I don’t know about you, but when I was at school I used to hate sports. Especially ‘team’ sports. Anything where you’d get lined up against the wall feigning nonchalence whilst inwardly screaming at some leggy blonde athlete, PICK ME!!!!! PICK ME!!!!!!!!!! There’d come a point in term where it would all become too much and, clutching my guts and writhing on the floor I’d blackmail Mum into writing me a note. ‘Dear Mrs Crumblebum, Emma will not be able to take part in Netball today as she has contracted Bubonic Plague. Dear Ms Ripper, Emma coughed up a lung in French this morning and so will have to sit out of Tennis’. You get the idea.
I’d love to say that I’ve grown out of such behaviour. That now I grab life by the throat and wrestle it into submission. But in reality, I suspect I’ve just evolved slightly more sophisticated sick notes, sometimes to myself. What it means is this:
I hate my struggles and I want them. Both at the same time.
Now, I’m under no illusions about my own sanity. But I reckon we all do it, at least a little. So here’s an example.
Say you are the youngest child in your family, the ‘baby’. You’ve always resented being bossed about by your siblings and the assumption that you’re incompetent and useless. Strangely however, even when you leave home, you can’t quite shake this stamp. It’s not just that you regress when you’re within the family circle. At the workplace and with friends, you look to other people to tell you what to do and to organise your life. You say that you hate being treated like a baby…and yet, you keep acting like one. Perhaps you tell yourself that you’re a victim of your upbringing, your circumstances. But in reality, this name is one you’ve come to quite enjoy. Or at least invest in.
In my life, one of the most difficult aspects of recovering from anorexia has been accepting that it gave me an identity that I hated, but also sought. I hate anorexia. It’s a horrible word, laden with negative connotations. But slavery brings a hideous comfort. A sense of purpose, or value. An exemption from the demands of life. A voice – demanding care and attention whilst repulsing anyone who tries to get close.
You see, I want to blame other people for treating me like a condition instead of a person. But it was actually me who made the connection. Sure, I felt rubbish. I believed that people would be revolted if they got to see the real me. But then on some level I conspired to make this a reality. When others flinched at my emaciated appearance, I was vindicated. Better the contempt I could control, than the hope that might disappoint.
Anorexia seemed to me to offer freedom. Better to die, than let someone else pay for my mistakes. Better to destroy and mutilate myself than bow the knee to the One who had shown me only love and grace. Someone who would lead me into the joy and pain of real life. Into relationship and engagement with the world, instead of a safe, boxed-up universe of unutterable loneliness.