weight-obsessed; in fact, it was just the opposite (she even talks about how she took care not to emphasize weight and appearance to her daughters).

I am the same way. I had a crazy happy childhood, with a loving family. My sister and I have always gotten along scarily well for siblings, so much so that our friends always thought we were weird because we didn’t “fight” in the usual, screaming sibling-rivalry sense. (We usually had battles of the mind, trying to outsmart each other with logic.) I grew up with both of my parents in the same house. I loved my cousins that still lived in central Pennsylvania like brothers and sisters. I saw my grandparents all the time, and knew that they loved me too.

When we were young, we had food rules: One dessert each at lunch and dinner, and we were never allowed to eat the same thing twice in one day, or else no dessert. Sure, if we got ornery we didn’t get dessert either. But there was no emphasis on weight or nutrition directly. Food was just there for when you got hungry.

Anyway, back to Brown’s quest for a story like her own. I, too, have searched high and low for a story that mirrors mine. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve Googled phrases like “exercise addiction” or “exercise bulimia,” how many different ways I have asked the all-knowing oracle what to expect in anorexia recovery, how many success stories I have read hoping to see myself in someone else.

But I’ve realized that I’m looking for the impossible. I’m looking for someone to follow so that I can be sure of success. But the reality is that no one’s recovery is ever the same. We are all unique individuals, and our recovery stories are just as diverse. Just like snowflakes, no two are identical.

Recovery is a really, really hard journey, and no one is going to make it easy by laying out a step-by-step process. There isn’t one. It’s trial and error. What works for one person may only drive another deeper into the disease. Experts still don’t even agree on the best treatment, and success rates are depressingly low.

So I guess the lesson is that you chart your own course. I’ve found aspects of some stories that are similar to mine, and piecing them together has helped me to some extent. In sharing my story, I hope that someone else might see a piece of themselves. But ultimately, your story is yours, no matter how scary that may seem.
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