I slid open my closet door in my old bedroom back at my parents house. I was looking for a sweat shirt. It had been 85ºF when I left Maryland and I had seen no reason to pack anything warmer than a t-shirt, but now, at nearly midnight, it was less than 60 and I was in need of something more.
I reached up to the top shelf, feeling around for something soft and preferably fuzzy. My hand grazed over a stack of scrapbooks, a box of old dance costumes and was just reaching up a bit higher to see if any sweater was left above a few old journals and photo albums when one of them came tumbling down, a few loose photos falling out as it did so.
It was very thick and light blue, patterned with yellow and white with card board showing through at the corners. I knelt down on the ground, thankful that this massive collection hadn’t landed on my (still recovering from the marathon) toes, and flipped open to a random page. Inside was a picture of me grinning so wide my eyes were barely visible. I was adorable in that way only little kids can be, but also just so plainly happy. As I turned the pages, I saw my baby through 9-year-old self posing and grinning in everything from tutus to basketball shorts.
I got stuck on a photo of me in a bathing suit. Maybe it caught my eye because summer is right around the corner and advertisements for bathing suits and beach body workouts are clogging up my newsfeeds. Maybe it was because I went to the beach this weekend. But maybe, it was because of how different I looked in this photo than I have looked in any bathing suit picture since ED and I became acquainted. I wasn’t sucking in my stomach or looking self conscious. I wasn’t trying to escape from the camera or cover up my “imperfect” beach body. In fact, I clearly wasn’t even giving the photo shoot a second thought. I was simply being (as my boyfriend put it) fabulous.
When did I stop acting like that? And why? What made me ever think that my body wasn’t good enough to be in front of the camera? And – most important of all – how do I go back? How do I relearn me?
That’s the constant question throughout eating disorder recovery. How does what you are now match up with what you were before? How can you reclaim the parts of you ED stole?
I’ve found photos are a great place to start. I used to smile extra-wide and not give a second thought about if I looked fake or not. Can I do that now? I’m trying.
I used to stand with my hip out, sassily posed and smirking more often than not. Can I find that confidence in front of a camera? I’m learning.
I used to walk around in my bathing suit, not caring if my legs were touching or if my stomach was sticking out and look up grinning whenever a camera came by. Can I do that again? I’m practicing.
I won’t be perfect this summer, or next or maybe ever. But the parts of me that ED crushed are still there, somewhere. The confidence, the constant energy and joy, the big smiles…that’s all there, somewhere, and with over 220 days since my last relapse, it feels possible that I’ll find it all again.