Honestly, my attitude most of the time is that eating disorders are less important than other diseases, because you can't control your Dandy Walker Syndrome, but you can just stop throwing up your food. You know? How "you" can do that?
I mean, I couldn't do that, not after three inpatient stays and thousands and thousands of insurance dollars and seventeen years, not after destroying teeth and friendships and opportunities, not after missing huge chunks of grade school and high school and college and life. But "you" -- that stellar rhetorical construct whose referent is always serendipitously MIA -- you can. You can do anything you set your mind to. (Just look at how well you do when "crutches" like affirmative action and food stamps are excised from the budget!)
For me, of course, it is taking divine intervention to recover from my bulimia. Which is to say, however self-consciously: I prayed to get better, I pray every time I feel my grip slipping on my recovery, and -- though God knows I've tried every other avenue recommended to me, and found some of them helpful (and some not: cutting out wheat and sugar? Not so much) -- for me, my experience of no longer being bulimic is primarily an experience in which, every day, my ass is saved by something larger than myself.
"A friend who does not believe in God says, 'Maybe not a miracle, but a little improvement,' but to that I say, Listen! You must not have heard me right: I couldn't feed myself! So thanks for your input, but I know where I was, and I know where I am now, and you just can't get here from there. Something happened that I had despaired would ever happened... [and] whatever it was, learning to eat was about learning to live--and deciding to live; and it is one of the most radical things I've ever done" -- Anne Lamott
In OA, the most hardcore of us talk about a daily reprieve rather than recovery. I am reluctant to commit to a truth claim that I could just relapse at any second; I believe that, having kept me well for almost two years, God's unlikely to drop the ball or start fucking around with me now. I know the world is full of horrible, random things that I can't explain; but in my experience, I've been cared for and healed and right now, I have no real reason to expect a change.
Having said that, this is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. So, this week, I also want to bear in mind:
1. Whatever the plan is for me, however blessed I have been, lots and lots of people still suffer tremendously from eating disorders.
2. For someone actively in an eating disorder, the fact that they do not have spina bifida or brain cancer or whatever is surprisingly beside the point. It is difficult for me to fully to communicate how devastating anorexia and bulimia have been in my own life -- partially because I find it painful to remember who I was, what I did, and what I felt when I was sick, and partially because when I try to do so, I end up feeling histrionic. However doggedly we romanticize female self-sacrifice and delicacy, however insistently we shame the overweight for being "greedy" or whatever, the reality is that, when I was eating disordered, I was a deeply selfish, ugly person, and it is a struggle to feel compassionate rather than embarrassed when I remember that time in my life.
3. I believe that my recovery was an act of God, but I don't believe it was spontaneous, easy, or even truly sudden. I struggled with bulimia for seventeen years before I was able to stop binging and purging. I got used to things that people should not have to get used to; I experienced things that, however they might pale next to, say, receiving chemotherapy or being confined to a wheelchair, I would never want anyone else to experience. And even for God, my recovery has been a project, and remains an ongoing pain in the ass.
So, eating disorders: however we may enjoy the benefits of a culture that privileges a kind of body that often is maintained only through severe and chronic mental illness, ultimately this is not a win.
Check out NEDA's website to learn more. While nothing friends, family, or society does will make a person eating disordered or cure them from their disease, it is the case that we live in a society that rewards anorexia and bulimia in a way that it does not reward, say, cocaine addiction or schizophrenia. The more accommodating our society becomes to individuals with healthy bodies and minds, the less intractable these diseases will prove.