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My Former Love Affair with Anorexia

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Art Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

Modern women are sister soldiers in a war against our weight, regardless of where the needle falls when we’re on that miniature stage we call the scale. When the battleground is our hips/bottoms/bellies/thighs, we know the drill. The mantra of “eat less, move more” is a Pavlovian response we recite on command when asked our battle plan. It’s not brain surgery.

But what if the brain is the battleground? What if our hips/bottoms/bellies/thighs are only excessive in the mirror of our mind? And what if that mirror talks back, and what if we can’t get it to shut up?

My mirror is broken, metaphorically speaking; my eyes cannot be trusted to tell me the truth. I live in a house of mirrors, never sure which reflection is accurate. I enter fitting rooms with the same jeans in five sizes because I cannot estimate what size I wear. I am forever engaged in a silent battle in my head over whether or not to lift the fork to my mouth, and when I do, I taste only shame.

Anorexia has been with me for most of my life. It was the mean monster in my mind that convinced me I was fat when I was three. It was the tyrannical voice in my head hissing insults throughout the already-awkward years of adolescence, calling me fat, clumsy, and inadequate. And it was the bully in my brain that turned on me as a teenager and forbade me to eat.

The disease has been a crutch, a companion, a coping mechanism, an excuse, a speed bump, a deceptive lover, an attractive abuser. It’s made part of my life a roller coaster ride of hospitals and treatment centers and sober living homes, the total of which adds up to several hundred thousand dollars in treatment costs. It has strained my friendships, derailed my career path, harmed my body, bruised my soul.

I’ve spent years both on the wagon and off. I’ve been sick, hospitalized, better, almost well, sick again, in treatment, better, etc. I’ve befriended amazing women—and a few young men— who share my struggle. I’ve loved them, fought with them, watched some of them get better, get well, get married, have children. I’ve watched others get sick, get sicker still, and die.

I myself have tried very hard to die over the course of my life, all the while believing I was trying to live. I’ve flirted with death like some young girls flirt with older men on the Internet, never aware how real the danger. If we lived under a system of justice wherein we got what we deserved, I would’ve died years ago. But, thanks to a merciful God and a body too hearty and stubborn to die, I’m here.

I had a hunch as a teen that I’d check out early, maybe by my mid-twenties, and leave others standing around shaking their heads and saying, “Such a shame.” It’s a heady, self-serving fantasy, really.

But it didn’t come true. I always seemed to get better in the nick of time, before my heart stopped or I stroked out or I swallowed every pill I had. Someone always spoke up or butted in or stormed out, bringing me to my senses—or at least to the dinner table. And I’m glad I made it here; it’s a pretty decent place to be, if not always comfortable. Because, while anorexia is never far behind me, a funny thing has happened over the years: I’ve fallen out of love with it.

Things have happened that have helped to screw my head on a little tighter. I am a mom. I am, for all intents and purposes, an adult. I have a house, a kid, a career. I have responsibilities, among them to advise others not to go where I went – and to warn those already there not to drop anchor.

And so long as I have life, I’ll gratefully devote it to that task.

(photo by Shannon Lee Miller)

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Jena Morrow's debut book,


, chronicles her nearly three-decade-long battle with eating and body image issues. In addition to being a writer, speaker, and activist for eating disorder awareness and prevention, Jena works as the Alumnae Coordinator at Timberline Knolls in Lemont, IL, a premiere residential treatment center for women and girls battling eating disorders, substance abuse, mood disorders, self-injury, and PTSD.