My first Friday out of my first intensive treatment session for anorexia. I’m supposed to be excited to see my friends, relax, and enjoy the free food that Hillel is serving for Shabbat dinner. I know what’s on the menu for the night, and how now much of each food group I need, but what I don’t know is how I’m going to make it through the meal. My struggle with anorexia is not a secret to many in the room. If I’m being truthful, I know that most of them are rooting for me to succeed at my meal, and are glad to support me any way they can. Their support since I’ve been out of treatment has been part of the problem though. Part of being in treatment was gaining weight, and because of this my friends, many of whom are at Shabbat, have begun to tell me how “healthy” I look. They don’t understand that in my mind “healthy” means “fat”. My clothes have recently begun to get too tight and I have been forced to go up a size or two. Instead of being glad to make the transition from the kids section to the adult section that my peers made years and years ago, I am dismayed and embarrassed. Being a “normal” size sucks. My weight and clothing size no longer make me superior to everyone else. I am now an equal. The comments of how much healthier I look that inevitably I receive at Shabbat remind me of how “fat” I have gotten, making eating dinner that much harder. If only my mind could understand that sometimes being healthy is not the same as being fat.
My first week out of treatment has been difficult to say the least. I have been forced to find a new purpose in life. For so many years my whole purpose was to starve. Now that starving is no longer an option I have to figure out what I—and not the eating disorder—am passionate about. I am reluctant to do this because despite treatment, the only thing I really want in life right now is to never eat another piece of food, yet be happy. This I am told is impossible although I’m still unsure whether I believe that or not.
We sit down for dinner and a conversation about our majors, career goals, and even life goals arises. This is a hard conversation for me because thinking about the future terrifies me. When I’m asked where I see myself in ten years the only answer I can come up with is dead. Life is so excruciating when I have to eat that the whole death thing doesn’t really phase me. The thought of dying never even crossed my mind before recovery. It’s not that I’m suicidal or that I have any interest in killing myself, it’s just that I want to starve. Now that I know and have experienced the damage starving does to my body I realize the ultimate result of not eating will be death—and that’s still okay with me as long as I die thin.
The end of Shabbat dinner draws closer. I have successfully eaten my meal, but still feel a strong sense of shame in having eaten. One of my friends tells me how proud it makes her to see me eat. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time anyone at Hillel has seen me finish a meal at Shabbat. I find new meaning in Shabbat this week. Tonight Shabbat means a new beginning. I realize no matter how many times this past week I wanted to slip back into the welcoming arms of anorexia I didn’t allow that to happen. I want to keep fighting. I want to fight for the one or two good days a week I now have that I didn’t before. I want fight for the amazing person I know is waiting to shine through, and on the days I can’t fight for myself, I want to fight for the room full of people I am surrounded by each week at Shabbat who love and support me.
Jourdan Stein is a student at Drexel University.