Opinion | Op-eds

Conquering my secret shame

I relapsed the night after my op-ed about my eating disorder was published.

It was a low-key thing, drinking beer and listening to music in a friend’s room. One moment to another, a subtle shift—something that I had shaken off crept back up. Before I knew it, I was curled in bed, shivering with feverish chills, dizzy with nausea, my body groaning and aching from being overstuffed to almost inhuman levels with food I had barely tasted.

There is no cure for this problem. People with eating disorders work hard for years to change their habits and perspective, but none of us will ever be done. Food remains dangerous, even when you have recovered to the point where you aren’t afraid of it anymore. It doesn’t have to be the enemy, but you still can’t turn your back for a second. Drug addicts and alcoholics can refuse to touch a drink or a pill or a syringe—not so with eating disorders.

The fact is that eating disorders grow into you, like a benign tumor that wraps tentacles around your bones and chokes your arteries. No matter how long it’s been since the problem was malignant, it remains an important and inescapable secret that you carry wherever you go. After my op-ed came out in Spectator, I was flooded with messages of love and positivity from friends and family. It stunned me to see how many people felt the need to reach out and give me the warmth and comfort of their support. But some told me other things: their own struggles, their own problems, their own years that had been spent fighting a silent and desperate fight. From an aunt to a close friend to the barest of acquaintances, people were coming out of the woodwork and giving a part of themselves to me. It was overwhelming and heartbreaking. It was also one of the greatest experiences of my life.

A friend of mine, Paulina Pinsky, BC ’15, IMed the night the piece came out. “It’s gonna be a year for me in March,” she said, “but it’s been a fucking horrible ride.” People referred to themselves and to me as “survivors,” a phrase that I would have thought cliché a year ago. But now I understand: During the worst moments, when your body is not your own and your mind is murky with self-hatred and you feel unbearably disgusting, when you would rather consider a numb, beautiful, endless silence instead of another day of shame, survival is what you have.

Except not. Because we have more than that. In a world where people suffer in every corner, where girls half my age have endured lifetimes of blinding pain and fear that I can’t even begin to conceive of, we can’t afford to just survive. We have to be there for each other, right now, right here, immediately, yesterday, tomorrow, and every single second that we have left. Chances are that if you don’t have an eating disorder yourself, you know someone who does; if you do have an eating disorder, chances are that you’ve told only the people you have to, and that they know only half the story. Replace “eating disorder” with whatever your secret shame is, but be honest with yourself: in some way, you have wrapped yourself in loneliness, banishing the people closest to you from the miserable places in your soul.

But they’re there, and they love you, and if they don’t, then someone else will. Love is the only thing in the world more plentiful than pain.

It won’t cure you—nothing will. It won’t erase the past. But if it hurts, and you tell someone, then it will change the game. It will make the future infinitesimally less frightening. It will make you a very small bit less guilty. And whether or not it ends up changing the game, it will change you.

The author is a Columbia College sophomore.

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