February 05, 2020

By Gabrielle Szynski

“One last thing: I congratulate you on your journey of recovery.” 
Recover: Verb, to return to a normal state of health, mind or strength. A normal state of mind? Had I really gone back to that? Was I…normal again? I stare at the Facebook message, re-reading each word over and over while enunciating them slowly under my breath. Recovery…recovery… That’s what I thought I was doing. It’s what I tell everyone else when they ask me how I’m doing. 
My chest is tight, my stomach hurts from the amount of heaving I forced myself to do only moments ago. Is this really what recovery is like? I walk to the bathroom. I stand in the darkness for a few moments, letting my eyes adjust and focus on my outlined shadow. I don’t feel like a person. My mind is trapped far away in another place. My body is hollow, empty. My stomach grumbles, angry at me for throwing up the energy I had just given it thirty minutes before.
I slide my hand up the door frame slowly, fearing what will look back at me when I turn on the light. My finger brushes against the plastic switch, hovering, shaking, before flipping it to on. I knew what to expect when that wretched artificial glow revealed my form, but still I flinch and grimace at what stares back at me. My face becomes worse and worse the closer I get to mirror. The more in focus I become, the more shame I feel.
I force myself to look at my reflection completely, eyes red and irritated, face flushed, snot and tears dripping down my face from the force of purging. I never cry on purpose. I don’t force the tears to spill over. I don’t enjoy the blood-shot eyes. Purging means nothing to me. It’s automatic, a natural reaction I have — the same way that it’s natural for someone to squint when they walk outside on a sunny day. 
"I congratulate you.” 
Why are you congratulating me? I don’t deserve that. This is not recovery. This is not healthy. This is not what “recovered” people do after writing what an old classmate calls an “inspiring” and “beautiful” piece as if it’s so easy to fully recover from an eating disorder. As if it’s a seven-step program, and all you need to do is follow that list in order from one to seven and repeat. 

I stand there panting slightly as I look at my reflection, tired and weak. Perhaps that piece was beautiful and inspiring, and at the time, I was perfectly fine. I thought I did recover. I thought it would never happen again. I thought my confidence came back. I thought it’d never leave me again. But where is it now? I watch the sad girl looking back at me through the glass, blinking slowly, sighing in contempt, ashamed of herself. How do I tell them? How do I tell them I am not recovered? How do I explain these flare ups? The loss of progress? Going back to square one and losing everything? 
I’m not okay. Everyone sees what they want to see when they look into my face. They want to see a healthy, happy woman who does not, who will not, who cannot ever purge again. I don’t know where I went wrong. I don’t know what happened. I can’t answer those questions no one ever bothers to ask. I thought I was doing fine. I thought I didn’t need this anymore. But you do need this… The voice inside my head rings. 
I hate the satisfaction I feel after the clench and squeeze of my stomach between my abs and diaphragm as I wretch. I hate that no matter what I tell myself, I still feel like I’m canceling out everything I did by throwing up into this damned toilet bowl. I hate it. Vomiting is a defense against poison my body has given me, and in return I thank my body by rotting my teeth with the acid from my stomach and keeping my throat sore even though I don’t have a cold. I thank it by damaging my intestines and irritating my stomach. I thank it by raising the risk of cancer in my esophagus, internal bleeding, heart attack and even death.
“Congratulations on your recovery.” 
Recovery is not a straight line. It is not clear like the mirror in front of my face. I am not always okay, and I am not always confident. Sometimes I still fight the urge to run to the bathroom after a meal. I almost always win that fight now, almost always. Tonight I did not.
I did not win this time, but perhaps I will tomorrow. I may not be recovered right now. I may not be in a normal state of mind, but I will be again. I have to be. I can’t let anyone down. I can’t tell them I’m struggling again. I can’t.
Without looking away from the mirror, I slide my hand up the wall of the door frame slowly and trace my fingertips across the wall until they run against the plastic light switch. I flick the lights off in one swift motion, standing momentarily in the darkness, eyeing my darkened reflection before turning away. Tomorrow I will look and see someone better. Tomorrow I will recover again.

Gabrielle Szynski is a Columbia College Graduate whose love of writing was inspired from the many times her older brother read to her as a child. When she isn't stopping on the street to pet stray cats, Gabrielle still loves to curl up with a good book in her spare time.

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