A Priceless Piece of My Being

Posted by on Oct 21, 2015


I’m starting to realize that you don’t know me very well.

You know a very important part of me, of course — the eating disorder survivor. Many of the people closest to me aren’t even privileged to that information. But I realize that you don’t know how I got here. I’ve never shared much about my childhood or adolescence, which is the very place where that eating disordered side came into being.

One reason for staying quiet about my younger selves has to do with privacy. Other reasons are a complicated mix of self-consciousness, fear of judgment, fear of vulnerability, and so on and so forth. But one of the main reasons I don’t share about the distant past is because I don’t remember very much of it.

I used to think these gaps in my memory occurred because I have no photographic evidence of my life before the age of 14. Our family photos were pawns in my parents’ less-than-amicable divorce. Like most items that fell to that fate — my dogs and my pet bird, among them — they were ultimately left behind. It’s been a little over 13 years since I’ve seen them.

Being a solidly visual learner, I have believed for the last decade that I can’t recall my childhood because I don’t have photographs to trigger my memories. That’s partially true. What I didn’t realize until I began to recover, though, was that my eating disorder had actually obscured a lot of those memories. Emotionally, it demanded all of my psychic energy, leaving no room to reminisce on childhood. Cognitively, it eventually blunted my ability to think and remember at all.

As I recovered my physical health, I began to feel, process, and tolerate emotions again. And as I recovered my mental health, I began to recover memories, too.

Childhood memories

There aren’t many earth-shattering moments rushing back to me — it’s mostly the quotidian scenarios, things that an intact family might’ve recollected on holidays anyway. I find that sensory information is particularly helpful in recalling these memories. The weather really does it for me.

Tonight it is clear and temperate here in New York City. Nights like these remind me of home — that is to say, the house that I grew up in, and from which I was taken when I was 13.

I grew up in the suburbs, in an enclosed neighborhood with a cul-de-sac and a bevy of school-aged children to play with. We played outside almost all the time, and often on warm nights we would reconvene after dinner to continue the games. Every house had a yard, and many of those yards had homemade treehouses built into the oaks and maples. We would play hide-and-go-seek and manhunt and sardines right up until bedtime. Many of us were still young enough to be afraid of the dark, but that never stopped the play. The games taught us courage. We would venture out into the darkness, hiding in bushes or behind a remote shed, acting as if the mere act of sitting there in complete stillness wasn’t the most terrifying thing we’d ever had to do. But at the end of the night, when the game was over, there was the deep satisfaction of knowing that you conquered the darkness. No one even found out just how afraid you were.

memoriesWhen the evenings here get colder and darker, my mind brings me back to an arbor vitae grove at the end of our driveway. On clear, frozen nights, my dad and I would stand on the blacktop gazing at the black above. He would point out the various constellations —the big and little dippers and how one uses them to locate the North Star. I rarely lasted long enough out in the cold to learn more than that.

These are garden-variety memories, of course. Playing outside and looking at the stars. But this is the work I’m doing to reclaim everything that my eating disorder took from me. If I let it keep my childhood, I will have lost a priceless piece of my being. And to lose that would be indescribably tragic.

118 Days | 18 Hours | 11 Minutes | 18 Seconds

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